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Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Gentle Giant

It should be profoundly easy for me to write about my friend, Mike Lewis. And yet, with his sudden and unexpected passing on January 30, I find my heart filled with such grief that it is hard to get down a sentence without thinking of Mike and bursting into tears. And there's a life lesson to Mike's story for all of us at the bottom of this post, whether you knew him or not, so if you didn't know Mike and this post gets a little too long for you, please skip to the bottom.
You see, Mike wasn't just my friend. He was everyone's friend. He was a man of such profound decency and kindness that he touched lives and he touched their hearts, too.
I worked with Mike for my 32 years at WKAR and we became good friends early on, especially during pledge periods. They were all live then and we would be at the studio for hours on end with long periods between the televised breaks. Mike ran camera then. During the breaks, the crew and I went to their room -- 108 -- and watch MTV or just hung out. There would be trips to the bar after pledge -- or our TV Auction, which lasted for 30 years. It was the best time of my working life.
Mike was always there.

Mike was always there. When I was sick last spring, he posted a get well video on my Facebook page -- Mike sending his wishes. It meant a lot. But it wasn't the first time I felt his support. He was there when my dad died. When things were choppy with work. Many years before that, I remember him walking with me and my friend Gina, for hours, after midnight, when my heart was broken and I just needed to be with people who cared.

Mike was a big guy. He told me once long ago that when he was young and walking downtown, people approaching would cross the street. He looked intimidating -- and nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth. He was the gentle giant with the heart of gold, the wonderful sense of humor, the one who spent time to please and delight you.
He was of generous spirit -- for example, his huge (and I do mean huge) video collection rivaled that of a video store.
He would loan his DVDs for $1 -- unlimited return time. Oh, and if you didn't -- or you really liked it -- he'd say "Oh, keep it. I have lots of others." And trust me -- if you were playing Trivia -- you wanted Mike on your team.
From running camera at WKAR, Mike went into video graphics. It was a new world, a new technology, and he loved it. He also loved photography and making videos and posters.
One of his most popular "gifts" was a birthday poster, often based on a book or movie, where he would put you and those who were part of your world into the picture with you. This was for my birthday...
...so was this...(It's hard to see, but Rick is the Mad Hatter, Gypsy is there and so is my dad, among others, along with my art work and good friends.)
...and this.
He celebrated "In-Between" Day (the day between my birthday and best buddy Gina's) with this:
 
And you might remember this one from my retirement (my favorite)...
...and this one...
...and this one, too.
And there were others. Like this one for Tim, 
the ultimate Cubs fan.
 
...for Andy, the dashing young student (who now works for "Parks and Recreation")...
For Mike, one of our producers at the station. (Mike always, always made me look better than I really was!)
For our friend Marge...
And lots of others, like this one for Jim.
It's a tribute to Mike that after his friends heard of his passing, we started posting the birthday posters he made for us on Facebook and a lot of us changed our profile photos to a poster or detail from one. I was amazed at the body of work he churned out for his friends.

But it wasn't just graphics. It was video and video slide shows, too. I was always "Gidget" to Mike. I don't know why -- I was never as cute as Gidget. But I loved it. So, he made this one for me last year, culling from photos on my blog, Facebook and ones he'd taken I had never seen.

He chronicled our trip to Europe with this 11-minute slide show that is a love letter to France (below some of the images are cut off because of my template, but the link gets you full screen).

He remembered Rick's family reunion with this one to the song "For All We Know, We Will Never Meet Again." I can't tell you how many tears I cried when I listened to this one.

In the 1980s when a lot of us were at odd with the world, at least romantically, we formed a group of seven friends, the SPIES (Single People in Emotional Stress). We four women and three men went to movies together, had progressive dinner parties, celebrated Valentine's Day. We might act as all seven, maybe only two or three. We got each other through a lot of tough times. Here's Mike at the Oscar party...
...and at the Progressive Movie Party. One movie per house!
Mike joined us at Christmas more than once -- sometimes for dinner, sometimes after -- just to hang out and have fun. I still look at those days as some of the best times of my life.
Mike had a lot of medical issues which forced his leaving WKAR a number of years ago. It was a sad time for everyone there and the circumstances were unfortunate. But he hung in there, ramping up his videos and posters. For so many of us, his death was unexpected. We all knew he had health issues; we never thought they would take him away from this world so suddenly.
There is the family in which we are born and the family we choose for ourselves, made up of friends. Mike's friends have been sharing stories on their (and his) Facebook page, along with photos that will be put into a slide show for his memorial. I hope he knows how much he was loved. Because oh, he was loved by so many, so much.

More than a Tribute

This post, though, is more than a tribute. There is a message that's important to share. The morning of the day Mike died -- or maybe the day before -- his last Facebook post read: "Someone call me." The replies ranged from the Facebook jokey to "Call you what?" to posting songs like "Call Me" and "Call Me Maybe." And, I might add that's all suitable FB stuff -- we all post things like that and when we offer out humor on a regular basis, we expect to get it back. Mike had a good sense of humor and knew his friends well -- I doubt he was too surprised at the replies, all in good fun. At least, I hope Mike took it all that way.
I saw that post, too. And I thought "I've got to call Mike. We'll go to Oscar movies in the daytime and I have all those photos I want to give him." I'd only seen him once since retirement and that was at a birthday party where the music was great -- but loud. We shouted at each other, even though we were side by side. It was fun. But not really "seeing" someone. In fact, that night at dinner with two of my former SPIES friends, Gina and Carol, we talked about that.
The next morning I heard from a work friend who took the time to call me (rather than discovering it online) that Mike had passed. I can't call him anymore to go to the movies or anything else.

No one can..
 My "word" of the year is Now. I sure goofed up on that one. I just hope Mike understands. Knowing Mike, I've already been forgiven, even if it will take me awhile to forgive myself.

37 comments:

Beth Deegan said...

Oh Jeanie! That was a great post to your Dear Friend. I was going to write you FB when I saw the post of all his pictures. But he really looked a Fun and Zany kind of guy. And now after reading this post I can see what a truly wonderful friend he was to you and many others. So glad you have all these pictures and videos to remember him by and I know you will always treasure them. So hard to lose good friends such as he was. My thoughts are with you.
XOXO

Joanne Huffman said...

What a beautiful and loving tribute. You've shared some of the essence of your friend and I feel the richer for it. I'm very sorry for your loss.

anno said...

This makes my heart ache, Jeanie. What a beautiful man, what a beautiful, loving friendship -- I am so sorry for this loss in your life. Much love, anno

Mae Travels said...

Your way of making memories into memorials is remarkable. I hope that you don't have too many more opportunities in the near future. And I wish you peace and comfort in your loss.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

I don't know what to say...this is so unbelievable to me, that you have experienced this loss twice, in such a short amount of time, Jeanie.

I have not been on blogs today, but I went over to Nowhere as soon as I learned you visited us; then I saw your dear comment. My friends are scattered all over the world, the states, here in Minnesota. What do we do? We love one another NOW, just like you said.

I can tell he was a man with whom you could just fall in love. Happiness and humor draws you to someone, and he has the world of friends forever at his memory. I hug you now Jeanie...Anita

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Oh Jeanie. How awful that you are dealing with another sudden death of a dear friend. I am so sorry for your loss. I read the post in its entirety and it was beautifully written. He certainly was a special and very talented guy with a big heart. I'm sending extra thoughts and prayers your way.

Jeanie said...

Your words and pictures leave no doubt as to what a wonderful man Mike was and what an important part of your life he was. I am so glad you shared him with us in this way. I'm sure that right now all the wonderful memories bring tears but I hope with some time that they will also bring smiles.
I am so sorry for your loss.

Jennifer Richardson said...

Wow.
Someone call me.
Such potent words and, friend,
I'd so likely have done the exact thing you did.....think up a little plan and call when it was worked out. Wow. This was a powerful lesson to me because I'm so often putting things off until I get it all just so. Now.
Great word for the year.
And beautiful tribute to a shining soul. So glad you got to rub shoulders with this special angel of a man. Peace and hugs,
Jennifer

Rachel said...

Jeanie,
A wonderful tribute...you had me crying in the first sentence. I realize this must have been hard for you to write. You too are one who goes beyond self and gives to others. This tribute to Mike is a gift to all of us who had the great fortune to know and work with him.

Thanks Jeanie.

Beth M. said...

Friends are the family we choose. And Mike chose you, just as you chose him. Nothing, not even death, can unhinge that connection. Be strong, Jeanie; he's still with you. <3

Tina Fariss Barbour said...

You wrote a beautiful tribute to your friend, Jeanie. He sounded like a wonderful person, and you were fortunate to have him in your life. Please don't feel guilty. We all put things off that we regret later. We cannot know everything that will happen. We just do the best we can. Blessings to you and all those who will miss him.

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Dearest Jeanie,
This was such a beautiful tribute to your dear friend.. I am so very sorry. What a great man he was.. It is clear to see that he had a heart of gold..

Please no regrets.. Instead, embrace the beauty of his friendship.. I am sure he knew what a true friend you were.
Bless your heart...
I will keep you in my prayers.
fondly,
Penny

Anonymous said...

Beautiful tribute to a beautiful person. I didn't know Mike at all, but I wish I had known him, and kind of feel like I did after reading this post. I have been meaning to send cards to a couple of people (who are dealing with illness, etc.), but haven't managed to do so. Those cards are going out tomorrow (as close to NOW as I can get). You obviously have many, many wonderful memories of Mike - I do hope they bring you some comfort at this sad time.

~ Pat K.

Tim Zeko said...

Jeanie-

This is a beautiful tribute to Mike. You were able to put into words what many, many us us feel. Thank you!

In the spirit of 'now'(while knowing Mike can never be replaced as a true movie 'date') I'd be honored to accompany my retired 'work sister' to a movie any time you'd like.

- Tim

Tracy said...

oh, Jeanie... I'm so sorry. This so soon after losing your friend Diana too... He sounds like the sweetest friend... and LOVE his big smile. Such happy times. So glad you have them to live in your heart now. Blessings to you my friend and as you find healing in memories... ((LOVE & BIG HUGS)) P.S. LOVE Mike's Rip Off posters--brilliant! ;o)

Bella Rum said...

Mike sounds like a generous, kind spirit and talented. Those posters are wonderful. I'm glad for you that you had the opportunity to know Mike. This was a lovely way to remember him and to let others get a glimpse of him. I'm so sorry for your loss, Jeanie.

Anonymous said...

Wow what a good friend, co-worker & human being..we should all be so fortunate to know and care about such a wonderful human being..Our only child mourns the loss of two co-workers taken from this earth suddenly she really liked them but drugs & alcohol took their lives..Life is so very precious why can't people get it at all..My goodness I have known many Mike's in my life, they have all been wonderful, loving human beings, maybe that is why they were called Mike, Michael..etc..I am a short tubby lady, people think that I was always big, I got huge after 60 and I am trying valiantly to lose the weight the type 2 diabetes is making my life hell, I try each and everyday, but I do have humor and am the same human being, those who know me don't care the others don't know me, it has not stopped me from reaching out to others with, humor, love and affection, love is all you need, the beatles sang about it way before it became a cliché if more people like MIKE were in this world then a lot more people would know LOVE and that is a good good thing..Sorry for your loss, good, loving people like MIKE are hard to come by and you were so lucky to have known the likes of him..Take care of yourself and do like MIKE did and care and love others, it is really the only thing in my opinion that is worth anything in this short time we have on this terrestrial..ciao!

Carol Welch said...

I wish I had the words to express all that you have said so beautifully. A truly wonderful tribute to an amazing man, my friend Mike. I know here are so many others who can "my friend Mike" and hold him in a very special place in their memories.

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Dear Jeanie,
Thank you so much for coming over for a visit... I am so happy I was able to give you smile.. I love to listen to Fred Astaire also... Glad you enjoyed.
bless you,
Penny

Nancy said...

What a beautiful tribute to your friend...I am so sorry that you have another loss to deal with. He sounds like a wonderful friend and one that has left you with lots of memories....

Mary Ann Kiesler said...

Jeanie, You put into words what so many of us feel. Mike must be looking down with much Love for the wonderful tribute you have put together. It makes me cry it is so beautiful.
Mike was such a Gem. He will sparkle forever.
Mary Ann

Marilyn said...

Jeanie,
What a perfect post for your friend, Mike. After reading it, I wished I had know him. He sounds like he was extra special. You will miss him. Thanks for sharing him with us.
Yes, "Now" is a good word to remember, as we have chatted recently.
Take care and hugs,
marilyn

Arti said...

This is a wonderful tribute to your very talented friend and colleague. I admire all the birthday posters and yes the video. It must have been such a great loss to see such a wonderful man pass away. My heart goes out to you and those who had known Mike as a truly fine human being. Thanks for sharing this moving post, Jeanie!

bella said...

I'm so sorry about the loss of your dear friend. What a wonderful tribute to him and a lesson to us.

The Artful Diva said...

I'm sorry you lost you dear friend, Jeanie. Mike sounds like he was a terrific guy!

Retired English Teacher said...

I'm letting out a big sigh. I was quite upset with the ending of this post and the message it carried. It is hard to stay in touch, isn't it, but Mike did make that final request. He must have been thinking of all of you.

Your friendship was unique and so very, very special. I am so sorry to hear of the passing of this talented and gentle giant of a friend. Hugs.

must love junk said...

Wow-What a beautiful, heartfelt post and tribute to your friend! And a great reminder to not take for granted those that we care about (or put off telling them how we feel!)
Susan

The Old Parsonage said...

Oh Jeanie I am so sorry to hear about your sweet friend Mike. He sounds like a wonderful man and person. Regrets are hard to let go, but it sounds like Mike would have told you there was nothing to forgive.

"Be still and know that I am God."

Gentle hugs to you and all who were touched by Mike's love.

Leann

OldLady Of The Hills said...

So very very sorry for your loss....It is so truly heartbreaking to lose such wonderful dear dear friends---every time I turn around, someone else is gone....
You certainly have some dear dear memories of a special and wonderful friendship with your dear Mike. I know you will miss him forever.
RIP to your dear dear friend. And my heart goes out to you, my dear.

Esme said...

Jeanie, I am so sorry. You are having a terrible year with the loss of friends. Your tribute is beautiful but it does not replace the loss of your friend. It sounds like you had a lovely friendship and as my dad would say it is how you treat someone when they are alive that counts.

Shelia said...

Oh, Jeanie, I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. He must have been a wonderful man. What a tribute to him you've given. You're so right, now is the time to do what we feel. We seem to get busy and mean to get back to that something but often don't. I'm sure he felt the love you all had for him. Thank you for popping in to see me and your kind words.
bE a sweetie,Shelia ;)

The French Hutch said...

OH Jeanie, I'm so sorry for the loss of your dear friend. It's especially hard when it's unexpected. This is a lovley tribute.........Sending you a big hug today.

Shelia said...

Hi Jeanie! Thanks for popping in to see me and no, my crystal is not Waterford but I can't remember the make of it. I've had it a long time.
Hope you're doing well.
Be a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

Jenny Woolf said...

What a wonderful tribute to a man who sounds so very, very worth knowing. I know I would have loved Mike too. How creative he was, and how humorous. Of course I specially love the Alice in Wonderland poster, but all are delightful and must have been so entertaining to receive!

It is sobering how fast people can disappear from our lives. You've had a hard time with Diana too. Yes, live NOW. That's a good motto.

I'm in the middle of writing you an email, Jeanie, and I'm hoping it will be done very soon.

Stay well, Jenny

I need orange said...

I'm so sorry. Thank you for sharing a glimpse of him with us. He was clearly a prince among men. The world is a larger and better place because he was here, though all too briefly.

paris parfait said...

Oh, Jeanie, so terribly sorry to hear of Mike's passing! He sounds like the most terrific guy and a wonderful, true friend! I'm sure you must be feeling such sadness, along with all of his many friends. Big hugs to you and thanks for sharing the story about Mike and his big, open heart!

Robin Miner-Swartz said...

When I was 14 or 15, I was always so excited whenever the SPIES got together at our house. What I always appreciated most was that each one of you treated me as a friend, not as the daughter of your friend. It really meant a lot to me.

I can't really remember a time in my life when Mike wasn't there. He was one of the most unconditionally supportive, generous people I knew. I shared this story with his niece:

I remember when we had to expand our Oscar Derby voting contest to every single category because everyone at the party got so many right answers in the top categories. Mike consistently got near-perfect scores, even with 24 categories in play. Except one year. I beat him once -- by one category. And while the winner always took home a token prize from the party, I got a box in the mail a week later. Mike sent me a prize package.

His death leaves such a hole ... but it's going to be especially big for me come Oscar time. <3

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