Splash Chicago

A TRIBUTE TO JAY MICHAEL

Jay Michael was a man with impeccable style and dazzling wit, equally at home holding court at Hermès (where every staffer knew him) as a Vietnamese restaurant in Uptown (which he delighted in introducing to his downtown friends). He was an open book — or more literally, an open blog.

When he was selected to appear on Bravo’s “100 Days of Summer” two years ago, he began penning a weekly piece on Splash’s website. After the show ended and it was clear he had developed a fan base, he offered to keep writing about things that struck his interest, including a solo trip around the world he took last winter. Then, in April, he was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and he decided to chronicle his diagnosis and treatments with a five-part blog series titled, “My Choice to Live.”

In his gut-wrenching opening post, he described how extreme pain and fatigue during a morning run led him to the doctor’s office, where he received the devastating news that there were tumors on his spinal cord and kidney. As he began to process the diagnosis, he wrote, “something so powerful and passionate overtook me with this unwavering desire to live that, frankly, I had never felt before.” He urged our readers to “follow my story through what will be a battle of all battles — but one that will leave me with the final blessing of a beautiful life.”

We eagerly awaited each post hoping for good news, while he shared his observations on making the uncomfortable transition from being a “giver” to a “taker” by accepting help from his friends, the difficulties of dealing with insurance companies (he tallied the cost of his treatments, including alternative therapies like daily green juices) — and finally, a courageous last post where he shared intimate photos from his hospital room after a “small” brain surgery to insert a chemo port.

When, on Friday night, Jan. 8, we learned of his passing at just 34, it was impossible for us to fathom that such a vibrant voice could suddenly be gone. We know he will never be forgotten. And so, with the help of his loving friends and family, we promise to remember Jay and embrace the wisdom that he shared with us. We have compiled all of his Splash pieces on our site under a post titled, “Remembering Jay: A Collection of his Writing.” We find ourselves rereading them daily.

A few weeks before his death, Jay reached out to family friend and Lifeway Foods CEO Julie Smolyansky — her company’s frozen kefir was something he enjoyed eating during his treatment, and he wanted to extend it to other patients. Last week, she announced that Jay had already purchased the machine and she would be donating the kefir so that all inpatients at Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital could enjoy it for the next 10 years in his honor.

It is a fitting tribute to his beautiful life.

Splash Chicago