Russ Wildermuth’s story
He was a heavy-equipment operator with a build like the Hulk. Life was “big” for Russ, not because of the work he did or the size he was, but the way he lived. His big life was about living every day with gratitude, being in the moment and sharing love and compassion with others.
Russ died after a three-year battle with cancer. He was just 55 years old. It was 3:53 a.m. when I held his hand, watched him take a deep breath and then sadly had to say good-bye.
We were like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell—never married but devoted to each other for over 20 years. It was a loving relationship that stood the test of time. Our life was adventurous and charismatic, much of it centered around Russ’ favorite place—the cabin his grandparents built on the shores of Bay Lake.
Russ’ childhood memories and countless weekends we spent there together meant everything; the reason he said he wanted to die there. Cancer took his job, interrupted his active life, stripped away the cabin fun he loved and left him sick in bed. But he never gave up, and I never left his side.
Russ eventually lost his sense of feel, more frustrating than his cancer at times. But thankfully it brought Jennifer and Brad to our home— adored therapists from Ridgeview Medical Center. Russ also admired Rhonda, a nurse who introduced him to “comfort care” at the Marie Steiner Kelting Hospice Home.
Hospice wasn’t in Russ’ vocabulary, but helpful, comfortable care with fun-loving professionals was. I immediately saw him more relaxed and content. The comfort, warmth and extraordinary staff meant so much to both of us. What an inviting place for friends and family to gather! Apparently Russ attracted record visitors. I’m grateful to those who supported him up through a very peaceful end—our families, our friends and the unforgettable staff at Ridgeview Hospice.
I’m spreading Russ’ ashes near the cabin this summer to celebrate his birthday. We’ll live “big” like Russ did, by being in the moment and living every day with gratitude.
This Memorial Day, remember the lives of loved ones you’ve lost and consider donating a gift to Ridgeview Hospice. This invaluable program does everything possible to help loved ones not only die peacefully—but also help those that love them so much.
To Russ and his love and laughter,