It’s a rare thing in life to know a truly selfless person, someone who, without being asked, consistently puts others before himself, someone who has been hurt by life (as we all have), faced adversity and become stronger, and continued to love others more than himself. Rarer still is the man who faces death, in all its cruelty, pain, and indignity, head-on, honestly, without shame, and with humor, and becomes simultaneously softer and stronger in spirit.
My brother-in-law, John Mikolay, was that person. His purpose in life was clear; John was, first and foremost, a family man. He devoted himself to his wife, his daughter, and his granddaughter. He cared for his father and his mother and selflessly, bravely walked life’s final road with each.
He went out of his way to make his family’s lives easier, often complicating his own life in the process. John wasn’t perfect (who is?). In fact, he’d be the first person to tell you, with characteristic self-deprecating humor, how imperfect he was. John was notoriously late for social engagements (always had to run to Sears first to “pick up a few things”). He was forever bringing home his latest garage sale find (how many antique clocks can one man have?). He ranted and raved about politics or N.J. Transit’s unreliable service. He was a walking encyclopedia of trivia, “common knowledge”, as he called it, and was happy to impart his knowledge at any time. He brought old newspaper clippings to every family gathering to share news and trivia he thought we’d appreciate. He loved history and knew everything there is to know about Abraham Lincoln. He liked old Hollywood movies, and he could tell you who directed the classics, where and when they were filmed, which actor spoke the first line, which actor passed away and when, which actor won an award (whether you wanted to know these things or not!). John was a Superman aficionado and insisted George Reeves’ original portrayal of the superhero surpassed all else. Thus, John alerted family and friends to all Superman television marathons (whether you shared his Superman passion or not!). He was always thinking of others; he often called in the middle of the afternoon to tell me a James Cagney film was on TNT or to tell me about a History Channel documentary he knew I’d be interested in. And if anyone, friend or family, needed assistance, John dropped everything and was the first one to lend a hand.
John Mikolay was a self-made man. He put himself through school and worked his way up the corporate ladder. He was kind and considerate to everyone he met along the way. It was not in his nature to be otherwise. John loved french vanilla ice cream, cannolis, and a good cup of coffee. Practically until his dying day, he had to have his coffee. John had a wry wit; he was quick with a joke or a one-liner. Even in his hospice bed, he kept the nurses, aides, and visitors laughing as he poked fun at himself and his very dire situation. Walking beside John through this last, most painful journey of his life, I witnessed grace in motion as he freely shared his trials, fears, hopes, and his final thoughts with those closest to him, and in so doing, proved himself to be the strongest, bravest, most loving, selfless person among us. John Michael Mikolay was the heart and soul of the Mikolay family; upon his death, on March 1st, a bright light in our world was extinguished.
I cannot bear to say goodbye to John, so I will just say this: thank you, my dear brother, for including me in your life and teaching me what it means to be part of a family. I am blessed to have known you and privileged to have been with you through your illness and final days. I am a better person because you let me walk this road with you. John, I love and miss you. See you on the flipside, dear brother. Until then, put in a good word for the rest of us with the Big Guy, and be at peace.
John Mikolay 1955-2020