Good Night, Goodbye
March 14, 2019 — Today, the 28th anniversary of Howard Ashman’s death, I think it’s appropriate to applaud the scientists and doctors who have managed to make an AIDS diagnosis something other than the death sentence it once was. Who have very possibly cured two people of the disease. I hope they have, I hope that this cursed disease will no longer be the source of so much suffering for people worldwide. But I hope, too, that no one takes the dangers of AIDS lightly. It’s not an easy disease to live with and it is certainly not easily cured. I sometimes hear a kind of romanticism from people who didn’t actually live through the horrors of those worst of the AIDS years. It wasn’t a romantic time, it wasn’t a heroic time. It was a time of unnecessary and tragic loss. We must be ever vigilant and never let it happen again. To mark this occasion, I’m sharing a post I wrote five years ago on the anniversary of Howard’s death.
— Sarah Ashman Gillespie
March 14, 2014 — Howard left behind many who loved him, not all of whom you have read about here. The stories I’ve chosen to tell are the ones I know something about. All of us who knew and loved Howard experienced him in our own way and we all experienced his loss in our own way. But even though we feel it as a particular, loss, of course is universal. As I’ve lived through more loss and watched my friends suffer it, I realize that there’s always a tussle, at one point or another, for status as the chief mourner. Unseemly as it may be, it’s pretty much as universal as loss. I dearly hope that I haven’t set myself up that way in becoming the voice of this website.
In the last six months of his life, Howard finally allowed word of his illness to get around to a larger circle of people - old high school friends and our extended family. And once that happened, he got lots of letters. I’ve always wondered how Howard felt about that, receiving letters that were so clearly motivated by a terminal illness. I know he either read them or had them read to him (by February of 1991, he had lost most of his eyesight). I also know he answered them. A friend took dictation and typed them for him.
Howard had amazing friends – all that he gave in friendship, I’m happy to say, was returned to him in kind. I can’t remember who typed those letters for him, but he/she was wise enough to make copies, which I now have. And in those letters, I hear Howard’s voice along with his acknowledgement of his illness. There’s a definite attempt at the stiff upper lip, which was pretty much bull, of course. Those of us close by knew that. Howard was brave and tough but by the end he was blind and in pain and not at all going gently into that good night.
I know Howard understood he was dying but I don’t think he was ready to go. And, while he was capable of thinking about it, I don’t think he thought that death would come the next morning…or the evening after that. I think that no matter how ill we are, as long as we’re conscious of life around us, death is probably an abstract. Even at the worst, I believe Howard thought he’d have one more day.
As I was leaving the hospital one night very close to the end, I turned to say good night. But, unthinking, I instead said goodbye.
“Don’t do that,” Howard mumbled. Half awake. Half aware.
“Don’t say goodbye,” he said. “Just good night.”
“Good night,” I answered.
“See you tomorrow.”
Tomorrow never came.