“Howard C … 1920-2007. Passed away Thursday, August 23, 2007. Respecting Howard’s wishes there will be no visitation or service. For those who wish to do so, donations to a charity of your choice will be appreciated.”
No fuss. Spare of the customary details and possibly disingenuous connections: “beloved son of the late,” “dear brother of,” “sadly remembered by.” I’m sure there was a good friend who followed Howard’s end-of-life wishes to a tee. He always had plenty of good friends.
Then I moved thousands of miles away. It took five years for me to get the news, stumbling upon his obituary, those troubling few dozen empty words.
But he actually came back from the war with much more: he brought home another soldier. A lover and a companion, they would live together for 25 years.
But shared tastes for the “good” things in life perhaps set the stage for the downfall of Howard’s long-term relationship.
His companion worked for a bank and was up for a big promotion. It would have been about 1970, and there was a problem. A requirement for the management position was that the successful candidate must be a married man.
Despite their quarter-century relationship, Howard’s partner decided to take the leap. He proposed to an available young woman. Marriage, executive promotion, house and baby quickly followed. Too quickly, it would seem; a year later Howard’s friend dropped dead of a heart attack.
The young wife got everything, Howard said, presumably including a veteran’s widow pension. He explained the unfairness of it all in monetary terms: one year of marriage to a woman effaced 25 years of love between two men.
Howard had a good long life afterward. A good enough job and income, on top of his veteran’s disability cheques. A maniac for baseball and beer. Evenings at the Peel Pub and Dominion Tavern. Fancy dinner parties for friends. He could afford to pay a young man to clean his apartment, and that was me. A half-dozen large ashtrays to empty. All those cigarettes; he survived even that.
As the obituary did tell me, he lived to a great 87 years of age. I was grateful to read that.