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To Die With Tickets

Ray CharlesI am 60, which according to Candace, makes me a “young whippersnapper”. Yes, I have a lot to learn about aging, and hopefully, a lot of aging ahead of me.

But I have been paying attention to my elders. And they have taught me a thing or two about aging gracefully.

Today I want to share about my father-in-law, Ray, who died at age 96, and what I learned from loving and being loved by him.

Our Ray, The Other Ray Charles, was a renowned, Emmy-winning choral arranger who worked in radio, television, and films. He was Perry Como’s vocal arranger and stand-in for over 30 years. His Como Show choir, The Ray Charles Singers, cut 30 albums in their heyday and had a hit with “Love Me with All Your Heart”. Ray worked on the original Muppet Show in London, where he shared an office with Jim Henson. He was a special music consultant for The Kennedy Center Honors. And much, much more. Look him up on Wikipedia.

Ray sang the opening theme to TV’s Three’s Company: “Come and knock on our door. We’ve been waiting for you.”

And he really sells those lyrics.

Why? Because we’ve been waiting for you was who Ray was. He welcomed people into his home, into his life, and into his world with warmth and generosity.

With Ray, people ceased being strangers at “hello”. And then he listened, always deeply interested in what followed that hello.

At 96, he still remembered everyone he ever worked with. When he reminisced about a show, he always talked about the people involved–how he met them and what he loved about them. But he didn’t just talk about the big names; he remembered and appreciated everyone.

Ray loved discovering talented singers and musicians and opening doors for them. He auditioned thousands of people over the years. And when he spoke about someone he’d discovered, he often recalled the audition vividly.

I had 24 years of dinners, outings, and great conversations with Ray, including many by telephone. My phone would ring, and I would hear: “Hello Mo” in Ray’s unmistakable voice. Sometimes he was calling to invite me out for a theatre date. He bought two seats to every show.

After my mother-in-law died, he continued the practice and spread the wealth. At his memorial, I asked an audience of about 300 people to raise their hands if they’d ever been one of Ray’s theatre dates. At least half the audience raised their hands. The other half were visibly envious. Going out with Ray was a treat.

Sometimes “Hello Mo” was followed by “Help!” That’s when I would put on my Tech Support hat. Ray persisted in using his Mac into his 90s despite the obstacles that memory loss and shaky hands presented. I could usually talk him through the crisis of the day: I forgot how to send an attachment. My browser window disappeared again. How do I load this CD into iTunes?

Occasionally, however, I failed him. I hated that. Everyone hated to fail Ray, not because he was bad with you when it happened, but because he always expected a person’s best performance. Who wants to disappoint someone who has that much faith in you?

Ray’s love of list-making was legendary. And one of the things he used his Mac for was cataloguing his collection of vinyl LPs (17,000+), CDs, and printed music scores by song title, album, composer, arranger, label, and performer. He loved adding to that database, which had started out as a card catalog in the 1950s.

He also had a thing for alphabetization. So much so that Fifty Nifty United States–a song composed by Ray and still sung by fifth grade choirs nationwide–features the states in alphabetical order.

And we were truly grateful for all the lists when we had to find new homes for his albums and ship his show memorabilia, sheet music collection, and books–96 boxes and two 4-drawer filing cabinets full–to the Great American Songbook Foundation after he died.

Ray waited until the morning after Thanksgiving 2014 to tell us that the colon cancer he’d been treated for several years earlier had come back with a vengeance. He gathered only the children, the grandchildren, and his wonderful personal assistant, Lee, for this announcement. And he asked us not to tell anyone else how sick he was. He wanted his privacy.

Months later, he had still not told most of his relatives. I sat down with him and said, “Ray, I think you ought to tell your nephews and nieces.”

He was shocked to discover we had all kept his secret. After that, he told more family members. But he really didn’t want long good-byes.

He was matter-of-fact about death. Not long before he died, I asked him, “Is it strange for you to know that this is the end?”

No, because I’m 96. It’s been coming for a while,” he said.

And until it came, Ray would keep doing what he loved.

After he died, we found a stack of tickets to upcoming plays and concerts on his desk. As was his custom, there were two for each event.

Yes, he kept making plans, knowing that there would be a morning, like April 6, 2015, when he wouldn’t wake up.

So what did I learn from Ray about aging gracefully?

  
1.    Make everyone feel welcome.iStock 859469388

2.    Listen to strangers.

3.    Nurture and support the great talent around you

4.    Expect a great performance.

5.    Preserve history.

6.    Make lists.

7.    When necessary, make lists of your lists.

8.    Don’t be afraid to call tech support.

9.    Be generous. Always buy two tickets to a show.

And best of all:


               10.   I've made it my goal to die with tickets.

 

Maureen Charles is a founder/principal of the Love of Aging movement. A lifelong educator, writer, and leadership trainer, she brings extensive experience in community leadership, consensus building, and project implementation to Love of Aging.  Maureen holds a Master of Fine Arts Degree (MFA) in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has worked as a professional writer and editor for 15+ years.

 

Written by : Maureen Charles

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