Art Buchwald looked upon everything in a humorous vein, including his stint in a hospice. While there, as he subsequently wrote in The Washington Post May 23, 2006, “I became a celebrity. I was on all the TV shows…I never realized dying was so much fun.” Perhaps privately he had realized it, because he sure had the time of his life with this subject 6 years prior in his book, Stella in Heaven: (Almost a Novel). After Stella dies, she and her surviving spouse Roger find a way to communicate with each other. From her “Princess phone right in her room,” she tells him what heaven is like, and what she does all day there, such as getting massages and listening to a Mozart recital given by Mozart himself. She also gives Roger advice, especially regarding who would make him an acceptable follow-up wife.
Roger goes on various disastrous dates, some with and some without Stella’s blessings. Here Buchwald’s humor could get personally biting, as when Roger tried to date a female rabbi, whose ex-hubby had run off with a female cantor. The rabbi had “been hired by the temple when they could not find a male rabbi for the same price.” I let out a painful laugh and “oooph” as I read that. Maybe that explains some unexpected offers I have had in my pulpit days.
Elsewhere in the book the humorist was out and out funny. Stella asks Roger how the funeral went, and wants all the gossipy details about who was there, what everyone said and how the reception went afterwards. And then she asks, “Who didn’t show?”
My only quibble with this book is that it brings silliness to new highs. (or should I say, “new lows?”) Stella reports that she and a friend wanted to talk to Moses about someone else up there that was causing trouble. She tells Roger that “we found Moses folding towels. St. Peter could have folded them for him, but Moses said folding towels was very therapeutic and made him feel so much better.” Uh-huh.
But a very worthwhile attribute of Stella in Heaven: (Almost a Novel) is that Buchwald slips in some very serious observations about dying and bereavement, made very palatable by all the humor. For instance, later in the book, Stella feels more and more ambivalent about playing matchmaker. She says to her buddies up there, “If I get Roger another wife, everyone will forget me.” At some point, Roger admits that “he would feel disloyal if he fell in love with another woman.” This is a very real concern for some widowers and widows, and can (“can” I said) become an unhealthy outcome of grieving. Perhaps the parenthetical part of his title of the book is not only there to tickle our fancy, but to hint that a hefty stack of nonfiction sentences dwell therein as well.