Mike Hirsch has been editor of The Morning Call since 2001 and has been director of Content/Opinion and Community Engagement for several years. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease. He wrote regularly about his battle with the disease in 2019. This is his final installment. Mike died Wednesday night. He had just turned 62.
I was born dead.
Those were the words of my German-American grandfather, Michael Allan Hirsch, born July 29, 1960.
I came to appreciate that explanation. Nichtsnutz means naughty child. I thought it meant someone who tries to liven up a gathering and make people laugh.
(My family usually tolerated and enjoyed my hijinks, but collectively put them on their feet by saying I had set the betting pool too far to choose the date of my death. )
Maybe it was because I was the youngest of four, and maybe it was because I resembled the family fun-loving Irish.
I saw humor as a way to bring people together.
My mother wanted me to follow in my father’s footsteps and work as an accountant. But she should have known in high school that her temperament was wrong. In senior accounting class, I wrote a newspaper called The CPA Daily that mocked bean counters.
I made the transition from accounting to communications during my junior year of college. This was the smartest choice of my life.
That’s how I met Mel, the woman I’d been looking for for the first 20 years. She was my north star and I followed her wherever she went.
I also discovered a love for writing, journalism, and quirky newsrooms. I followed this path and launched a fascinating career.
Mel, journalism, and I have been loyal companions for decades. later got married.
I found my writing voice later in life. I met him late 2019 at age 59 he was diagnosed with ALS. I started writing occasional essays about my travels. I slowly lost my ability to walk and move my arms and began to have trouble speaking and breathing. Said it was helpful.
It was an honor to win again this year. Best Commentary First Prize From the Society of Feature Journalism for a newspaper of our size. I was also named her second best columnist in Pennsylvania by the Keystone Press Awards for the same essay.
When I was first diagnosed, I came up with a daily mantra.
I tried to live the last three years of my life like this. Yes, this disease is terrible and exhausting for the whole family. But I did my best to stay in the moment as much as possible and enjoy time with Mel, my daughter, her partner, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and pets.
They all brought me great joy during this time. Mel and I counted our blessings every night just before we went to sleep.
And boy, did I have fun. Some of my Facebook posts reflected my nichtsnutz personality. I drove my motorized wheelchair at top speed (6 mph) into his 10 full-size trash cans stationed in the middle of the street on the Lower Mackenzie development. In my “Grinches get Stinches” video, I attached her 10-foot spear to a wheelchair and used a fellow doctor’s scalpel to cut off the head of her inflatable Christmas icon.
I was trudging through an eight-foot pile of leaf litter followed by a mob of teens and teens pomping wheelies on their bikes. Finally, I dressed up as a bulldog and passed five of his favorite Boover toys, leaving streaks of Boover on the pavement.
The point of these videos was to make the reader laugh, entertain and show that a full life with ALS is possible.
As a journalist, I did just about everything in the newsroom. Reporter, copy editor, bureau chief, news assistant editor, arts and entertainment editor, business editor, feature editor and finally opinion editor.
I was always happy when my reporter won a national award.My business reporter for The Morning Call won over 10 awards. I am especially proud of the award won by former staff writer Sam Kennedy for the article that closed Lehigh Valley College. At the time, for-profit schools were the fastest growing in the Lehigh Valley, and there was even talk of colleges levying high-interest loans on students.
At Wake Up Call, the staff has produced one of the best sections in the country four times in six years. One year it was voted the nation’s best featured section of a newspaper our size.
But my family always provided the greatest joy. My eldest daughter, Emily, and her husband, Eric (I usually call him “Eric with a K”), run a Brooklyn-based photography studio. Emily has been a delightful companion for her 31 years and I admire not only her work but her dedication to her family. Eric soon became a son, friend, and fellow adventurer.
My daughter Mathilde has the most amazing social and environmental conscience I have ever seen. She moved to the Adirondacks with her partner Grayson to help care for me when I entered hospice in June.
Some of my other blessings: Amazing neighbors Fran and Judy Narve, who walked our rescue dog Mercy and have helped us in countless ways over the past three years. I also have my Pennsylvania brother, Tom Warren, who, along with his wife, Janet, helped me through every obstacle and helped me through each stage of my ALS journey. Dozens of friends and neighbors have helped me, and I am grateful for each and every one of them.
Being the youngest, it is sad to die first. I miss his younger brother Bob, younger sister Linda, and younger sister Cathy more than I can tell them. All of them, especially Bob, have gone above and beyond to help me and my family over the last few months as we struggle with the increased demand for caregiving.
I have one message to share with my family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.
Call hours will be from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm on August 10th. Stephens Funeral Home, 274 N. Krocks Road, Upper Macungie Township. On August 11th at 11:00 am, a funeral mass will be held at the Cathedral of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Contributions to Mike’s memory are made to ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter, 321 Norristown Rd., Suite 260, Ambler, PA 19002 or The Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104 or Adirondack Land Trust, PO can do. Box 130, Keane, NY 12942.
Read more of Mike’s columns:
“I saw humor as a way to bring people together” – The Morning Call
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