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The Marx Brothers Just Kill Me -- Literally, I Hope -- Chef's Choice Ten One thing about getting old, the people you love start dying. Like it not, it comes with the tenure. That's the bad news. The good news is that despite our anguish we can use the passing of our loved ones to prepare us for our own departure.

This advice isn't meant for the young, of course. There's nothing so tragic as a death before it's time, no sorrow as unbearable as outliving one's child. For the young, death is and should remain a distant rumor, in Andy Rooney's words, for as long as possible. All things in their own time, as the Bible tells us.

Better that the young put their attention and ardor, their energy and hope into living rather than dying. But for those of us past meridian on our journey through life, staring death in the eye keeps us squarely in the present. It makes us question our priorities, pushes us into doing things we might otherwise put off. It turns the pessimistic phrase, "Life is short!" into a rallying cry for maximum effort and sustained passion in the time remaining to each of us.

One thing that's struck me repeatedly watching the people closest to me die - and, most recently, a beloved dog - is that we do it alone. Or with God, hopefully, but with no one else, I'm certain. Watching a dog whose time has come drives home that conviction. Dogs, you see, live every second of their lives focused outward, their entire attention unrelentingly on others. And you know their Omega moment has come when they finally turn inward, away from you into themselves, something so uncharacteristic to their nature that you can almost hear them saying, "So long, boss, it's been fun, but I've got bigger fish to fry now."

It will be that way, I think, with each of us.

As I've gotten older, then, I've begun to think about how I'd like to die, since I'll have to die alone regardless of how many loved ones I'm able to gather around me. As that pale rider, approaches, I'd like, I've decided, to be part of the hilarious stateroom scene in the classic film comedy, "A Night at the Opera."

The Marx Brothers just kill me - literally, I hope.

The scene would unfold exactly as it does in the movie. The same ship's steward would wrestle the same steamer trunk into Groucho's minuscule cabin aboard the S.S. Americus. From the trunk would emerge the three stowaways: Chico, Harpo, and their baritone friend, Allan Jones.

Then, one by one, shoehorning themselves into the diminutive room would come the two chambermaids, followed by the small engineer with a huge wrench, then the manicurist, who asks Groucho whether he wants his nails "long or short?" to which Grouches replies, "Better make them short, it's getting crowded in here," then the engineer's massive assistant with a tiny wrench, then the young woman in search of her lost Aunt Minnie, then the burly maid with her mop and bucket, and finally the three stewards balancing precarious breakfast trays.

When the indomitable Mrs. Claypoole knocks on the stateroom door and Groucho opens it, an avalanche of arms and legs would engulf her, exactly as in the movie. Before then, however, death, preferably in the gossamer-white guise of Jessica Lange as she portrayed the not grim but gorgeous reaper in the 1979 movie "All That Jazz," will have slipped in and found me, happy and oblivious in the tangle of bodies, maybe even my dog Buddy's, and Groucho's endless banter and the playful honks of Harpo's squeeze-horn.

If life can't be like the movies, I'll take the movies. The same goes for dying.

Lionel Fisher is the author of Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001). Reach him at beachauthor@hotmail.com to share your thoughts on magnificent aloneness.