A very good friend of mine — her name was Bernice Kanner — died last week. It was very, very sudden. She wasn’t old. She wasn’t sick. It happened when she was in the middle of a business meeting. She stood up, said she had a bad headache, and lay down on the carpet in the office where the meeting was being held. The others in the room asked her if she wanted an ambulance. She said she did. While an assistant called for one, someone asked her how she felt. She replied, “I think I’m dying.”
Was it what we always say when we have a bad headache or a sudden pain in the chest that turns out to be indigestion? Or did she really know what was happening?
She lost consciousness in the ambulance on the way to Bellevue and she was gone.
When her husband arrived eight doctors were working over her. They had already done 32 brain scans. It was an aneurysm, they said, deep in her brain, probably congenital or something that might have developed over time. No one would ever have known. There was nothing to be done.
She was kept on life support for a few days because she wanted to donate her organs. Her family donated her liver, her kidneys, her cornea, and her heart. They even saved her long dark hair because they want to donate it to a place that makes hairpieces for cancer victims who lose their hair after chemo. At 57, she still had long, hippie hair. She told me, the one or two times when I tactfully suggested a shorter hair cut might be a good idea, that she never wanted to cut her hair because it would make her feel grown up and she never wanted to feel like that.
At the service her husband said, “Someone will be walking around with Bernice’s heart. So be prepared.” That’s because she was a life force, full of energy and interests and ideas and enthusiasms. For fourteen years she was a columnist for New York Magazine, writing the “On Madison Avenue” column. She also was a columnist for Bloomberg and wrote a dozen books, several about advertising. She was realistic about the business and still admiring of those who created or placed ads. She also played golf and tennis and skied very well; she sang in a choir, played competitive Scrabble, read at least a couple of books a week, founded a book club and an investment club, and was a volunteer for Literacy Partners. She also had dozens and dozens of friends whom she was constantly e-mailing and entertaining.
At her service, which was held in a small stone chapel her husband had built in honor of the millennium behind their house in Connecticut, some said that her death should teach us to “Seize the day.” Bernice sure did seize the day — she usually got up before six to do all the things she wanted to get done.
And as for gathering rosebuds while ye may, she was extremely happy most of this last summer. She had completed two new books; her daughter was about to be engaged, her son was a freshman at a great university. She and her husband and the kids were going to Egypt in a few weeks. Another friend and I had even convinced her that going to Cairo in coach class was not the best idea. The last time we spoke she told me, as frugal as she was, she had, for the first time ever, upgraded to business class.
Another friend at the service said that he had once complained to her that she invited too many conservatives to her dinner parties. Bernice and I never agreed about politics. She was a classic Bush-basher who lately had started all political discussions with me by saying, “I can’t believe you still…” But Bernice told this man, who was complaining about those annoying conservatives, no doubt including me, “Do you think you can’t like someone because you don’t agree with them? Of course you can disagree and still like them.”
As we look toward next week’s ugly election and, probably, even uglier results, I’ll think about that. Thanks, Bernice. And for so much more.
— Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.