Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mike Rychlewski Talks about Dying

My friend Mike, a Chicago writer I’ve known for 40 years, wrote me a letter after reading some of my blogs about my wife Linda’s Uncle Charlie and his dying, and I thought I would pass on what he wrote. Ever since our days together as students at the U of I, Chicago, Mike has always been able to get to the center of things.

Here’s what he sent me about some of the people he loved who died:

Dying from burns over 70% of his body, my father flopped and flailed like someone getting shock treatment or being blasted in the chest with electric mittens. Two nurses were holding him down as he popped up and down.

My mom was lying on her bed in the nursing home with her back to the dark TV screen in the middle of the afternoon when there was a Cub game on. I asked her why she wasn't watching it--she had never missed a game--she said she wasn't interested.

My uncle got up from his bed at the nursing home, walked out the door, hailed a cab and took it ten miles across Denver. The found him that night wandering around the neighborhood he grew up in as a boy.

My other uncle sat on the edge of the hospice bed and took out an imaginary pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket, shook one out, reached into his front pocket for imaginary matches, pealed back the cover, lit the match, held it to the cigarette, took several puffs, finally got it going, and sat there for ten minutes smoking it. It was a performance that would have put Marcel Marceau to shame.

My bachelor cousin at 93 was lying in his gentleman's nursing home hospice room and his nephew from Virginia, who had been bearing witness for two months, finally had to go back to his wife. He said, "I’m leaving now, Mac." Mac said, "Wait!" and he summoned the nurses, insisted they dress him--he was the most elegant dresser I ever knew--he got on his white shirt, blue sport coat, gray slacks, silk tie, lapel handkerchief, spit-shine shoes, took off the oxygen and the IVs, slowly walked to the dining area and ordered the two of them tea and cake. They sat there and ate it. Mac said, "This is what I want your last memory of me to be."

There's no meaning, no purpose, no hidden agenda.
No one's death is more or less dramatic or poignant.
There is no scheme to the universe and we're neither less nor more than nothing.
The love of the people we know.
If you don't have it, God have mercy on your soul.

[The photo above is of Mike at the graves of his Mother and Father, St. Adalbert's Cemetery, Niles, Illinois, Summer 2005. My parents are buried here also.]

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