I met Michael Orchowski and his wife, Doedy, at a brain cancer support group at CCSB in 2009. I was touched by their story of strength and love, and encouraged by Michael's triumph over brain cancer and paralysis. But it was the Cancer Center's wonderful wellness offering, "Painting the Pictures of Health", where I really got to become friends with Michael and Doedy and the rest of our art class "family".
We lost our brother and Archangel Michael on Friday, November 25, just a week before his dying wish, an exhibition of his work, "which would expose many others to my joie de vivre in spite of this strong infirmity," was to open.
Michael's dream was realized on Thursday, and despite his physical absence, his spirit was undeniably present as people made their way through 33 Jewels Gallery, usually shoulder to shoulder, to view his lively paintings of positivity and hope. The energy was that of celebration and admiration. Michael would have been smiling with joy.
"Painting Toward Grace" was a fitting tribute to a man who inspired hope and healing in so many, myself included. I never doubted that Michael was a great man who had inspired many people or that he had a large circle of friends, but I was happily surprised at the turnout on Thursday. I knew Michael in the context of our art class, but as I made my way through the tightly packed crowd at 33 Jewels Gallery, listening to friends and admirers share stories and marvel at his paintings, I realized that our art group is just one of Michael's many families.
At right is a video of Michael describing some of his art and his process of painting through illness, taken by CCSB's Lisa Hashbarger. I'll let Michael take it from here:
"I fill my soul with love. The soul is much more encompassing than the mind, the mind is only a tool of the soul."
"This is how I want to finish my life - not in a bitter fashion, but in an uplifted fashion."
"This is what I want to acheive - the expression of the wish to live, and not giving in to complaints and doing things about the situation that we cannot change."
"It's difficult, but I'm not alone."
We'll all miss you, Michael. Thank you for leaving us with so much.