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.

Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. Read other articles by Rosemarie.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Eric Patton said on November 19th, 2007 at 10:02am #

    Greatest country on Earth.

  2. rosemarie jackowski said on November 19th, 2007 at 10:35am #

    Eric…thanks for the comment. I often think about the usa mortality rate, literacy rate, infant mortality, health care system, percent of population in prison, the judicial system, the educational system… Maybe the fact that so many in the usa are isolated and abandoned is the least of the problems.

  3. Marikken said on November 19th, 2007 at 3:04pm #

    So many in the US also start out alone – seems inhumane to leave infants in nurseries all alone when they need closeness and physical contact.

  4. rosemarie jackowski said on November 19th, 2007 at 3:25pm #

    Marikken…Your point is extremely important. The trend to “institutionalize” babies and place them in day care centers has become a major problem in the usa. Some parents don’t have a choice. That is sad. I have spent time in day care centers. No one can love a baby as much as the parent.

  5. Marikken said on November 19th, 2007 at 4:31pm #

    Rosemarie – I was a single mom and had to place my baby in daycare, but I made up for it as best I could by keeping her right by my side at night and nursing her for two years. Third world countries like Ghana have maternal leave, it is time for the US to become more humane like the rest of the world and allow parents and babies time to bond for their future mental health. But I suppose that would hurt the pharmacy industry – better to have citizens that need those anti-depressants for the profit margins. Good grief!

  6. Marikken said on November 19th, 2007 at 4:49pm #

    Sorry for getting off the thread. Mother Theresa once said loneliness is the greatest poverty and that we are the most lonely country in the world. Part of that is probably cultural – admiration for independence and self-made people, but I can’t help but wonder if the government doesn’t purposefully separate us by planting suspicions about “strangers” and “others.” We are a culture of fear and mistrust. Certainly at this point I fear and distrust the government more than anybody.

  7. rosemarie jackowski said on November 19th, 2007 at 5:02pm #

    Marikken…I have great respect for single moms. I was sole support of my family. I know how difficult it can be. I, too, gave special attention to my child and devoted all of my non-working time to her. I wish that I could have been a full time mom but I had no choice. The US is so far behind the rest of the world, partly because liberals and democrats encourage placing babies in day care centers. Seems to me that it would be better to give the money to the moms so they could stay home than to those who set up child care businesses. Many get angry with me when I say this, but the taking of the mother out of the home is one of the unintended (or intended) consequences of the feminist movement.

  8. Kim Petersen said on November 19th, 2007 at 5:40pm #

    To your last comment Rosemarie, from an interview with Aaron Russo:

    … [Nick]Rockefeller [of the CFR] asked Russo what he thought women’s liberation was about. Russo’s response that he thought it was about the right to work and receive equal pay as men, just as they had won the right to vote, caused Rockefeller to laughingly retort, “You’re an idiot! Let me tell you what that was about, we the Rockefeller’s funded that, we funded women’s lib, we’re the one’s who got all of the newspapers and television – the Rockefeller Foundation.”

    Rockefeller told Russo of two primary reasons why the elite bankrolled women’s lib, one because before women’s lib the bankers couldn’t tax half the population and two because it allowed them to get children in school at an earlier age, enabling them to be indoctrinated into accepting the state as the primary family, breaking up the traditional family model.

  9. rosemarie jackowski said on November 19th, 2007 at 5:51pm #

    Kim…thanks very much for that comment. It is interesting how few understand that. The women’s lib movement doubled the work force, caused salaries to decline, and gave the corporations two workers for the price of one.

  10. Marikken said on November 20th, 2007 at 8:51am #

    As a feminist who is proud to call myself that, I can only partially agree that the women’s lib movement pushed women into the workforce. My view is that capitalism and the so-called free market is most responsible for pushing women into the workforce by squeezing the common person more and more financially. A lot of feminists, myself included, believe that a better solution is to start valuing women’s caregiving labor by paying for it. After all, the world cannot do without this valuable and necessary service.

  11. Marikken said on November 20th, 2007 at 8:55am #

    Women produce 100% of the world’s workers, yet that is not considered work and we are expected to do it for free. Enough already! The unborn are considered sacrosanct until they are born, at which time they are considered “dependents” and a drain on society, and we are on our own to provide for them. But when they turn 18, the government is there, trying to lure them into war. The government expects soldiers and workers for free – THEY are the drain on society. They need us, we sure as hell don’t need them.

  12. rosemarie jackowski said on November 20th, 2007 at 11:11am #

    Marikken…I agree that Capitalism is a big problem but the feminist movement had 2 negative effects. It trivialized motherhood and child rearing and also, it encouraged women to work outside the home. That increased the number of workers seeking jobs and the law of supply and demand kicked in. Pay (in real purchasing power) for work was reduced. During the 50′s, one person with a high school education could support a family and live a middle class life.

    I think of myself as a “peopleist” rather than a feminist. I agree that “family type work” should be valued and paid. One change that I have advocated for is that all in the family be treated equally when it comes to Social Security benefits so that the stay-at-home parent would not face discrimination in the SS system.

    In the 70′s, I founded an organization called Justice for Children because so many children were living in poverty – somtimes left alone so the mother could work outside the home. Things have not improved in the past 30 years.

    In the meantime, there is a crisis. Some children are left in unsafe situations because no parent is available to watch over them. Day care centers are not the answer. I have seen many of them and have come to the conclusion that you can’t pay someone to love and bond with your child. A mother’s job is too important to be trivialized.

  13. Marikken said on November 20th, 2007 at 11:50am #

    The feminist movement did go through a period where they trivialized motherhood, but I think we have seen the error in our ways on that one, and now try to support a woman’s right to choose how she wants to mother her children, and her right to options. As long as the white male is the generic human being, I will continue to consider myself a feminist who also works for the rights of dark-skinned people. When the white male gives up his unearned privileges, then I’ll be a peopleist too.

    As to children being left in unsafe situations, they just had another ICE immigrant raid. The children of these people all of the sudden don’t have their parents coming home – it’s criminal. Ideally we would have a village to raise a child. We are unfortunately far from that place in the US.

  14. rosemarie jackowski said on November 20th, 2007 at 3:24pm #

    Yes, we should support the mother’s right to decide how to raise her children. I have found, in my own experience, that the N.O.W. has not been supportive.
    ICE has done some horrible things to families and children. Where’s the outrage in this country.
    The rights of dark-skinned people are violated all the time. Racism STILL is part of our culture. Sad. When will it end.