Every day, someone makes a difference in someone else's life. We may know a person for ages as a friend or even an acquaintance, like them, appreciate their talent, and maybe even say "Good job!" or "I liked that!" But then something happens -- to them or to us -- that changes the picture to something more revealing, more profound. Maybe we are able to tell them how they have affected our perspectives or how we value their contributions to our lives. Or, maybe we think there will be time to say so later. Sometimes there is and sometimes, regrettably, there isn't.
|Catfish by Dick Hill|
And that's why I need to tell you now about Dick Hill. Because I want him to know how I feel -- and I want you to know about him. You need to know about him. We all do. He may not have a lot of time left to hear these words, so it's important to do it now. And while he's here on this earth, he still has a lot to say. It's funny, witty and very wise and I need to share some of that with you..
You may already "know" Dick Hill -- or at least know his voice. He is the audio book narrator of over 1,000 books, including the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, along with those of Henning Mankel, Michael Connelly, and Dave Berry. No person could be better suited to narration because before he was a book narrator, he was an actor and he brings that skill to his audio work.
|Dick Hill (Dickhill.com)|
I had seen Dick on stage long before I actually met him, as a frequent leading man in local theatre productions. When WKAR did a series of "Pledge Free August" videos, Dick and his wife, Susie Breck, were the on-air talent, recording what I remember as being (and possibly am overestimating) dozens of video spots at a variety of locations.
|Susie Breck and Dick Hill during the WKAR Pledge Free August shoot.|
I was on a lot of those shoots and they were both delights to work with.
|Susie Breck and Dick Hill recording Pledge Free August videos for public television|
A few years later, Dick cast me in a female version of "The Odd Couple" that he was directing as a fund raiser for the Red Cross, so we had the opportunity to work together in a different way.
I describe this to explain that I knew Dick for years but I wasn't an "intimate," an "everyday friend." We did the campaign and one show, but by then our circles moved a bit differently. Then Facebook came along and, as one so often finds, we were in touch again. I learned that in 2018, he retired from audio recording and decided to paint.
And paint he did!
|Ready to Go by Dick Hill|
Dick Hill has been a powerful influence on my life in recent months. And why? No, not because of the painting, although his style is a glorious wash of color and joy and it inspires me to be more free in my own work. Some of his paintings are complex, some primitive, some portrait-oriented; some are landscapes and some just emerge from his wonderfully imaginative mind.
|Willem's Backlot by Dick Hill|
Watching him evolve over the past few years has been a joy. He wrote:
Surveying my paintings, many inspired by William Johnson, Matisse, Van Gogh, Basquiat and others. They say many artists stand on the shoulders of giants. I step on their toes."
Susie, who is a gift of love and kindness in itself, has turned their home into a joyful art gallery, filled with the color Dick spreads on canvas.
|The colorful home of Dick Hill and Susie Breck (Photo by Jeff Boerger)|
Or, as Dick would say, "Susie, she's a doozie."
But that's not the reason I want to say this now. Dick Hill is dying. It's no secret. He's unbelievably open about it on his Facebook page, sharing this journey to his next destination and his joy in sucking out the last best and most colorful bits of life before he leaves.
|The bathroom of Dick Hill and Susie Breck (Photo by Jeff Boerger)|
And in those posts he has shown me something only one other person in my life has shown me before. That was my mom. She taught me -- and Dick has more than reinforced -- a philosophy I hope to be able to continue when the chips are really down.
That philosophy? How to really live while dying -- which is ever so much more fun and enriching than dying while living.
|Voyeur's Perch by Dick Hill|
Throughout his cancer treatment, which he has since stopped and is now a Hospice client, Dick has been able to be honest but upbeat. Beyond upbeat. His posts are filled with fun poems he has written and the thoughts of a man who is seeing and savoring this beautiful world around him.
|Carmen's Visitor by Dick Hill|
The other day he wrote this:
I guess you could say I'm sad that my life is ending, or so it's rumored. I know Susie is sad that's the case.
However it makes much more sense to laugh and enjoy life up until the very last moment before we indulge ourselves in that sadness.
Right now I'm rediscovering the delicious joy of drinking water. Not coffee, not wine, not juice. Water.
And then there was this:
I love Life, I live Love. Try to anyway. But I also love the thought of passing to another level of awareness and being, where I reunite with the ONE, the ALL, and find perfect fulfillment with that union. That's how I think and feel it works. If not.... um...oops. Try again Dick.
|Dick Hill (photo by Jeff Boerger)|
And consider the joys of having a favorite pie for the last time.
Lovely warm day, relaxing hospice massage, did some painting...for dinner tuna pasta salad, my warm weather favorite. For dessert? RHUBARB CREAM PIE!!!! My favorite of all pies. Susie makes terrific pies. Susie, of course, is entitled to have some but NO ONE ELSE! This will be my last rhubarb cream pie, and I am gonna' enjoy it as long as it lasts. Me. Mine. My pie. Mine! With a nice, rich vanilla ice cream.
|One of the Ethel and Sissy series by Dick Hill|
There are words of gratitude and words of compassion and wisdom...
Extraordinary outpouring of love and support coming my way since I shared the news of entering hospice and embarking on a sort of cruise toward death, for which I thank you all. So far it's been smooth sailing...appetite loss, lassitude, and what may be slightly slower uptake and comprehension but nothing terribly upsetting or debilitating.
By the way, that person next to you in the grocery line? They're dying too. Date of demise uncertain, but it's comin'. It'd be great to show them the same love tolerance and appreciation for their existence, even if they barged ahead of you to bring 17 items to the 10 or fewer item lane.
If they bring 18 though, that just might prove a bridge too far.
Give someone a nicer day.
Give yourself a nicer day.
Smile and wave and let them merge.
That's all it takes.
You'll have made the world a better place, and I'm pretty sure a butterfly in Macao dances on a baby's nose because of you.
As you no doubt know, not every day in one's end-of-life journey is easy. I'm pretty sure there are days when Dick is not up to painting, though God knows he'll try -- and feel better for it. Or, as he wrote:
Sometimes there are no easy answers. And sometimes there are
not even any hard ones.
He might re-write Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics to "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," then sing it, his bass voice at long last restored after stopping the chemotherapy. He may pen a limerick or a poem or cook a meal like this one.
Made a rather demanding brunch...I'm a decent cook but juggling so many elements was hard for me, and would have been impossible were I working against a chef's timeline. Poached salmon, lemon, dill, salt and pepper topped with a pineapple, watermelon salsa....dandelion and carrot greens sauteed with onion and garlic, topped with sliced almonds and shaved parm...lovely soft scramble with chopped kalamata olives, capers, green onion, tomato, pine nuts, feta and parsley...mini croissants (store bought).
|Beet Red Walls and Split Pea Soup by Dick Hill|
I've always believed dying is scary and no one is a fan of the pain that often comes with it. I still do and I don't relish having that experience any sooner than necessary. But in being "out there" with his illness and the inevitable transition, Dick Hill reminds us all of savoring the joy, the raw, wonderful being of life. And that's something we must never forget.
|The Painter in his Underwear by Dick Hill. "Don't often look at my full body in the mirror," he writes. "My goodness gracious. I am indeed 75 years old. If I were a Dickens character, I'd be named Mr. Sagwrinkle."|
And these words of wisdom from yet another of Dick's FB posts? They are wonderful words to live by and I'm doing my best to do just that:
Today is here with all its ugly. See it. Stand against it.
Today is here with all its beauty...like the billions of scintillating sparkles after that perfect type of snowfall, you know the kind, every sparkle a person to be embraced, a pet, a flower, a taste, a color. See it, rejoice a million times.
Today is here. Time to clean my brushes and see what I might accomplish.
Today is here.
|Dick Hill in his studio (photo by Jeff Boerger)|
And so, what is to be my mission, my experience from these lessons I have so greedily absorbed in these months of reading his words? I will write and I will paint. I suspect when I pick up a tube of paint and squeeze it into my palette, I will be thinking of someone who took the color and made it sing.
I will sit on my beach this summer and read books, feeling the sand in my toes. And when I swim, the water will first chill and then envelop me in its cocoon. I'll float on my back and look at the clouds, searching for bunnies and kittens and Yeti in those thick, white puffs. I'll take walks and celebrate the summer's wildflowers, the changing leaves in the fall and next winter's snowflakes. And I won't be alone.
|Two Loons by Dick Hill|
I will be one of the many whom I suspect will be Dick's eyes when they are no longer here to see those bursts of color and that cloud of white. Maybe I'll even sing a song or two, despite having lost so much of my voice in recent years. Or maybe that's a step too far.
|Ethel and Sissy Loved Story Time with Ms. Angela by Dick Hill|
And I will do all I can to absorb the lessons I continue to learn from Dick every day in grace. I hope there are a lot more days of those lessons and the smiles so many of find on our faces as we read those posts.
|Sissy Wants to Play by Dick Hill|
Among our many blessings, one of the
greatest is being in a position to extend some help to friends and loved ones
when it's needed, and to other sisters and brothers we've never met.
(For more about Dick Hill, you can check out his FB posts, which may or may not be public. An interview in Mystery Thriller Week is here; and you can listen to excerpts from his audio books here. Thanks to photographer Jeff Boerger for letting me use some of the photos he took of Dick and his home.