I first heard from my old high school friend in an email in October 2011. Subject line: "Ashtabula High 1975."
"I am in complete shock over what has happened to compassion in the country I call home," Philip Kachersky wrote. "It is not the same country that I was raised in in Ashtabula in the 1960s and '70s.
"It is odd to think that when we were discussing current events during our senior year, you and Pat Day were the class 'liberals' and I was the class 'conservative.' With very similar but more developed views as I had in 1975, I am now considered by many to be a socialist or communist!"
Philip. Such a smart and shy kid back then, and surely more conservative than I. We were both in the Thespians club, and in our senior yearbook, there is a picture of me playfully leaning against him.
"You have a lot of opinions, Connie," he once told me, "and we don't always agree. But I know you're a nice person."
It was no surprise to learn, all those years later, that Philip had become an ordained minister — "a liberal Baptist," he stressed — and a funeral director. He was happily married to Erin, whom he had wed in 1991. He loved her, he wanted me to know, and was proud that she was a teacher in the Youngstown area.
Every so often, I'd hear again from Philip. His subject line in January 2013: "Hello from an old friend."
"I am saddened by the changes in our society since high school. In 1975 most conservatives still believed in helping others." Three years later, in September 2016: "I will write more detail later but wanted to share this tonight. It was my friendship with you in high school that made me a feminist ... "
Philip always gave me too much credit. He was fiercely curious and determined to keep his mind pried wide open.
The last time I heard from Philip was in July 2019, six days after my brother's suicide. "I have seen too many friends and relatives facing similar issues," he wrote. "Keep both our families in our prayers."
I want you to know these things about Philip. I want you to know who he was before. He was kind and thoughtful.
On March 30, Philip was running a high fever and talking gibberish. Erin called 911. Before the ambulance took him away, she kissed him and told him that she loved him.
It was the last time she saw him conscious.
On April 13, 2020, Erin sent an email. Subject line: "Philip."
"I just wanted to let you know that Philip is very sick. He has the virus. He has pneumonia and sepsis. ... He is also on a ventilator. He has been in the hospital for a week now. I tested positive as well but have no symptoms yet.
"I just wanted to let you know."
Later that same day: "He is in medical intensive (care) ... It is so hard because I can't see him. I call in every day and ask for information. You only can call after 2. I will keep you updated. Be careful ... "
Two days later, Erin provided a few positive updates but added this: "(H)is feet and right hand are not doing well. ... They are talking of amputation of some of his feet and right hand. This scares the hell out of me. Please keep in your prayers."
On the morning of April 22, Erin saw Philip for the first time in 23 days. "I fought my way in," she said. "I know how to speak up for myself. Philip liked that about me."
Doctors had talked to her about amputating both of Philip's legs, his right arm and fingers from his left hand. He had no brain activity, they also told her.
It was time, she decided.
Erin wore two face masks and surgical scrubs. She watched as nursing staff removed all of the monitoring machines but slipped into the bathroom to wait as they took him off the ventilator.
His extremities were black. "I couldn't hold his hand," she said. Erin talked to Philip for the hour he remained alive, hopeful that he could hear her. "I told him I loved him. I cried. I yelled at him, too: 'How are you leaving me now? How am I going to do this on my own?'"
Erin and Philip were a team, "two peas in a pod." They loved to travel. She mowed the lawn; he cooked. The last texts she had from Philip involved various foods he wanted her to buy at the grocery.
They were fans of the BBC series Call the Midwife. She told me earlier this week that he had written down, on his phone and in a notebook, some of his favorite excerpts of a monologue from the show, including this one, which Erin included in her eulogy:
"Never hide your fears in silence.
Listen to those you cherish.
Hold them in your arms.
Let them hear your heart.
Tell your truth. Tell your story. Tell your love. ...
You just keep living until you're alive again."
Twice, Erin tested positive for COVID-19. She didn't have a single symptom.
"He was a good person, my Philip," she said. "He had no underlying health factors. And now he's gone."
She told me she doesn't pay any attention to what Donald Trump has to say about this pandemic that has killed more than 225,000 people in this country.
"I can't watch it," she said. "I'm not going to let it upset me."
She paused for a moment. "Just tell people to cover their faces," she said. "Tell them to wear a mask."
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, "The Daughters of Erietown." To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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