In February of 2006, Art Buchwald checked into a hospice in Washington, D.C. His right leg had recently been amputated to the knee and his kidneys were failing. Rather than go on dialysis, he decided that, at age 80, he’d prefer dying to endless medical care. Perhaps since he was a humorist, a funny thing happened. He didn’t die. In fact, his kidneys started functioning again, something that left the doctors scratching their heads. He spent five months in the hospice and then checked out so that he write one more book (number 30), Too Soon to Say Goodbye.
The book is a humorous look at a dreadful subject. He never discusses the process of coming to terms with death, but champions the concept of hospice and drops the names of the many famous people who come to visit, which is a considerable number because he knew a lot of famous people. Much of the book would fall under the category of memoir as he touches upon his difficult childhood (his mother was committed to a mental hospital immediately following his birth; he and his sisters were farmed out to foster homes for most of their youths), his military service in World War II, his college years, and his years as a columnist living in Paris in the ’50s. He discusses some of his sexual history, and the image of Art Buchwald cavorting with some young lady is a picture I regret having planted in my head. Mostly, it’s about the famous people he’s known.
It was an easy book to read, which is perhaps an astonishing thing to say about the chronicle of someone’s death, but there is a cheery tone to it, even through the eight eulogies written by four famous people, two not-so-famous-but-successful people, and two of his children that form the epilogue. It is fun and interesting, but as shallow as a Republican’s ethics.
Mr. Buchwald, who was given two-to-three weeks to live in February 2006, died last month–almost a year later–of kidney failure. He certainly made it seem like a good way to go.