I thought I’d do a little tribute to my brother in law Howard who passed away early this morning. He was 50 years old. Howard had a heart that didn’t work as well as it could have, maybe that was because it was doing other work – holding so much love.
Howard was born with down’s syndrome, a genetic condition that causes individuals to have physical and intellectual challenges as they develop and mature. Most of us humans have DNA that is made up of 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46. People with Down’s syndrome have 47 chromosomes because one of the pairs,(pair #21) is a trisomy, or a set of three instead of two. One extra. That extra genetic material is the reason Howard’s heart didn’t work so well at pumping blood, but it may also be the reason that it was extra good at loving.
For the past 15 years or so we would visit him in Long Island NY where he lived with “the guys,” who were his housemates. Often we’d call him and he was headed off to the movies with “the guys”, or a play, or a dance, even a hockey game. If you asked him how the game was, he’d say “Great! Very Exciting!” with as much enthusiasm as any sports fan of the winning team. But if you asked him who won, he’d say “I don’t know,” which was the same answer he gave if you asked who was playing. It didn’t matter who played or what the score was because Howard was there for the joy.
It was impossible to stay in a bad mood when he was around too. You know the family parties where aunts and cousins show up with their signature dishes, or flowers, or wine? Uncle Howard had a signature dish too, he always brought a smile and hug and a warm fuzzy feeling. He was reliably kind, and funny, and even liked being part of the clean up crew.
We were lucky enough to have him as a houseguest twice last year. and when he came to visit us he often would pick up my husband’s acoustic guitar even though he had no idea how to play it. That didn’t stop him from strumming and singing a love song. I’m sure that Howard thought he sounded like Elvis singing a ballad and the truth is, he did not. But none of us would tell him that because we enjoyed every heartfelt attempt he made. And if by chance somebody said “You sound awful,” I know Howard would have said “Oh, can you help me? Can you help me sound good?” I never knew another person who took every critique he was given as an opportunity for improvement like he did. He just wanted to make people happy.
Desert was his favorite, or maybe desert was tied for first place with cheeseburgers. He also liked puppies and notebooks and new pens. He loved his mother and his brother and wished hard for good things to happen in the world. Optimistic? Indeed. If you asked him how he was, he always said the same thing. “Doing good, doing great!” It didn’t matter if he was home watching television or in the hospital with only a small chance of recovery. Howard was always “Doing good, Doing great!”
Trisomy 21, or Down’s Syndrome comes with a host of things like delayed development, up slanted eyes, low set ears, and speech impairment, but I think they should add extra loving to that list, at least as one possible thing you might expect from Trisomy 21. So Howard, if you’ve left a lesson for the rest of us still walking around it should be this – life is short, look for the joy, and listen to love songs whenever you get the chance.
RIP Howard. XOXO