‘The Last Lecture’ and My Friend Mike Connell

A new friend and I used to meet once a month during his last seven months of life.

I’m thinking of him because I just finished reading this evening “The Last Lecture,” by Randy Pausch. My exec. coach recommended it. A professor at Carnegie Mellon, married, and father of three children ages six and under, Pausch had learned that his cancer had spread. The doctors gave him only a few months to live.

So, he decided to give a “last lecture” (the video is at the bottom of this post) to talk about lessons learned in life and have a final audience with colleagues and friends. Afterwards, he co-wrote the book.

It isn’t fun to plan for death. It’s what my friend Mike Connell had to do. Like Randy Pausch, he too was married, had three children ages 6 and under, and had cancer.

A mutual friend asked if I would visit Mike. I really didn’t want to go to meet him, as I wasn’t sure what to say to a stranger who is terminally ill, but our friend insisted.

Mike was so incredibly warm and gracious when we met. His wife had such a genuine smile. I’ll always remember their grace under pressure.

Mike and I talked about a lot of things during our meetings, which covered business and personal topics. Mostly, I asked questions and tried to be a good listener. There were some laughs, and often, tears. We became very close, very quickly.

Our last meeting was for only a few minutes. He whispered two sentences to me: “The doctor said I only have a few days left. I’m going into hospice later today.” We hugged and wept. I left in silence, too sad to say anything more, and he, too weak to talk.

I visited Mike and his family a few days later at the hospice center. Mike was sleeping most of the time. I met his siblings and parents. There was sadness, but the group also seemed “at peace” with what was happening. After hearing of the situation, Cardinal Seán O’Malley came to visit Mike.

As I remember those days, I can say this: Mike lived his final months fully alive. I know that he shared with his wife and children how much he loved them. He had the time to say goodbye to friends and family. He had a chance to prepare spiritually.

Mike was very brave.  While at the hospice center, he even joked around with people. I’ll never forget that.

I miss my friend Mike. I wish there was a cure for cancer.


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