‘My Life’s Calling Is Dying’: Remembering Jim

ABC News’ Mikaela Conley reports:

When I first interviewed Jim Stanicki in November 2010, I was writing about the ways in which social media has made it possible for people to find support at their most difficult times. Jim was dying of lung cancer, and there was no reversing it. He had stopped chemotherapy treatment because, he told me, “a day living on chemo is a day I’m not living.”

“You’re living burden-free, and that’s a real gift if you’re able to look at it in that way,” he said. “I try to tell people that this can really make life delightful.”

Jim Stanicki, pictured here with his wife, was diagnosed with cancer in 2007.

He wasn’t afraid of dying, he’d tell members of Inspire.com, an online patient community website. He wasn’t excited about it, but he wasn’t afraid of it.

Every day, we reporters get to talk to people who are inspiring, maddening, electrifying and enraging.

But it’s Jim who always stuck with me.

Maybe it was his  it- is-what- it- is approach to life that made him, well, approachable. With his white beard and simple outlook, Jim sat in his home in Demark, Maine, reminding me of my northern New England roots, graciously answering my questions about his impending death.

“As it turns out, my life’s calling is dying,” he told me during our chat.

He was laughing.

“It’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it?”

With a William Carlos William-styled sparseness, Jim08 would leave little ditties of advice and thoughts for Inspire’s discussion groups, scattered for those online to pick up and examine.

“I had a great day today

 I realized I am enjoying my End of life experience

 I am one fortunate fella

 I just abandon any expectations

And enjoy all that is.”

People were drawn to him – his confidence, his calm and his outlook – as he stopped trying to beat the disease he knew would kill him.

How does it feel to have dozens of people, most whom you’ll never meet, tell you that you’ve helped them through some of their darkest days? I asked.

“Nothing feels better than to hear, ‘You’ve made this easier for me,’” he told me.

That wasn’t to say he didn’t piss a few people off. He was the first to admit it. Jim was a man of little religious faith, and he often expressed skepticism to those who told him he’d soon be with God.

“I’d rather focus on right now.”

In March, Jim told me he was training to become a hospice volunteer. He half-joked that the hospice trainers were worried he’d die before his patient.

“There is not a lot of human stuff going on right now,” he said. “I think just someone sitting there, touching their hand and being there, can be a lot.”

He was into the human stuff.  More people should be practicing it and more people should be receiving it, he said.

I told Jim his point-of-view reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut prose. He told me the author, known for his humanist beliefs, was his favorite, and helped him to understand the human condition.

Jim died two weeks ago, on Friday, Aug. 26, at 3:30 a.m. Hundreds of people posted messages on Inspire.com and Facebook, expressing their sympathies and thanks for the man who spread a message of living and dying well.

One of his favorite quotations? From the words of Vonnegut: “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

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