Death Is Not All That It’s Cracked Up To Be

2 Feb

Judging from the title of the article, one might guess I am going to reflect and write about what feels like the death of a nation — the death of the United States. It certainly feels as though we are witnessing the demise of a nation– I thought we were so much better than this — I thought we were a nation that was working to eradicate racism, homophobia, misogyny, and hate. While there maybe some overlap, I am actually writing, reflecting, and processing my own death.

I need to record this because I am still processing all of what happened and I am afraid the current political climate of the United States has hurt, delayed, and undermined my ability to recover. At the same time, I have never experienced such unconditional love and caring: a love that has carried me through all of this, a love that makes me cry even while writing this. I have learned and witnessed how human beings step up or sadly step back during a health crisis. Fortunately for me, the number of people who have stepped up with such enormous love is too many for me to list. The people in my family of origin who have stepped back and have been completely absent has hurt me in such a profound way, I hardly have words to share or express the hurt, so I shall focus on the love I am able to bask in instead.

Yes, I have been quite busy in the past four months. I was diagnosed with cancer in September and then had cancer surgery in November. By December, I was recovering from cancer and finally reached a space of reflection of “I’m grateful the surgery went well. I don’t want to do the chemo. I hope the cancer does not come back.” Quite unfortunately, on Wednesday, December 20 at around 5:30 in the morning, I had the first of two massive heart attacks. The night before I had enormous pain through out my right leg but thought nothing of it. Now I suspect, it was the blood clots that moved from my leg into my lungs and caused the heart attacks.

My husband Robert found me on the bathroom floor. According to the paramedics and an amazing and wonderful team of doctors at OHSU in Portland, this was the first time I was dead. I know was resuscitated at some point because I heard a man’s voice ask my husband: “Was he like that or did you throw a bucket of water on him?” I honestly remember thinking what a stupid question. Yes, as is typical protocol, my husband threw a bucket of water on me when he thought, “Hmm, Michael seems to have had a heart attack. I shall throw a bucket of water on him and see if that does the trick.”  The next thing I heard was a man’s voice saying: “Okay, he has turned blue.” Honestly, I really did think to myself, “Well, that can’t be good.”

At this point, I truly thought this is it and I’m going to die. All I could think of was that I needed for my husband Robert to know and to hear how much I loved him. I needed for my last words to be, “I love you very much, Robert.” Thankfully, he heard me. I remember maybe all of 10 seconds in the ambulance and apparently my heart stopped again. In the short ride to OHSU hospital on Pill Hill, apparently they were able to resuscitate me again. Rather sadly, as I was told by the doctors and nurses, my heart stopped yet again before reaching the hospital. The rest is what was reported to me by the amazing medical team at OHSU.

Apparently, I was dead for 30 minutes. The team and the social worker told my husband Robert that I continued to have no heartbeat and continued to be unresponsive. They intubated me at some point. They were going to try a machine that basically does CPR, which they did for 30 minutes. During this whole process, unfortunately, six of my ribs were broken and my sternum was broken. Yes, I will just say an emphatic OUCH! As a side note: we just received the bill for just the emergency room and the bill is for $72,000 — yes, almost as much as my first home cost in Atlanta. Now reader, I ask you this: Does it not seem like I need to ask for a rebate for the 30 minutes I was dead? Why should I pay for services if I was dead? Or, can they at least pro-rate the amount owed?

Being Dead: I must admit that I have always been one of those people that was quite skeptical when hearing stories from various people or reading stories about people’s experiences when they were dead and before coming back to life. Now I have my own narrative about dying and coming back to life. I know it to be true and I can only ask that you make of it what you will.  I do know that I was dead. I was processing it while it happened. My exact thoughts, if one wants to call them thoughts, were: “Well, that did not work out.” I know I left my body and I remember knowing, well I am dead. I also remember I did not seem to have a name, nor did I have a body. Strangely, I felt very safe with no anxiety, no fear, and no worry. I was quite at peace. Yes, I did see the proverbial “white light.” I would not have described it as a Heavenly light, but it was quite intense and it was all I could see. The light did seem to have a center and I remember walking towards the center of the light despite the fact that I did not have a body. Once I reached the center of the light, I knew intuitively that I had two options. I could go to the right or go to the left. At this point, I could sense Robert to the left. I did not hear him saying anything, nor could I see him but I knew his name and the sensation was so strong, I knew I needed to go to the left towards Robert. The next thing I remember was that I was in the ICU.

One of the gifts I received from coming back to life was the ability to witness human beings doing their jobs in ways that for me seemed magical, and I reflected and shared with all of the people who were amazing how magical they are. For example, the first nurse I remember in the ICU was named Anna. She was so lovely and sensitive with me. Anna and everyone I encountered in the hospital remarked how lucky I was and how absolutely amazing it was that I was actually alive. At some point, Anna was on the phone and I heard her say: “No, no, he is here. I am here with him right now. I am talking to him.” Anna shared with me that the paramedics who came to my home to try and save me had called the hospital to offer that they did the best they could do and they were sorry. When she told me this, I remember saying please thank them for me! Later, Anna shared with me they thought I was dead, as I was dead when they dropped me off at the hospital.

Another person who made such a huge difference was Dr. Kathy Wonderly — how appropriately named, as she is a true wonder. Dr. Wonderly came in and asked if she could sit on my bed with me and rubbed my legs and echoed (this seems to have been the chorus in a Greek play, as everyone human being I encountered in the hospital kept saying) how lucky I was to be alive. She then touched my hand and asked if there was anything she could do to to be helpful. I cracked a political joke and she laughed and said she would do her best. I have to underscore the power of touch here. Dr. Wonderly’s empathic ability to touch my legs and touch my hand had a profound impact on me. I am certain it helped me heal and made me feel safe.

My friends Janet and Sara were also with me every day in the hospital and would hold my hand (honestly, I think Janet was also searching me for spare change, for I have seen her search through my cupboards and steal my good china) which also helped me heal. I also have to share that my colon surgeon Dr. Herzig is nothing less than a gift to the world. He made a special visit to say hi to me and offer his well wishes and his sadness about the heart attacks. As an aside, I typically do not like surgeons. However, Dr. Herzig made me fall in love shortly after my cancer surgery. He came to check on me the day after he performed the surgery and asked if I was okay and if I needed anything. I replied that I was actually quite upset with him and said: “Dr. Herzig, I am really quite upset with you. I came in for a face lift, eye lift, and neck lift, and it is clear that you focused all of your energy on my stomach.” To which he immediately replied: “No, that’s right. We are just working our way up.” How many surgeons do you know that are that witty? I was so exceedingly lucky to experience so many people who just do their jobs everyday but they are quite remarkable and so exceedingly compassionate, at least that was my experience.

Love Fest: When I was finally discharged and was allowed to return home, it was clear that I was not allowed to be alone and would need a great deal of care. Robert had already taken so much time off for my cancer stay and heart attacks stay at the hospital, he could not take any more time off. Family of origin not only did not bother to call me, there was no way they were going to offer to come and help Robert and me. Sadly, my birth dad, whom I shall refer to as the sperm donor, for that is as generous as I can be toward him, was completely absent when he found out I had cancer. His absence continued when my baby brother let him know about the two heart attacks. Strangely, his girlfriend, who is quite lovely, called almost every day to check on me and on Robert. She also made apologies for the sperm donor’s horrific behavior. (The sperm donor had his feelings hurt two years ago when I called to wish him a happy thanks giving and my in-laws called in while I was on the phone. I explained that I had to take the call so that I could talk to my in-laws. The sperm donor went into a rage and said how dare I take their call, for they are not my blood and he is my blood. One should note that the sperm donor had no contact with me for decades. He was a very physically abusive man to me and to my mom when I was a little boy.) I explained to his girlfriend that if he could not set aside his narcissistic injury when his son was dealing with cancer and two heart attacks, I have no use for his abusive self. She just kept apologizing. I honestly feel quite bad for her, as it must be awful to see the true character or lack of character of your partner in life.

Enough bad energy, I have been able to also witness how people step up during a crisis and show up no matter what and are available with love, patience, food, books, and just sitting with me. All my friends in Portland have been amazing gifts and I am forever in their debt. All my friends that flew in from all over the country to help take care of me, I am forever in their debt. I am able to truly live and walk in gratitude.  I am also in awe of my husband Robert. I have a life partner who not only saved my life twice, but has been so supportive all while trying to deal with his own trauma around the past four months.

Healing: While trying to heal and with extraordinary physical limitations, I knew I had to stop listening and watching the news. Trump and the GOP represent all that is the worst of humanity and the daily assaults from these sociopaths was too much. The racism, the misogyny, the homophobia it was too much for me, to the point I wondered if perhaps I should not have come back to life. One particular assault by Trump and supported by the GOP was the Religious Freedom Act: that health care workers could deny LGBT/queer people like me services based on their religious beliefs. I am so grateful I live in Oregon and that this act has not passed yet. Thus I had to do something else and try as best I could to stop exposing myself to Fascist America.

Because reading has been hard while on pain meds, what I found extraordinarily healing was I watched Netflix’ seasons one and two of The Crown at least 30 times. I love Claire Foy. I also watched Netflix’ Latinx reboot of One Day at a Time season one at least 30 times. I am in love with Justina Machado and Isabella Gomez.  I have to say that I am now watching season two of the Latinx One Day at a Time and it gives me hope! Season two, for me, is what the United States can really be. We can be a country that works to tap into shared humanity, a country that works to encourage and support all people, that we can be a country that can lead the movement for social justice — to expand civil liberties. We can resist hate; we can resist fascism.

Finally, I will conclude with a simple thank you to all of the human beings who have touched my life for the better. When I die, and I will, I want there to be people who will reflect and say I touched their lives for the better — that I helped to make the world a better place for all human beings. I now challenge all of us to work to be our best selves, to be engaged in making the world a better place and to not engage in hate, or talk of building walls, or justifying “there were some good Nazis.” We can do so much better than this. Let us work in community to make some huge changes in 2018. I implore you to vote during the midterm elections in November of 2018! I also need to share how grateful I am to my husband Robert! This song from Emile Sandé is for Robert.

With great love and affection,



45 Responses to “Death Is Not All That It’s Cracked Up To Be”

  1. Jennifer Carey February 2, 2018 at 6:13 am #

    Michael, while you are saying how thankful you are to be alive, I want to state that we are all so thankful that you are still with us! Our healthcare system is a trainwreck. I’m so sorry that on top of healing, you have to deal with the insanity of medical bills.
    As you know, your friend Rocky and I started a YouCaring site to help crowd-fund for your bills. If your readers are able to donate, they can do so at this link:

    If they are unable to donate, I hope that they will share it out to others!

    We all love you so much my friend. Thank you for sharing your story and experiences.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 2, 2018 at 6:43 am #

      Jennifer, you are such a love! I am so grateful for you and for Rocky! You have been so supportive from the moment you learned about the cancer. Thank you for creating the YouCaring site. It has helped Robert and me more than I can even say. I love you!

  2. mary russell February 2, 2018 at 6:37 am #

    The ugliness of life and the beauty of love. You express it all so well that it makes my heart ache.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 2, 2018 at 6:44 am #

      Mary, I’m sorry I made your heart ache, but I’m glad I was able to capture the beauty and the power of love!

  3. Monica Parmley February 2, 2018 at 7:00 am #

    I can confidently say you have touched my life and made it so much better! You have absolutely helped to make the world a better place for me and for all human beings. I am so thankful you chose the path on the left (you’re politically on point even when you’re dead!). I love you and can’t imagine my world without you! Thank you for courageously sharing your story and your precious life with all of us.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 2, 2018 at 7:10 am #

      Monica, I can say all of those exact lovely things about you as well! I also need to say a huge thank you for I will be forever in your debt, Monica. You have been one of my primary care takers since we found out about the cancer and then you stepped up again with the heart attacks. I know how you do it, but I love you and adore you! You are my family!

  4. rosie49 February 2, 2018 at 7:06 am #

    From strength to strength, my friend. May the love of others continue to source your recovery. Much love and healing from me to you.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 2, 2018 at 7:11 am #

      Rosie, thank you! I am feeling all of your love and your power! I am so very grateful! Love, Michael.

  5. Bob February 2, 2018 at 8:04 am #

    Michael, I am at my office going through my usual busy day which does not allow much time to relax or reflect on anything other than work. I quickly glanced at my Facebook page and saw the link to your post. Right now I am sitting in the stairwell replying to you.

    I expected to feel sadness and dispair based on your topic. Instead, I feel peaceful and hopeful. You made me think about the people in our life that cannot get beyond their own pain to recognize the beauty in others. You are a beautiful soul and I am exceedingly grateful to know you. I look forward to hearing more about your experience. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 2, 2018 at 8:10 am #

      Bob, you are so lovely and Robert and I are so grateful for you and Christopher in our lives. You were one of the first people to take action and support me when you learned about the cancer. You have continued to be so loving and supportive through out this whole process! I am so grateful for you! All my love, Michael.

  6. Lyn St. Louis February 2, 2018 at 8:47 am #

    Dear Michael,
    Warm thoughts and best wishes to you and Robert for healing and restored health after these staggering life crises. Hope to continue to hear your voice for a long time to come.
    Take care,

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 2, 2018 at 8:51 am #

      Thank you, Lyn. Thank you for reading and working to make the world a better place. Love and Peace to you, Michael.

  7. Jennifer Betts February 2, 2018 at 10:41 am #

    Michael, you are a voice of everything dear to life and living with integrity. I am printing this and posting it on my Life Board where I can read it over and over. I celebrate you.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 2, 2018 at 11:04 am #

      Jennifer, I love and treasure you so very much! You are truly a gift. Thank you for your love and support throughout this journey.

  8. Steve Yoder February 3, 2018 at 7:17 am #

    You touch my life for the better, Michael. You touch my life with kindness, grace, mercy, goodness, sincerity, love, and so much more. All that even though I only know you and experience you through your writing. It/you reach into the deep places of my life and heart. I’m forever grateful to you…I’m forever grateful for you. Thank you for choosing to make a positive difference in the world. Love, hugs, and smiles coming your way…through these words hugging you tightly. xoxo

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 3, 2018 at 7:43 am #

      Steve, thank you for such kind and generous words! You certainly have identified my intend in how I want to navigate my life. I can only hope that my intent aligns with the impact of my behavior. Lots of love and peace to you!

  9. Susan R February 3, 2018 at 7:33 am #

    So glad you put your experience into words Michael! It’s a story of kindness and caring, and especially a story of choosing to come back to love. Not only did you come back to the one you love, and who loves you, but it seems your experience has solidified your own resolve to stay focused on love, rather than letting yourself get dragged down with those who can’t offer that. Love you! Xoxo

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 3, 2018 at 7:45 am #

      Susan, your love, kindness, and support, helped my healing in so many ways! Thank you for the gift of laughter and of 31 years of sisterhood/friendship! I love you!

  10. The Shameful Narcissist February 3, 2018 at 6:48 pm #

    I don’t know if I’ve ever commented on your blog, but I want you to know that even though we’ve never met and I may not have commented, I’m glad you’re still here. I’m glad that your husband heard you even while you were in that state, and I’m glad you’re still here and fighting ♥

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 3, 2018 at 7:56 pm #

      While we may have never met, please know how grateful I am for your very kind comments and thank you for just reading the article. Lots of love and good energy to you!

  11. Dr. Rex February 4, 2018 at 9:56 am #

    Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Amazing account!! You are much loved, Michael!
    Sending bright, healing light from the other side of the country!! ❤️❤️

  12. Dr. Rex February 4, 2018 at 10:21 am #

    MY dear friend Michael … I have two wishes: one … that you are in this earthy space for many, many years to come. You are too good a person too lose in these tempestuous times. Two: I wish I was closer … so that I could be among the ones who are showering you with the love that you deserve. Lots of love for you and Robert. I’m here … in the distance, rooting for you and asking that if there’s ANYTHING I can do for you or Robert … that you will call on me and ask. LOVE ABOUNDS … from my heart to yours!! ❤ ….

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 4, 2018 at 12:13 pm #

      Thank you so much, Dr. Rex, for your kindness, lovely spirit, and sharing nature.
      Peace, Michael

      • Dr. Rex February 4, 2018 at 12:15 pm #

        You’re most welcome!! Please call me Horty … you are one special human being!! ❤️❤️

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 5, 2018 at 9:20 pm #

        Horty, you are so wonderful! I truly do love you, as you are, indeed, an amazing and special human and you make the world a better place!

      • Dr. Rex February 5, 2018 at 10:01 pm #

        <> … The feeling is mutual!! I love you back. Thanks for sharing your story … I can barely being to imagine your experiences … as a physician I’m familiar with all the terms and possibilities. As a proud member of the LGBTQ community I feel with you and with Robert … the anguish that both have gone and been going through. Again … if you ever feel you need me, for anything, I’m here!! Tight, Puerto Rican hugs … they are the best!! ❤ ….

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 6, 2018 at 5:59 am #

        I’m so grateful for your friendship, Horty! In great love and solidarity, Michael.

      • Dr. Rex February 6, 2018 at 6:09 am #

        Back at you!! ❤️❤️

  13. Maureen Cole February 5, 2018 at 5:43 am #

    Wow Michael, what a powerful piece. Thank you for sharing your life and your death through your art. I’m feeling the highs and the lows. You are an amazing person and the multitude of your friends is a testament to that. I thank them for the support and love they give you and hope they make up for those of us who are not present, and I don’t mean due to distance. Thank you for this and I beseech all that is good and loving in this world to get you healthy and keep you around for a long time. My Love to you and Robert, Mo (and John)

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 5, 2018 at 9:19 pm #

      Mo, thank you for reading the article for such kind comments! I’m very grateful to be alive and for this time of reflection. Love to you and John!

  14. le artiste boots February 5, 2018 at 9:29 am #

    Dear Friend, All who know you are sorry you are going thru so much. In a way, you are comforting us and teaching – still – how to make good use of life. I am so happy you have more living, loving to do.

    Your sharing about how you make a choice to live is remarkable and I wonder if you would let me share it. Keep strong and fighting the fight. Thank you for being my friend.

    With love, Bettye

    Sent from my iPad

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 5, 2018 at 9:26 pm #

      Bettye, you are one of the kindest souls on the earth! I am always in awe of you! Yes, please do share it. Thank you for being my friend and thank you for making the world a better place. All my love, Michael.

  15. evelyneholingue February 9, 2018 at 3:06 pm #

    I am so sorry to read these words, Michael, but also so happy to find your contageous love for life and humankind. Despite all the hardship we are experiencing since the presidential campaign and election there is also a lot of good that is done. People share their hope for a better country and world and also get to work, which means to fight. You’re one of these fighters. Your post about illness and death is very moving but not sad. This is what makes it so beautiful.
    Each time I read your latest blog post I feel energized, knowing that you, your husband and your readers really want a better world. I feel less lonely.
    Now you must take good care of yourself and if it means putting your blog on hold, you should. We will find you when you are ready.
    Warm wishes for a better health!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 9, 2018 at 3:50 pm #

      Evelyne, honestly, you help me feel less lonely! When I read your kind words and comments, I feel hope! Thank you for your consistently kindness and generous heart! Love and light, Michael.

  16. Brian Arbenz February 13, 2018 at 4:34 pm #

    I haven’t commented yet, because I am grappling with the tiny, insignificant health bump in the road of a thyroid problem (0 heart attacks and 0 cancers, so tiny relative to what our courageous friend Michael is facing so gracefully). As always, you amaze and inspire us, Michael. The leaders in the White House long ago died spiritually and ethically, two ways in which your life is as potent and bursting with health as ever! And we love you are are with you always!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 13, 2018 at 5:38 pm #

      Brian, thank you for the lovely and generous words here. I’m so sorry about your thyroid problem! Please tell me that you are in good care and that this is being remedied. I don’t want to have to worry about someone who is contributing so much to make the world a better place. Please do keep me updated. Love, light, and peace to you!

      • Brian Arbenz February 19, 2018 at 5:58 pm #

        Hi Michael. You’ll be pleased to know that I am progressing very well over my thyroid problem. My energy level is quite a bit higher, thanks to vitamins as well as the iodine treatment. In about another week, the docs say, I should be through the treatment and able to eat and function normally (my appetite has nearly returned to normal). Now let my healing inspire you to keep getting better! Hope you are feeling fine soon.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 20, 2018 at 6:11 am #

        Brian, you have no idea how grateful I am that you kept me posted! How fantastic that you are healing and should be back to full speed after the treatments! Yes, you do inspire me, as I know you inspire so many others as well!

      • Brian Arbenz February 24, 2018 at 9:20 pm #

        Thank you, Michael. I am honored to be acquainted with you. And I hope that you keep feeling better!

  17. Stefee Knudsen February 13, 2018 at 6:02 pm #

    Michael, I have barely had the opportunity to know you, but you have already touched me deeply, and I believe made my own life better. I am so thankful that you are still with us in this world to continue your amazing work. ❤

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 13, 2018 at 10:11 pm #

      Stefee, you are so wonderful and I am so grateful for you. Thank you for your generosity of heart and for all of your energy in making the world a better place. How lucky I am that I get to work with you and all of your colleagues! With love and gratitude, Michael.

  18. Kathy February 15, 2018 at 12:37 pm #

    Hi Michael, you don’t know me. My husband works for Hacker Architects and your company did an equity workshop for them last year. Garrett also died for about 30 minutes in July. Like your husband, I called 911 and gave Garrett CPR. I did not think to throw a bucket of water on him though! If you’d be open to it, please email me. I’d love to get together with you and Robert and further process together what dying was like for all of us who died and all of us who thought our dearest love was dead.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 15, 2018 at 12:53 pm #

      Hi Kathy, I will follow this up with a personal email. Oh my goodness. Just reading this made me cry! I remember Garrett. I know this is so traumatic for you and Garrett. Yes, I would love to get together. Sending both of you lots of love and good energy.

      • Kathy February 15, 2018 at 2:42 pm #

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: