Saturday, March 03, 2012

Mike Kulin and his son, Alex,  at a Beach Cities Football Practice. Mike went as long as he could to see his son in action.

A Community-Oriented Family Man Teaches Lessons About Life and Death
By Diana L. Chapman
Pulling me aside at the hospital, my friend told me this about her husband:
It was late at night and everyone had left, she said softly. That’s when Michael Kulin started praying tied to his bed in an entanglement of I.Vs and oxygen tubes while at the Little Company of Mary Transition Care Center.
He didn’t pray for himself. He prayed thanking God for his wonderful family, his friends and his life.
“It’s like Michael had so much faith,” said Camilla. “I was so touched by the beauty of him in this state that he wasn’t thinking of himself even though he was in so much pain.
“That filled my heart and made me love him even more.”  
In a nutshell, that describes Mike, 60, a longtime South Bay resident who gave way to his six month battle with lung cancer Feb. 13 - but not before seeing a barrage of friends and his large family. When we arrived at the hospital, he was always asking how the rest of us were and what was going on in our lives. He was so humble, he didn’t want to talk about himself. He wanted to hear about us – all of us – his friends, brothers and sisters, his kids, his wife, myself and my husband in a constantly crowded hospital room.
He was an amazingly selfless man, the kind the rest of us could learn from.
One day before his death, I met Mike’s friend, Steve, who had known him since middle school. When we went to Mike’s bedside together, he immediately lit up and sat up in his bed: “Steve, Diana. I am so glad you met each other. Steve is a mass marketer and knows everything about photography you can imagine. You could help each other.”
When  a nurse asked us to leave for a few minutes, Steve and I wandered down the hall.
“Can you believe that?” Steve asked me. “He cares more about us than about himself.”
“I would just be whining and complaining about everything,” I confided to Steve, still stunned that Mike wasn’t focused on the obvious pain he was suffering when we saw him shudder and cough as his body broke down. He withered from a hefty football guy to a thin, gaunt man, struggling to live because that’s what his family wanted – especially, Camilla, his son, Alex, 11, and daughter, Anna,17.
There are many things Mike Kulin was. He was a family man, who loved his community, and coached football making sure all the kids played no matter their talent. He never yelled at them and always spoke encouraging words. It was his coaching style. He supported his loving wife, who was with him in the hospital every step of the way. He loved his church, and obviously, he loved God – even when he could have been filled with complete rage that he’d been given a raw turn.
Instead, he was more than grateful for what he had. While many of us grumble about our everyday lives, Mike shone like the sun who enjoyed his life immensely despite all the troubles his family went through with Camilla’s frequent  bouts of hospitalizations due to intense asthma attacks.
When I first met, Mike and Camilla, the duo rescued rabbits (after they fell in love with one as a pet). They were weary of so many of the creatures being euthanized – many abandoned by owners when the Easter jig was up.  They worked as a team in many ways, Mike running errands for Camilla’s Girl Scout Troop; She often helped with his health and life insurance business.
 Mike stood strong as he ushered his wife back and forth to the hospital where several times it seemed she might not make it home. This was just woven into the fabric of their family’s life.
Through all this, Mike appeared happy and healthy.
Before he was diagnosed, the family came to our house for dinner. Mike had lost weight because he had cellulitus and was trying to get into shape. We had a great time and were stunned to hear the news two weeks later.
While at the transitory care center, where Mike died, a friend arrived and told Camilla that he’d only known Mike less than a year.
“If I was half the man Mike was,” he told Camilla, he’d be proud.
“I was in awe at how he managed to coach the kids in such a calm, methodical manner,” said Lawrence Michael John Frontino, who met Mike when he was coaching his grandson, Shane, in football. “With Mike’s help, I now know at the age of 55 what it is to be selfless. With our friendship of only a few months he has demonstrated love of family, gratitude for where he has been and a profound knowledge of where he is going.”

That was Mike, a dying man who showed us dignity and strength in life and in death.

Sometimes you meet angels. In my mind, Mike Kulin was one of them and always will be.