Friday, May 3, 2013

As If You Were Dying

"Write as if you were dying.*
At the same time, assume you write for an audience
consisting solely of terminal patients.
That is, after all, the case."

Annie Dillard
American essayist, b. 1945

Marvin Charles Hamilton III, 1955 - 2011

When I knew Marv at Notre Dame, he insisted on wearing shorts
for every occasion, even on the coldest day . . .
even mountain climbing in Alaska, he found a way!
He did, however, make an exception for his Santa Claus Costume;
he also wrote excellent letters at Christmas
and knew how to follow the advice of Annie Dillard,
to write as if you were dying:

from Marv's Christmas Letters:


"There's a number of people that I wish lived just around the corner, and you are on that list.

You have been a constant friend, for many years, and I appreciate that. A lot of 'old acquaintances' have been 'forgot' (mostly my fault, I'm sure), but you have remained steadfast. Thank you.

I hope we meet again someday. There are a number of 'lost boys' in Chicago, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio who need looking up. Maybe I can make a run through the heartland and catch up with everyone."



"5. Deaths Cheated: My son was medivaced to Anchorage in March; a potentially lethal viral infection; prompt action, by competent doctors, kicked the virus 'right where it hurts.'

6. Friends Taken: None, thank God, and I pray my friend Gary in Afghanistan and my brother in law in Korea both keep their large heads down."


Thanks Marv for these annual missives and for your boundlessly energetic way of being in the world. As my friend Eve (also at Notre Dame during the Marv Years) said, "You expect the lively ones to last the longest and just go on and on!"

But somehow, sadly and ironically, Marv was not able to Cheat Death when it came for him a mere four months after he creatively composed his heartfelt Christmas letter of 2010. For many years now, my people - scape of life on earth has included Marv, up North somewhere meting out justice on the Alaska Supreme Court or maybe keeping his delightful little family afloat on a faraway Pacific Island. How difficult it is to imagine the world any other way.

Friends Taken: One Great Guy.

*Reading Dillard's essay,
I couldn't help thinking of this old favorite:

Two Friends
I have something to tell you.
I'm listening.
I'm dying.
I'm sorry to hear.
I'm growing old.
It's terrible.
It is. I thought you should know.
Of course and I'm sorry. Keep in touch.
I will and you too.
And let me know what's new.
Certainly, though it can't be much.
And stay well.
And you too.
And go slow.
And you too.

David Ignatow
American poet, 1914 - 97

Kitti & Marv / Kitti & Celine ~ 1987
Sister Celine Carrigan, O.S.B., was our mutual friend and fellow student at ND. Among their many other good deeds, she and Marv both served as advocates for inmates on death row. In 1997, when Celine died young of ovarian cancer (like Marv, she was only 55), Marv wrote to me: "So sorry to hear about Celine. She was such a gentle soul, and good person. There is clearly no relation between life span and beauty, tenderness, kindness, bravery, intelligence or wit." Uncanny how these kind words written sixteen years ago on Celine's behalf have now become true of Marv himself.


  1. From Michael Lipsey:

    "The Man Who Laughs Has Not Yet Been Told The Terrible News." -- Bertolt Brecht

  2. From Carmen: I knew this blog would be great! I love how you express those emotions in an organized way. Kitti,thank you for your insightful thoughts. Loss is such a difficult emotion but powerful in so many ways.

    From Nance E.: Your blog is absolutely beautiful. It was very interesting to see the part about his son cheating death. I couldn’t help thinking that most of us as parents, if given the choice, would rather our children be given a “free card” from a death visit than ourselves. You did a beautiful job with your tribute.