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Kentucky by Heart: With a heart heavy with loss of younger brother, wishing you happy Thanksgiving

By Steve Flairty
Special to NKyTribune

In one respect, this Thanksgiving season will be a time of genuine sadness for me. I lost my younger brother and only sibling, Mike, on October 27, to pancreatic cancer. It’s a disease I have nothing good to say about, a scourge on society. Our family, especially including Mike’s wife, Theresa, got hit broadside by the news of his diagnosis after he began to rapidly—and unexplainably—lose weight several months ago.

I could write a book about the reasons I loved and admired Mike Flairty, but let’s, for now, suffice it to say that there abides a deep hole in my heart — one that our entire family and close friends likewise share.

Mike and Steve

But amidst the pain, some solace is gained when I think of a whole host of blessings that surround my brother’s passing. And ironically, they’re like low hanging fruit, and all I have to do is open my eyes and ears and take them in; and in the gathering of such, the proper course forward is to dole those fruits out to others.

That is only right and proper.

Let it be proclaimed that sincere words of love should not go unsaid on this earth. That wasn’t a problem in regard to the last weeks with my brother. During untold numbers of phone calls, hospital and home visits, I let Mike know verbally, and hopefully in actions, that he was something special and a difference-maker to me, along with others. I shared humorous moments from our childhood and asked him to help clarify details. No words were held back; no regrets remained. For that, I sit here writing this feeling blessed and joyful that enough time was available to make that happen.

My sister-in-law, Theresa, served as the main caregiver. She did so with incredible focus on Mike’s needs. I saw true and committed love in action, the likes of which I’d probably never seen. She set the bar high as an example, and I’ll be eternally grateful.
I helped in small ways that were, for sure, gratifying to me. Hope it was a plus for my brother, too, though I’ll never know for sure. The personal satisfaction of having been beside him acts today as a fond remembrance that I plan to always nurture; that’s a Thanksgiving blessing that lasts.

It is a blessing that I saw the depth of Uncle Kenny’s love for my brother, too. He spent nearly every day at Mike’s place doing helpful things around the house such as mowing the yard and straightening up the garage, along with handling business details that would later help Theresa after my brother’s death. He was an uncle who became like a second brother to Mike. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my uncle, the last of my dad’s six brothers.

Mike’s next door neighbor Barb, who previously worked with the Hospice organization, used her skills but mostly her heart of compassion to be by our family’s side day after day. She shined like a providential angel from heaven. Let’s just call Barb “family,” too. I am blessed.

My brother leaves two wonderful sons, Evan and Matt, along with their wives and a total of five grandchildren—all boys. How can that not be a blessing also? And the best is yet to come, as all of them will be touched in a positive way by Mike’s sterling legacy of being kind, hard-working, and loyal to his loved ones. Here’s hoping that it will always be a feature of the Flairty brand going forward.

Evan, Matt, and I had an opportunity to speak about Mike at the funeral. Hopefully, we shared things that others could affirm from their experiences. I’m sure we also offered a few tidbits about his life that those in attendance learned for the first time. It was a blessing that we had something valuable to give others from our unique perspectives.

There’s a range of emotions that ride in my heart like a roller coaster, and yes, sometimes anger appears along with the joy of blessings I’ve mentioned. But that’s what happens to us in our human state, and maybe it’s what actually makes us human, too. And that ain’t all bad.
To acknowledge these blessings in the midst of fresh hurting takes an act of will, for sure. But I’m also sure that my brother would add his blessing to that way of handling the situation, too. He wasn’t good friends with bitterness, and he wouldn’t want his loved ones to be, either.

Here’s hoping YOUR Thanksgiving season is overflowing with good things…and eyes and ears to see them.

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A highlight of my year is always the Kentucky Book Fair, and on Saturday I enjoyed attending another one, the 37th edition. This latest one, directed by the Kentucky Humanities under the leadership of Bill Goodman, brought on some changes. It was expanded in scope to a six-day event and is now called “Kentucky Book Festival.”

Though I’ve participated as an author selling my books six times, this year found me as a visitor and buyer who looked to see old friends and make new ones involved in the state’s literary environment. It didn’t disappoint.

I purchased Chicago Heights: Little Joe College, the Outfit, and the Fall of Sam Giancana, authored by Charley Hager and David Miller. It’s, according to the back cover, a “memoir of mob life as it played out for Hager in Chicago Heights, Illinois, in the 1960s and 1970s in a candid, revealing, and up-close statement about gangster life on the fringe.” David is a Lexington author/editor that I respect greatly, and I’m looking forward to reading the book and reviewing it for Kentucky Monthly.

The other buy was a children’s picture book I intend to give as a gift. It’s called Mousie HiWay: The Adventures of Banjo Mouse in the Appalachian Mountains, and it’s written by Michael Johnathon, host of the Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Michael has done a world of positive things in his life, and this is another one of them.

All told, it was a gratifying couple of hours, as usual, and I hope to be there next year as a bookseller with the fifth volume of Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes, with the planned release in spring of 2019. It shouldn’t surprise that our state is a bountiful source of those kinds of noble individuals, and I love to make their stories known.  

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)    

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  1. Phyllis Alexander says:

    Another beautiful tribute to Mike, Steve.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and Suzanne. – Phyllis

  2. Steve Flairty says:

    Thank you, Phyllis. All the best season for You, Doug, and Morgan.

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