My friend was a romantic to the end.
He found romance in all sorts of places. Sunsets on a beach were particularly romantic for him. He’d listen to classical music through his ear buds, then share them with companions, urging them to feel the music, to bask in its splendor.
He found romance in his profession, restoring pianos and furniture. To him, renewing life in a musical instrument or a piece of furniture was creating art, what he saw as another form of romance.
He found romance in traditional art, also. The paintings he chose to adorn his walls often featured bright colors, and he equated them to the joy and romance he felt in his life.
He found romance in music often. Classics, yes, but jazz and blues, too. A trip to Milan and its venerable opera house was on his agenda when the illness struck.
Living with such joy and zest was another form of romance for him. He thirsted for knowledge and read voraciously, sometimes novels with a romantic twist, especially if they combined history with romance.
He found romance throughout the world. His travels took him on a river cruise through the Danube and motor trips through Italy, the land of his forbearers. And each time he returned he talked of the beauty, the romance, the culture of the places he visited. Except Auschwitz. He found no romance there, but the romantic in him cried for the horror the death camp represented.
He found romance in movies, choosing ones that artistically appealed to him. Les Miserables, especially, he liked, the combination of music and love fitting perfectly into his life preferences. Foreign films, too, and the subtle way they focused on romance were always a favorite. But each viewing was followed by a deep discussion on the subtleties he had witnessed.
The romance of the sea enveloped him as he got sicker. The tranquility of billowing sails and the promise of romantic interludes with a glass of wine aboard a vessel slinking smoothly through the water prompted him to buy a sailboat, outfit it and name it, romantically, the Queen Mary, after his wife.
He never took the helm, but as the vigorous life he led slowly ebbed from him, he was able to ride on the Queen Mary with the woman that bore its name.
He was not supposed to live long enough to walk his daughter down the aisle, but he did, eschewing his wheelchair for the support of his daughter on one hand, his son on the other.
And knowing the end was imminent, he refused to deviate from his romanticism. He planned his memorial service around music, wanting his friends and family to feel and bask in his favorite classical piece. But he also wanted them to know how he felt, so Bobby Darin’s “Always” was part of his life celebration. Darin’s voice was his voice as it filled the funeral home:
“I’ll be loving you, always, with a love that’s true, always.”
But in ultimate romanticism, he saved the best for last.
On the day of his memorial service his wife received a bouquet of flowers and a letter. They were from him. The letter told her from the grave how much she had meant to him, how much their 31 years of marriage was integral to his being, how much he loved her.
Rest peacefully Jim Illos, a romantic to the end.