I've been struggling the past two nights, unable to sleep with the thought of my old friend and former client, Mitch Campbell's passing. I found out late Wednesday night that he had passed away Monday. His body was overtaken by lymphoma cancer, his lung had collapsed, pneumonia, then his second lung collapsed. His very close brother, Denis, or "Brutus" as Mitch called him, held him as he died in his arms. In shock and denial, I called Brutus immediately Wednesday night and he told me everything, in vivid, haunting detail. Brutal.
I can't get those images out of my head. I had been worried for over a week about Mitch, catching wind that he was in the hospital and needed help I jumped to action. I didn't know what was going on, so I called him, texted, messaged, got little short responses or bits of typing that was hard to decipher. I had no one to contact to get details, the ones I did, the dire situation was news to them. How sick is he? Is he really sick or is it all false? Is anyone with him? Who is with him? What is his health insurance situation? What's going on? I finally figured out he was in JFK Hospital in Atlantis, Florida, so I called and talked to him.
"Big Mitch, it's T-Money!" is my usual greeting, no different this time either, even though I hadn't spoke to him in a few years. I had first met Mitch in 2009 when he was living in Kansas City. Originally from New York, (and very proud to tell you) he lit up any room with his energy and personality. He was always laughing, goofing, smiling and with that big, loud Queens accent you couldn't miss him. Larger than life. He was a character. We hit it off instantly, talked sports, baseball, BJJ and MMA, lifting weights, fishing in Florida...we were on the same level. He only talked about the good stuff, he was always happy and you can tell he knew how to live, he dictated his own way, his own life. He started training with me, "Hanging and Banging" as we called it, working out at my gym to drop some pounds. He would train hard, absolutely loved it and got in great shape. I would swing by the Pita Pit in Lees Summit that he owned, almost daily, sometimes just to exchange that friendly, exaggerated greeting, "T-MONEY!" he would always shout, and "BIG MITCH!" I would answer.
This phone call into his hospital room didn't have the same pep, I could hear how weak he was in his voice. It was hard for me, but I didn't lead on. We talked, he told me what was going on, basically that his lung had to get better so they could attack the cancer. I told him I wanted to help, I could set up a fundraising seminar as his insurance was a mess...I asked who was with him, he told me he had Brutus there, his sister from Chicago, in-laws...he was so thankful I called, a good surprise that I, a "huckleberry from Missouri" he would've said, tracked him down...he told me he was okay, reassured me everything was fine. Enthusiastically I told him he was going to beat it, he had to. He said "oh yeah" and that was it. That was last Friday. So after fretting about it, trying to figure everything out and make sense, finally getting some dialogue with him I suddenly felt at ease, had peace of mind knowing he was going to be okay and that he wasn't alone. I think I just wanted to believe him so bad that I just did.
He kept declining drastically, died two days later on Monday. When I found out and Brutus and I talked Wednesday night, he said Mitch knew he had cancer back in April, didn't tell anyone, not even him. His own brother, who he was so very close to. I have two brothers, we are very close and that hits home with me. I meet people all the time who say they are close with their siblings and I see them interact and think, "you guys are close? That's not close." Mitch was close with Brutus. He wouldn't stop talking about Brutus, he loved him. All the time, Brutus this, Brutus that. The time in his life we knew each other, his dream was to move down to Florida to fish with Brutus and play golf. I think he had done just that pretty damn well this past five years. He moved down there on his terms. He had always lived life on his own terms. As hard as Mitch's passing is to comprehend, the disbelief, denial, anger...all these emotions...the one thing that now gives me peace, thinking about all of it...in death, just as he did in life, he went out on his own terms. Brutus told me the night before he died, visibly, horrifically sick as he was, on death's doorstep, he insisted they go out for a steak dinner. They did. Brutus told me he was still joking and clowning right up until the end. That's Mitch. That's how I'll always remember him.
There was no other bigger fan of baseball, and not another New Yorker as proud as Mitch. The Mets just swept the Cubs in the NLCS, I guarantee you Mitch will be tuning in for the World Series. Today there is a memorial service in Melbourne, FL...Brutus told me no black, none of that...it's a Mets-themed memorial, that's what Mitch would want.
Godspeed, Big Mitch. You affected many lives, your joyful spirit lives on with us.