Monday, June 11, 2007

June 11, 2007 -- Eighth Anniversary of De's Passing...

Every year on this date and during the few days preceding it, I receive numerous thoughtful, compassionate emails or letters of remembrance and condolences regarding the loss of a wonderful friend and my chief mentor, DeForest Kelley.

The notes are heartfelt and express the sender’s promise to think about De and about me especially on this day. Even Alison Winter, on her pilgrimage trek across northern Spain, has emailed to say she will keep De and me in her heart, mind and prayers today.

The notes and emails fill my mind with reflections of this date in 1999. One blessing I have that most other fans don’t is that I knew him for so many years. There were many happy, engaging, marvelous June 11ths during those years. So focusing on June 11th, 1999 is not something I would do without the reminders, because it was a very difficult day (putting it mildly).

Of course, without the reminders from near and far, the date would arrive and I would briefly bow my head to thank God for the wonderful gift of knowing a lovely man and an international icon (I’m still wondering “Why me, Lord?”) but then I would go along with the rest of the day feeling okay about the fact that De is now safe from all illness, sadness, and harm. I’m glad he wasn’t here for the horror of September 11th, 2001 or for the passing of his beloved wife of 54 years, Carolyn, in 2004…


So many other fans end up hurting every June 11th and as it approaches. They need to connect with someone who understands what was lost to us that day. And I most certainly understand that! There is a wonderful, empathetic human desire to share sorrow over the loss of someone who loved us unconditionally, who appreciated us, who blessed us with every contact.

The chief hurt, I think, is about a loss no one expected that year. There was very little true knowledge in fandom about De’s health – just a pernicious sense of foreboding, of intuition, telling us that “something wasn’t quite right” when we would see De at a convention or in an interview…

But surely it couldn’t be terminal! That was just too unsettling a prospect, so we often denied even worrying about it!

Then it happened and the news was an absolute shock. It took our breath away. We were stunned...speechless… We had been gut-punched and there was nothing to do but try to recover – all by ourselves (who else but another TREK fan would understand this?)… unless we happened to be arriving for a convention, as some fans were doing that very evening… (Richard Arnold can tell that story. It’s in Terry’s biography of De, FROM SAWDUST TO STARDUST, I believe…)

It was Over. It was over for fans… no more appearances on subsequent series… no more convention interaction… no more notes of encouragement from De… no more television interviews... no more chances to say or to write, “Thank you, De…”

In the rush of hours that followed his passing at 12:15 that day, I became Carolyn’s “designated hitter” – off-loading news inquiries to AC Lyles at Paramount; calling more than a dozen of De’s relatives and closest friends as quickly (and yet as compassionately) as I could (in two or three minutes each) to break the news to them before the news agencies could blow their minds at 3:15 that afternoon; trying to gather, at AC’s request, a memorial service invitation list from the Kelleys’ personal address book…

I had to remain in control emotionally… there was no one else to help Carolyn do the many things that have to be done when a world-renowned loved one passes away.

I got home at 10:30 that night still at least a little shell-shocked. (On my way down the corridor from Carolyn’s room at the hospital that evening, I half-panicked and stopped in mid-step, thinking, “Oh, wait, I haven’t said goodnight to De yet…” -- then realized he was no longer there... even though I had insisted on helping move his body from his hospital bed to a gurney late that afternoon -- to be sure the courier wouldn't "hurt" him -- and had sent him on his way with the Neptune Society for the cremation he had made arrangements for and paid for four months earlier… his and Carolyn's... so she wouldn't be burdened with these sad details.).

I turned on the news at 11 p.m. to hear what was being said about De’s passing, and found a candlelight vigil underway at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I felt guilty. I thought, “I should be down there… I’m his star polisher… his fans need to know he went peacefully…”

But I was exhausted… there was no way I was going to make it. I would have to return early the next day to the hospital and continue the inexorable march toward a memorial service and into the months of segueing into the reality of "no more De."

That is what happened eight years ago today. Is it any wonder I prefer to remember all the other June 11ths?

It was perhaps the saddest day of my life – and I couldn’t even cry. I was too busy, too concerned about Carolyn’s loss to truly acknowledge my own, somehow (I knew) minuscule by comparison... but no less real.

It was Not A Good Day – except for De!

That day I’m sure he heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” as he entered the courts of heaven.

I hold onto THAT as my memory for June 11, 1999.

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To those of you who loved him as a personal friend or from afar, I grieve with thee. But take heart!

Many of us will see him again. He is not gone from us forever… just for the rest of our time on this side of Paradise.

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