R.I.P. Michael Hitz

I kind of struggle with the idea of ‘sharing’ personal things about my life in this new age of social media, especially if it is something sad like this. There are plenty of sad things happening in the world, and to other people. In the end I felt I would be doing Mike a disservice by not taking the time to write about him. When a famous person dies now, it is everywhere.

My old friend Mike Hitz died of cancer a few weeks ago, at age 46, coincidentally a day before Phillip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose at age 46.

I was told he was going to die within a few days well over a year ago, and I wrote this post the next day, kind of in shock really. Up to that point I had remained emotionally detached I suppose, he had already been diagnosed and  he had already survived past his prognosis(which I wasn’t aware of).  I didn’t really know how I would feel about it until it happened, and I was pretty devastated.

But then something strange happened. He pulled out of it, and I was talking to him on the phone the very next day, and he seemed just fine(considering his condition). When his cancer was discovered it was already in his brain.

Somehow, Mike continued on for over year after that, he was in and out of the hospital, and he was given the “won’t live til the end of the week” death sentence again and again, and he kept pulling out of it. It actually got to the point where I could believe that he wasn’t going to die, and his hospital visits were no reason to panic.

One of the  results of Mike’s perseverance is that I got to know his family, which wouldn’t have really happened had he died a year ago. I also got to spend more time with one of our mutual friends, whose busy family life and geographical location had made difficult. It brought more people into my life, and I ended up understanding Mike himself a lot more. There was kind of  a swapping of stories, me talking about my younger adventures with Mike and our mutual friend Rick, and his parents telling me about his childhood and teen adventures. I got to see Mike from the perspectives of his Mom, Dad, his sister Tracie and  brother Richard,  and find out what interesting people they were.

While I had come to grips with the reality of the situation months ago, and had many thoughts about what it would mean when he was gone, that had pretty much reset itself  by the time he had passed and I am back at that point. I saw Mike take his last breath, but I still can’t believe it.

I was in a kind of daze for the last few weeks, and this last week I was finally able to reflect on what happened and really deal with it. There is a palpable feeling of absence in my mind, in a way our lives had become more intertwined in the last year than they ever were in the time that we knew each other. Things feel unfinished. I never wanted to talk to him as if he was going to die, I didn’t want to say “I’m going to miss you” to a person still trying to survive. I feel I could have done better at that, that my own fear of death was preventing me from facing his. I guess though, it was my job to keep his mind off things, and death makes for a pretty grim conversation, really. Who wants to talk about that?

So that’s it. People tend to only say positive things about the dead, but in Mike’s case, saying he was a great guy is not an exaggeration. I don’t think you could find a person that knew him that would have a single bad thing to say. He was a friendly and gregarious individual with a booming laugh and a kind word for everybody. He stayed that way all through his ordeal, which may be his most amazing feat. Goodbye, Mike.

R.I.P. My old friend Mike.

The last time I posted a blog about anything other than the works of J.R.R. Tolkien was when a young man I barely knew died unexpectedly. I had had to move into this wild and wooly hippie house due to financial circumstances, and he had occupied the other downstairs bedroom. He went home for Easter and never returned. It was very sad, but very abstract at the same time. Death is just unimaginable. People just disappear.

So today I post another blog I could never have imagined writing. My friend, Mike, whom I’ve known for a very, very long time is fading away as I type this.  It was not completely unexpected. One day this July, half his face became paralyzed, and it was discovered that he had a walnut-sized tumor in his brain, along with several others, and spots all on the inside of his body. It was skin cancer, oddly, the man did not get much sun.

I knew, intellectually, that it was a death sentence, but going to see him in the hospital, he was the same old Mike, and his personality was so upbeat, it was easy to think that he would be alright. . It’s Mike, after all, and the big tumor was operable.

Mike was a guileless, friendly person. I’ve never met anyone quite like him. We both worked at Arby’s and he was a smiling, loud laughing face amongst strangers. He also sported a ridiculous mustache, for quite a long time. 🙂

Arby’s was a strange, quantum focal point in my life back then, getting a job there set off a whole chain of events of which there are still reverberations. I haven’t thought about that in a long time, but it’s rather astonishing that  just getting a crappy job at a fast food joint could effect my life that much.

So yesterday morning, my phone rings, and I see it’s a call from Rick( Rick is Eddie’s younger brother. I met Eddie at Arby’s. I ended up being roommates with Rick, and subsequently got him a job at Arby’s, where he met Mike. Thanks to their mutual ability to geek out on toys and strategy games for hours at a time, they formed a fast friendship.) I knew it was going to be bad news about Mike, he had been in an out of the hospital lately. The treatment was making him very sick. The doctors said the treatment was working great, that there was nothing else wrong with him, and felt that his frequent trips to the hospital were psychological in nature. This one was different, he’d had a stroke, and it sounded pretty bad.

Rick lives in Wisconsin, and Eddie about an hour and a half away, and Rick and I arrived just moments before Eddie. Just in time for his mother to tell us he wasn’t going to make it. Rick and I had just spent the last few minutes talking ourselves into his eventual recovery, and the news was devastating. It still is.

What followed was an incredibly bleak exercise in reality that nevertheless seemed completely unreal. A neurosurgeon came in and explained they’d found more tumors and there was nothing to be done besides making his death peaceful. Then a priest came in and performed some sort of absolution. I understand that people find comfort in these things, but in a room bursting with emotion, his words sounded hollow and meaningless, words that have been repeated verbatim 1000s of times.

Mike was a great guy. He helped me out on numerous occasions, too many to count. We hadn’t been particularly close for a while, and just before he got sick(found out he was sick, I guess) I helped him move to another town, whereas previously he was only a half a mile away. He was no spring chicken anymore, but too young to die.

I didn’t know I would be so broken up about his death, I guess that’s why I felt compelled to write this blog.