This week marks a decade since Howard died. Like my father, he died within weeks of a lung cancer diagnosis. Dad had died on Christmas day, Howard the first week of December. Two years later my mother’s would also be a December death.
With the arrival of my December birthday, my heart memory reminds me to reflect on the good fortune to be on this earth to celebrate another year.
Howard married my sister Diane when I was six and she was sixteen. He became my sixth brother. He was the first person I remember teasing me, an experience of affection I would not fully appreciate until many years later. My most vivid memory of Howie was when I was covered head to toe with chicken pox. My throat and eyes swollen shut; I sat up on the edge of the bed as he spoon fed me Jello.
Howard gave me one of my first jobs when he and my sister started a cleaning company. I learned to walk fearlessly into men’s restrooms, a skill that has served me well more than once when the men’s room was empty while a dozen women stood waiting patiently outside the ladies room.
When my father kicked my brother Mel out of the house at sixteen, Howard and Diane took him in. When Mel got kicked out of school, Howard’s visit with the principal got him back in. “He saved my life,” Mel said.
For years he drove a linen delivery truck. He was known to as “Night Man” at his last job working the overnight shift as a gas station attendant.
Howard had a knack for saying the politically incorrect. He was guileless in asking embarrassing questions at Thanksgiving dinner. No matter the situation, he was quick to make a crack to bring a smile.
Howard died forty-five years after his December wedding to Diane. I can’t ever recall him telling stories of the countless acts of goodness he showed to others.
The end of the year is always a powerful time for reflection, and the holidays are about celebration. On my own day to delight in being born, I will do both. I will reflect on the power of kindness, commitment, and courage to impact lives for decades. I will celebrate Howard’s humility, tenacity, and generosity.
I will be grateful that I have been gifted another year. Another year to practice what Howard lived with such ease. Asking the brave questions. Being compassionate without being boastful.
I hope to remember that how I live is how I will die and how others will remember me after I do. May I live this next year half as authentically as Howard, recalling his teasing as a reminder not to take myself too seriously.
Have you been less than your authentic self lately?
Can you bring a smile to someone today?
Who inspires you to be your best self?
Click HERE to listen to Susan’s TEDx Talk The Energy of Eulogy, where she tells the story of Howard and being her family eulogist.