Kevin Schieffer, looking gaunt and pale, took a seat in the studio and draped a quilt over his lap. It was the final days, perhaps hours, of his life and he wanted to talk.
“I’m the damned elephant on the way to the boneyard,” Schieffer said.
A few days earlier, Schieffer had texted Ron Rosenbaum and offered to be on Rosenbaum’s podcast, “Holding Court.”
“I think if I can stay alive ‘til Thursday, I have something to say about the ‘moment of clarity’ often experienced by those dying,” Schieffer wrote.
So on Tuesday, Schieffer’s son dropped him off at the studio, and he spent more than an hour of what’s left of his life talking about what it’s like to die.
Rosenbaum asked Schieffer why it was important for him to spend precious time talking to a couple of journalists.
“What it boils down to, Ron, is I’m not afraid of dying. It’s the last thing I can experience, and I want all of it,” Schieffer said. “Instead of running and hiding from it, embrace it. Hug and cry with your friends.”
It’s what Schieffer, 56, has been doing the past few months as the outcome of his non-Hodgkin lymphoma became obvious. He’s called friends and said, “I’m dying, will you come and see me?”
They have, dropping in to share old times and old photos with him. They’ve cried and hugged and told him they love him.
“It’s been pretty sweet,” Schieffer said.
Schieffer talked about dropping in on his oncologist to say a proper goodbye. “We hugged each other and she just exploded,” he said.
On Monday, Schieffer had a platelet transfusion. Again. But his bone marrow has failed and the platelets are dwindling quickly. He really only did the transfusion in hopes of lasting until Friday, when a good friend is due here from England.
Schieffer has rented a suite at the St. Paul Hotel for a small group of friends and family members.
“We’re going to go raise hell if I’m not dead yet,” he said. “What’s happening to me is sad. It’s all right to cry. But I’m not going to be the guy that sits there and people bring him soup.”
When Schieffer’s lymphoma was first diagnosed a couple of years ago and he had radiation and chemo, doctors said there was about a 90 percent chance that it wouldn’t come back.
A year later he went through a hellish stem cell transplant. But the cancer came back stronger than ever.
Since then, Schieffer has gone through the stages of grief, periods of feeling sorry for himself and moments of regret. What surprises him most is that his friends and his family — he’s married with children — seem to be having a harder time now dealing with his death than he is.
“My family seems to be having the most trouble because they are displaying the least emotion,” said Schieffer. “There is a palpable tension in the room that isn’t there when my friends visit. I want my family to just come and sit with me. You don’t have to fix anything. I’m very concerned about my wife. We are very close. Damn, I love her dearly.”
To pass time the last few months, Schieffer has made hats for the poor, and a few for his friends.
In the past days, Schieffer has been working on “the document,” a list of passwords and tasks he does around the house that his wife, Mary DesJarlais, probably doesn’t even notice. He’s not planning his funeral because he has no interest in one, and he hasn’t given much thought to the afterlife because there is nothing he can do about it.
Schieffer is not religious, so he has his doubts about whether there is a heaven, but he’s open to anything that exists.
“I’m covering my bases,” he said.
What really bothers him is when people tell him it’s all part of a plan. “When people are saying you’re going to a better place, that chaps my cookies,” Schieffer said.
But in his waning days, Schieffer is finding meaning: “When my friends come and tell me they love me, that’s spiritual.”
Schieffer also wanted to talk because he truly believes he would already be dead, and would have suffered terribly, if he hadn’t been using marijuana daily for his pain and to relax him.
Schieffer was very lucid and his thoughts were clear Tuesday, even though he had just smoked pot, and he took a break to eat a piece of chocolate laced with marijuana, which he got in Colorado.
“I smoked a whole bowl of Indica,” he said. “If I don’t have weed on board, I feel like curling up in a little ball and crying.”
Schieffer said the marijuana has helped with the stress of dying, too, and he much prefers it to OxyContin, the drug normally prescribed for people in his condition.
“It opens up the emotional side, and I want it open,” he said.
Ironically, Schieffer spent his career as a drug counselor. But what he really wanted to talk about Tuesday is that he’s found that it’s OK to die. Asked what he hoped readers would take away from his interview, he said he hoped it prompts them to call someone they love.
Schieffer said his “moment of clarity” came at 3 a.m. on Jan. 23, when he realized finally that he was on death’s precipice.
“I woke up, ready to play basketball again,” he said. “I’m in those last hours and have this energy. I’m way too ill to be sitting here.”
Schieffer said he has spent the past few weeks going out of his way to make sure people around him weren’t uncomfortable. He puts everything on the table, and lets them adjust.
He said he’s being the best person he can be to his friends and family because that’s all there really is.
You can be a jerk in life, but “if you are sweet to people the last couple of weeks, that’s what they’ll remember about you,” he joked.
Asked if he had regrets, Schieffer said there are two major events in his life that could have come out differently, but he wouldn’t dwell on them.
“I don’t want to sit on the couch and regret stuff. I want to remember the happy stuff.”
To listen to the interview, go to www.holdingcourtpodcast.com.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin