It turns out that Aaron Purmort was not Spider-Man, as he claimed in the funny-sweet obituary written by him and his wife, Nora, shortly before his death last week.
His death arose from “complications from a radioactive spider bite,” the obit said. In fact, as noted later, Purmort died after a “years long battle with a nefarious criminal named Cancer.”
Purmort, a husband, father and Minneapolis graphic designer whose brain cancer diagnosis inspired a frank and funny blog that reflected his refusal to give in to despair, died Nov. 25. He was 35.
News of his death reverberated online, garnering stories on Yahoo! News, Slate and Mashable, and attracting lots of attention on Facebook and Twitter, where it spawned its own hashtag, #RIPBigPurm (Aaron’s nickname). Several years ago, Nora Purmort launched a Tumblr site called myhusbandstumor.com that grew to have 25,000 followers.
“Civilians will recognize him best as Spider-Man, and thank him for his many years of service protecting our city,” Purmort’s obituary read. “His family knew him only as a kind and mild-mannered Art Director, a designer of websites and T-shirts and concert posters, who always had the right cardigan and the right thing to say (even if it was wildly inappropriate.)”
Purmort spent the bulk of his career at local advertising firm Colle + McVoy. Independently, he designed music posters and T-shirts, taught design at his alma mater, the College of Visual Arts, and shared a love of comics, soccer and music.
After his 2011 diagnosis, he became known to the many readers of his wife’s blog as the irreverent hospital patient who accepted his fate but not the notion that he should act devastated by it.
“There is so much beauty if you can face the hard part of life. And I learned that from Aaron,” Nora said.
They had been dating for less than a year when Purmort had a seizure at work, an episode captured on Nora’s Tumblr site, which she started as a way to cope and to share news with friends, never intending to draw a wider audience.
“My mother is excellent in times of tragedy,” Nora wrote in her first entry. “She doesn’t believe in hysteria, and as my body warms up and I start to breathe a little heavier she stops me short of choking on my own sobs as we pull up in front of the dark doors of the Emergency Room. ‘Go in there and be a woman,’ she says. And even though I’m not sure quite how to do that, I open the car door and go.”
Aaron’s story gained traction after an incident earlier this year.
Last March, he was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car in the middle of a busy northeast Minneapolis intersection, after suffering a seizure. Before he was rushed to the hospital, a responding Minneapolis police officer, Kyle Severson, tucked a note into Aaron’s pocket telling him where his car had been parked. The tale of Severson’s kindness, picked up by several local media outlets, soon went viral online.
The couple, who married soon after Aaron was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, had laughs even in the grimmest of circumstances.
Calling himself the “Cheem Dream” or telling his doctor that he’d like a glass of the finest “Chemo Grigio,” Purmort continued to work, travel, see his favorite bands and build a life with Nora and their son, Ralph. He ran a 5K shortly after one surgery, and recently, even as his body was failing, bought tickets for Taylor Swift’s next Minnesota show, in the fall of 2015.
A prolific tweeter, his dispatches lessened as his condition worsened. His sly sense of humor remained intact.
His last tweet, dated Nov. 9, was written as he was “researching how much Applebee’s paid for ‘Friday Night Lights’ to stay on the air.”
He quipped: “FYI it was a lot.”
Purmort designed a T-shirt that said “Still Kickin” in block letters, and sold them to friends online. Sales of the shirt raised $5,000 for medical bills.
“He was positive about it but it wasn’t a fake positivity,” said his friend and Colle + McVoy boss Marc Stephens. “Somebody at work who didn’t know him too well would ask him if he was OK and he would say, ‘No, I’ve got brain cancer. I’m not OK.’ ”
Nora began hearing from other women around the world who had lost boyfriends and husbands to brain cancer. They found comfort in her blunt, sometimes profane and often hilarious descriptions of her husband’s trials and of her own, as she struggled with Aaron’s health, a miscarriage, the birth of their son (now nearly 2) and the death of her cancer-stricken father.
Nora blogged through it all, writing recently: “How are we, now? Three years of chemotherapy and radiation later. With a marriage and a home and a child who just learned to say ‘striped shirt.’
“We are older. We are stronger. We are alive. We are so [*&^%$#@] alive that sometimes I run my hands over his back to just feel the miracle of his ribs, his spine.
“This is our life. A bit ragged around the edges, a tad worse for the wear. Beautiful and happy and full of a gut-punching love.
“Harder than it looks. And worth it.”
“The story is that Aaron was so good at life that other people are learning how to do life better,” said Nora. “Freak out less. Stop caring about stupid things and just like have more fun. We had so much fun.”