Jewish World Review May 16, 2011 / 12 Iyar, 5771
Homeless vet goes home the right way
By Mitch Albom
"At peace," someone observed.
Until seven days ago, Hannah had been a man unclaimed, a body dead from cancer in a
His reward was the expense of keeping that body -- potentially for weeks. If he cremated the remains before family came forth, a lawsuit would be likely.
So Norris waited. And others tried to help. Last week, in this space, a call was sounded for anyone who knew
It proved to be enough. Early on the morning the column came out, the phone began ringing at the funeral home. And here, four days later, a family gathered in the chapel to pay respects -- two brothers, two sisters-in-law, a nephew and a daughter of
After 15 years of searching, they finally had found him, even as they had lost him.
A MAN WHO DIDN'T TALK ABOUT HIS PAST
"It's a mixture of emotions," said
You'd never have known it. In his final year, he was a coughing, sickly, homeless man who arrived at
Night after night he slept on a vinyl mat under a gray blanket. Nobody knew the memories he kept tucked there as well. Memories of a wife who left him when the kids were young. Memories of his battles with alcohol. Memories of the last time he saw his daughters -- two children he never spoke about.
"It was a father-daughter Girl Scout dance," Ernie recalled. "We weren't sure if he was going to show up, because he'd been disappearing off and on. I was ready to take Erin" -- his younger daughter, who was 10 at the time -- "just in case. "But a half-hour before it started, John showed up, all dressed and ready."
He took his little girl to the dance.
That was the last time they saw him.
Who knows what goes on inside a man? Who knows why
"It turns out he was blogging," said
Yet not an email or letter to his loved ones. Perhaps he was ashamed. Perhaps he was heartbroken. Whatever the reason, Hannah disengaged from what life had given him, even its benefits. He died alone.
I wrote last week that
Thanks to the kindness of strangers -- Norris at the funeral home,
No man should live alone. No man should die alone. Hannah's ashes will be buried at sea, a request he once made to his brothers. "Closure" is what they call that, but this says it better: at peace, at last.
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