Ch.194 My Friend Howard’s Joyful End of Life
Howard was dying from a rare form of cancer. He knew it. I knew it. So, I increased my visits to his home from once a week to twice weekly. We continued watching educational DVDs, the last one on “The History of Capitalism” at his request. We shared conversations with Howard’s wife Kay. We kept life as close to normal as we could, even when that meant Howard literally crawling from his chair to the television to change the DVD when I could have more easily done that task. Meanwhile, probably fifty of Howard’s many friends and relations came to visit, so many that Kay had to organize their visits on a flow chart. For weeks I avoided asking the question I figured everybody else was asking. But finally, I succumbed. “Howard, how are you doing?” I asked. “How do you feel?”
“I feel joyful.”
“I feel joyful,” said Howard, with a smile. Joyful? I hadn’t expected that answer, but I could tell Howard meant exactly that. His smile was sincere (Technically, a Duchenne smile, named after the researcher of that name—the kind of full-faced, twinkly-eyed smile even professional actors can’t fake.) He went on to explain that he was joyful to still be alive, to have his many friends dropping by to say their last hellos and goodbyes, to hear the birds outside, to feel his family’s love and caring. A gregarious person, Howard in his hospital bed was in his natural element, hosting the people that had made his life meaningful: childhood friends he’d kept for six or seven decades; “mushers” who shared his love for Huskies and sled dog travel (Howard’s retirement “hobby” was raising and training about 30 dogs that gave rides all winter to paying guests); neighbors; caregivers from the time he administered the nursing program at the local hospital; Kay and all three of their children and their families; and me, his “intellectual” buddy, his word for what he and I shared, a love of learning.
Howard’s joyful end of life has made me rethink my future demise. I’m more introverted than Howard and I’ve always imagined dying quietly, privately, like a rock thrown into a lake, sinking with barely a splash. Maybe instead I could become a flat rock happily skipping along the surface for a while as my friends and family smile and laugh at my joyful parting.