Odds and Ends: Annette Funicello, The Mickey Mouse Club, Life, Death, and Spending Whatever Time One Has as Well as Possible in Between
By Ken K. Gourdin
Original Mousketeer (Mickey Mouse Club Member) Annette Funicello is one of those rare individuals in public life of whom it truly could be said that what you saw really was what you got. She really was that wholesome—not just the image, but the very personification of the old cliché, “The Girl Next Door”: she was The Girl Next Door. Lord knows that more than one childhood star has gone “off the rails” in later life, but she, by all accounts, never did.
She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. While I’m not sure when she was diagnosed, I suspect it was when there were less effective treatments for it than there are today. Had she been able to take advantage of those treatments before her disease progressed beyond when they would be effective, one wonders if I would be writing this post today. Perhaps she had private moments (hopefully fleeting) of doubt, despair, and disillusionment, but her public persona was one of class, grace, wholesomeness, and seemingly-boundless optimism.
Today’s young “stars” could learn more than a thing or two from Annette Funicello’s example. No, fame and fortune don’t exempt anyone from the normal vicissitudes of life, but perhaps some of today’s spoiled stars should stop and reflect how fortunate they are to have more resources than the average person (at least from a financial standpoint) to deal with them.
While Ms. Funicello came to fame before my time, her untimely passing has caused many people to reflect on their mortality. It has brought them up short against the realization that (however old they are), her passing may, in some sense, mark the end of their own childhood. In response to one such wistful reflection on the inexorable passage of time in comments to a story on Ms. Funicello’s passing on http://www.SLTrib.com (see the story and the comments which follow directly at http://www.sltrib.com/pages/comments?cid=56124616, last accessed today) I said the following:
Aging is one of those things that happens with no effort on our part. The minute we’re born, we spend the rest of our lives getting older. You can’t control it, the only thing you can control is what you do with whatever time you have. (I remind myself of that often when I start getting wistful of all of the things I want to do that I haven’t done yet). As an editor of a publication to which I occasionally contribute signs his e-mails [in fact, he’s the managing editor of The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin (see below)], “Live the day.” 🙂
In a related vein, a cyber-friend of mine, with whom I occasionally have appeared in print in the editorial pages of The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin, wrote this on her blog about how her father’s being diagnosed with a serious illness tended to smooth out the rough edges of their respective personalities and of the relationship between them (last accessed today): http://www.pink-ink-pink.blogspot.com/2008/10/who-is-this-man.html.
Thanks for being vulnerable enough to share this. I admit, I have limited experience with the prospect of losing people close to me, so, of course, take this for what it’s worth (or not).
I would never wish an illness such as cancer on even my worst enemy. On the other hand, perhaps it, along with other terminal illnesses, is God’s way of saying, “You [or someone you love] have an expiration date, so if you have any unfinished business you’d better take care of it while you still can.” But the fact of the matter is, life is fragile, and we never know how any relationship we have will end. Often, we don’t get that “unfinished business” warning before it does, which is one of the things that makes death so hard.
Terminal illness notwithstanding, how much would it change our relationships with people and our behavior toward them if we were to think, “What if the words I just said were the last words this person ever heard me say to him”? It sounds like both of you got the chance to say a lot of things that needed to be said—and, perhaps, to make amends for some things you said to each other that you wish you hadn’t.