July 19, 2006
Everyone who knows me is well aware of that fact that I cry a lot. I suppose it's redundant to say I'm sensitive. You know the type. I love nothing more than a sobfest at the cinema, replete with the requisite large buttered popcorn and a supersized box of tissues. And yes, my favorite movie of all time is Terms of Endearment.
But while tears come easily, there are times when the sorrow runs deeper, when true tragedy strikes and the shock of real-life loss reverberates.
Such was the case when I learned that Southold resident Michael Fouchet died recently.
I interviewed Mike just about two years ago, and, although we'd never met in person, we shared a phone conversation that has stayed with me ever since.
My editor at the time assigned the story to me because Mike, a Southold Town employee, had been stricken with cancer. He and his wife Judi, also a cancer survivor, were raising a young family of three sons. Knowing that their comrade was struggling, Mike's fellow Southold employees pitched in and donated their sick days to him, so he'd have that much less to worry about as he waged the battle of his life.
As we spoke, what resonated clearly was Mike's courage — his optimism, even in the face of fear, and his utter resolve to fight as hard as he could for respite from the fateful illness that threatened to take him from his family. Upbeat and enthusiastic, he refused to falter, to give in to sorrow or the why-me attitude that has taken down legions of lesser men. Instead, he spoke passionately about his Judi, and about her victory over illness. He talked about his boys, about coaching soccer and baseball. Most striking, he clearly knew the tightest teamwork of all, he shared with his wife and kids. Together, they rallied and worked together to get through the rough times, turning to one another with can-do spirit and strength.
Mike also shared his gratitude toward his fellow Southold residents. Their quiet act of kindness spoke volumes about the kind of people who comprise our East End communities. When they heard of a neighbor in need, they stepped up and did whatever they could to show their support with compassion and unspoken caring.
Bad things happen every day. Young children are forced to grow up overnight as they lose parents. Terrorists shatter lives forever. News reports are filled with the tragedy du jour, headlines blasting the latest brand of horror. But what we don't read enough about are the everyday heroes who hear about the heartbreak and set about doing what it takes to let the healing begin.
On the East End, quiet miracles are happening every day. Students at Ross School took a trip this year to rebuild homes and soothe shattered hearts after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc. On Shelter Island, Camp Good Grief offers a haven for little children who've lost loved ones. Volunteers keep soup kitchens stocked and homeless shelters open as a haven from the cold. Fundraisers are held virtually every week to help support families confronting their deepest fears.
Mike Fouchet knew all about the kindness of neighbors, and yes, strangers. He knew about a community of good-hearted souls who fought for him, opened their arms to support him. And who will continue to embrace his wife and boys now that he's gone.
Yes, I cried when I heard Mike had died. Real tears, for someone I've never met, who showed superhero strength in the face of adversity. Who lived his life well, and with dignity.
But behind the sadness, the courage Mike showed, and the outpouring of a small-town community that cared, is a legacy that will live on forever.