Sunday, July 23, 2006

RICHARD MEE AND THE STAR

Today The Unforgettable Fund normally posts FROM THE ROOFTOPS, where we yell e-roof to e-roof about the work being done to fight Alzheimer's. But today we are bringing you some of the saddest news we've yet to face. On July 18, 2006, our Board Member, Richard Mee, died. I can't shout it, I can barely write it.

The morning I heard the news, I looked out the window and couldn't understand how the sun could be shining in a sky so blue it hurt. How could Richard be dead? Even though he was a nursing home resident, and sick as can be, I never thought he would die. He always said how GREAT he felt. Especially lately. He was up to something...

On Father's Day - was it just a month ago - Richard's son Chris bought him a laptop. And before anyone could say "Hey, you can't do that!" he hooked it up to the phone line in his room and opened an AOL account. He was on fire with the idea of teaching everyone in the nursing home how to get online and email their kids. It was incredible! He would put the laptop on his bed, and they'd all pull up their wheelchairs to get their "lesson." Push this button to turn it on, this is called a cursor, and you have to move it with your finger like this, not like that, like this, that's right. He was so incredibly patient and encouraging. He had this magic way of bringing out the best in people, even people one would never suspect could use a computer. He was bound and determined to make my 83-year-old mother learn and she wanted no part of it. When he threatened to take the religious picture out of his room (which she had forced on him in the first place) she had no choice but to relent.

He would email the children of his nursing home "students" and when the distant family member would reply, he'd send out the alert to "Go get so-and-so." Then the relay would begin, wheelchair to wheelchair, until so-and-so was reached, and they'd wheel over to Richard's room where he would read their child's email message. The only person who lit up more than the message getter, was Richard the message reader.

Nursing homes are grim places, I'll leave it at that, but this man streamed sunlight, blanketing everyone in his warmth, his humor and his love.

Richard was my first Board Member of The Unforgettable Fund. His encouragement, when it was just an idea, is what helped launch this initiative, when it would have been easier to just forget. He saw what we went through with my father, he heard all of it. A truer friend, I could never have found. He knew exactly where I was and without him, and that tremendous heart of his, I'm not sure I would've believed I could do anything to fight Alzheimer's disease. One day, he looked at me shaking his head. He started wheeling away and over his shoulder said, "I figured out what your problem is." I said "Tell me." He replied, "You're a good person."

When we hatched the idea of The Unforgettable Fund, I would question it constantly. "This is a dumb idea. Richard, is this a dumb idea? Do you think this is a dumb idea? Maybe this is just a dumb idea." And he would always say, "Patty, even a dumb idea needs time to prove itself, so give it time. Until then, keep working." He also told me, the last time I saw him, that he'd see me soon. He was true to his word, but not in the expected way...

The night of Richard's death, I had just gotten home from my mother's house. My sister, mother and I had been laughing and crying. Mostly laughing, his sense of humor was legendary with the McNally clan. Anyway, I got home and was standing by my car, looking up at the night sky, only two stars in an immense sea of darkness. With a broken heart, no room for anything but sadness, I called his name. The moment I did, in that exact instant, I saw a shooting star.

Richard still delivers the message.

2 comments:

  1. Barbara McNally ReutherMonday, July 24, 2006

    As good as they get. You captured him well in your stories, Patty. I feel privleged to have known Richard Mee and very grateful for the friendship and love he extended to our family.

    We stoppedin to see him last Sunday night with mom. I wanted Ryan and Owen to meet him, for all of our visits there, the boys had not met Richard. When we arrived he was so excitedly engaged in reading email that he made us wait until he was finished before saying hello. He made a point of telling me how proud he was of the work he was doing with The Unforgettable Fund and that "come hell or high water" he was going to make sure mom started using a computer too. He was so funny with each comment that the boys were laughing the entire time. Richard made a face at mom when she disagreed that the British Open was part of the big "4" and bet him a nickel he was wrong - he looked at us with great sympathy when he heard this and made one of those faces, then he just looked down, shaking his head. Mom reminded him that last week he spelled "unforgettable" with one "t" instead of two so it was actually "possible" for him to make a mistake now and then...that comment made him laugh.

    My favorite memory of Richard took place last year. I was at Heartland visiting dad and passing back and forth through the common room that I had passed through many times. A place where many patients sit in wheelchairs in silence for hours upon end. It wasn't until Richard entered the room (returning from a hospital visit) and I heard patients chanting "RICHARD RICHARD" that I ever saw this room animated - every wheelchair started rolling over to him to welcome him. It was a beautiful moment to witness. Like I said - as good as they get.

    My deepest sympathy and prayers are with his family. He bragged about you all and was so proud of each of you.

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  2. Thanks for your snapshot of Richard. It was good to read about him. My sympathies to you and your family. Keep the journey going!

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