Da Doo Blog

Good Night, Goodbye

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.




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Posted on: March 13th, 2014 by Sarah Ashman Gillespie 7 Comments

7 Responses

  1. Raphael Nora says:

    Truly gifted people are like forces of nature. They roll along, and along. It would be like saying Wind had died. You can’t imagine it, the Wind dying, for good.

    I lost literally thousands of folks, and virtually everyone I ever dated, from the time I came Out until 20 years ago. But I’ve been lucky too. I have found great love in my older years. I have found a job I get paid for that I am passionate about. I have a faith community I am beloved of and love in turn.

    I knew folks who met your brother, but they are all gone now. I am so glad we had him for as long as we did.

    Be sure to remember, his memory is a blessing.

  2. Susan Cooperman says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I just discovered your site, and appreciate having a place to remember Howard. I graduated high school one year after he did, and I have memories of Howard composing on the piano at the front of the auditorium during study hall and after school – everyone knew he was gifted. And sometime around 1963, he and I were both acting students of Vivian Shub at the Children’s Creative Arts Workshop in Baltimore, where we were cast as the King and Queen in a children’s play.

    Best wishes to you and to all of Howard’s family. May his memory be for a blessing.

  3. Bomi Kim says:

    I’ve always been a Disney fan but it was only recently that I knew who Howard Ashman was. Just like many people out there, I think what he left us is a great legacy and moments of joy that last forever. As I listen to the lyrics he wrote, I can tell he was a very charming man. It must’ve been a great pleasure to see such a talent. As a fan I thank you for your effort in sharing stories of Howard with us.

  4. John Verderber says:

    Very, very moving piece. I don’t think any of us want to admit “life is what you do while you’re waiting to die” (to quote Fred Ebb), especially when it’s so eminent. It’s a scary thing to think about at any stage in life, even when one says they’re at peace with it.

    I plan on taking a trip to the LOC sometime this summer to look at Howard’s papers, definitely Oscar Hammerstein’s, and maybe Cole Porter’s if there’s time. I find the work process of artists I admire fascinating. The NYPL has Fred Ebb’s papers, Carolyn Leigh’s Frank Loesser’s, Hal Prince’s– I’ve gone through those.

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