One of our family's favorite people passed away yesterday. H. was almost 81, and he'd been unwell for a too-long stretch, and we're going to miss him like hell.
When Seymour and I moved here 20 years ago, we did so via a meandering drive across the country. We started in Brooklyn Heights, packing up a moving van with Seymour's worldly goods and his pet snakes. The van broke down in Charlotte, North Carolina; we acquired a slightly feral flea-bitten kitten (Pat) at the van yard, and he rode in our laps across eleven states. We visited friends in Atlanta and Oklahoma City. We got engaged in Arizona's Painted Desert; Seymour called my dad to ask for permission and my dad said he'd always hoped I'd go into a nunnery, but eventually gave in. We celebrated the next day in Las Vegas with the local part of Seymour's extended family, and the day after that with the Fresno part of his extended family. And then we drove to Menlo Park, where a friend had promised to put us up until we found a place to live.
Except that friend was nowhere to be found. And that friend's yard was locked off by a gate, so we couldn't even park. And none of us used cell phones then, kids, so tracking the friend was not an option. We panicked, as we and our critters truly had no place to go.
Except H. He and his wife S. answered our frantic pay phone call and invited us to come stay with them as though it was the most natural thing two persons could do. Which, for them, it was; we were college friends with their son J. and his then-fiancee/now wife A. and had been to many gatherings at their community nexus of a home (S.'s only stipulation: the snakes had to stay in the van).
That's just the kind of person H. and his family were. Once we found our own place and settled in, H. & S. included us on camping trips to Burney Falls, where we cast lines alongside the wary ospreys on Bing Crosby's and Louis Armstrong's Gone Fishin' lake. We kids were part of each other's weddings, which took place four months apart and even used the same reception site. We went to H.'s & S.'s house for hootenannies (H. used to play in an Kingston Trio-like band), Super Bowls, and all sorts of smaller get togethers.
And then S. got sick; a few months after Iz was born, S. died. We were all devastated, H. most of all of course; he and S. had been together since they were teens. We processed our grief through music and long walks. H. would play his guitar for baby Iz, and I wouldn't be surprised to find our girl has the notes to Don't Think Twice It's Alright and Freight Train imprinted on her heart. For a while, until we didn't need to anymore, we met for a weekly jam session; Seymour (bass), H., his son J. (guitar) and another friend R. (another guitar) would roll through the favorites while Iz and I listened and we all healed.
H. met a new love, D., through group grief counseling, and they got married. We had another baby, Leo. We still got together from time to time, for Superbowls, and when five-year-old Iz belted out America the Beautiful at the top of her lungs at the hootenanny for H.'s 70th birthday.
And then we didn't see them so often. Because it wasn't always easy for us to visit houses like theirs with Leo, for many reasons. (H. & D. were always as kind and welcoming as ever.) But part of accepting autism means understanding that some expectations are not reasonable for your child -- and it's not the child's fault. It's just the way things are. And H. and D. understood that.
We saw them a few times over the years between. H. had a few health scares, and then a few more, then recently went into the hospital and stayed there. (I love the nurses in the intensive units; they don't tell you not to cry, but they will tell you that if you keep crying you'll contaminate your gloves and gown and will need to change them and why would you want to go through all that bother when you could be sitting with your friend?) It was hard to see H. not want to be in such a state, but it was not hard to sit with him, because I loved him. And I was glad when he got to go home two days ago with hospice care, because that's what he did want.
We are all going to miss him, so much.