A Death on Valentine Street

Frank did not know many people in his small New England town. Frank was old – probably in his 80s. He lived alone in a tiny apartment on Valentine Street.

I don’t recall ever meeting him in person, but he told me that we had met once. He started to call me on the phone shortly after there were some news reports about my arrest for protesting the war. He continued to call me on a regular basis for several years. If I did not hear from him for a few weeks, I would make a check-up phone call to make sure that he was OK.

His gentleness was apparent even over the phone wires. His intelligence was also apparent. He spoke in a way that only a well-educated, well-traveled person could. I sometimes wondered if he had a secret past. Maybe he was a retired CIA operative, or more likely maybe he was a retired doctor or psychologist. He was usually too modest to talk much about himself.

He had lived in Washington during the Watergate era and had a passion for facts about the Watergate Break-in. He held on to his big dream. He was determined to find a publisher for a book about Watergate that he planned to write. I admired his willingness to hang on to an old dream even though the odds were stacked against him.

When finances made it necessary for him to give up his television set and his only contact with the outside world was a radio and a telephone, he remained optimistic. He never once complained. When I would ask him if he had eaten that day, he always said yes and then he would tell me not to worry about him.

I often planned to visit him, but something more urgent always came up and prevented it. The visit that I planned was never made. Last Friday I read Frank’s name in the Obituary Column. My friend on Valentine Street was dead. The newspaper listed his name as Celestine Velkas, but to me he was ‘Frank’. I assume that he died alone – just as he had lived in the last years of his life – alone in his tiny apartment.

When I called the funeral home to check on the arrangements, I was told that his body had already been cremated. Now, I would not even be able to place a single red rose in his casket.

There is sadness when any fellow human being dies alone. There is even greater sadness when so many in small towns and large cities live their final years in isolation. Some are virtually alone in nursing homes with no one to visit them even on special days. Some, like my friend, are invisible – hidden away in tiny apartments.

How ironic it is, that the nation that thinks of itself as the most compassionate, has so many who live in isolation. Other countries seem to be far more sensitive to the needs of the elderly – and the young. As a society, we in the United States have a lot to learn.