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On Matt Miller, and the power of giving people their flowers while they're still alive


Story originally published on by Vahe Gregorian

Hours after his father, Les, died on Wednesday in Oklahoma, Marty Miller kept vigil over his brother Matt at the University of Kansas Medical Center — where he had been since Christmas. On this unfathomably agonizing day for the family, Marty could only hope for peace for Matt as he had entered hospice care for the stage-four prostate cancer that had already metastasized when it was diagnosed 18 months ago. In each case, the Millers had understood for weeks that these days were imminent. But who could gird themselves for all this happening virtually at once?

Les Miller, a longtime NFL personnel man who spent more than a decade with the Chiefs, had suffered a devastating heart attack in November and never really recovered. With his father having lived 85 rich years, though, at least the family could take consolation in the longevity of a life underscored by what Marty called "Forrest Gump-esque" adventures. Not to mention the wonderful memories created by Les and his wife, Joyce, and four children — including Mike and Debbie, who were in Tulsa as part of a family plan for contending with these sorrowful days. The untimely fate of 49-year-old Matt, a former Kansas State football and baseball star, is another matter to bear, let alone seek to reconcile. But something vital has happened for Matt in his final weeks, something that few might get to experience … even though so many more of us could give and receive it. Even as doctors could no longer do anything but try to make him as comfortable as possible, friends and family still had something special to offer in his waning time. Matt was engulfed in love from every verse of his life, so much so that staff at KU Med told his forever friend Greg Gurley that Matt was the most-visited person they'd ever had there. K-State football coaching legend Bill Snyder came from Manhattan to see him. So did Mike Clark, his baseball coach at KSU. Friends flew in from around the country.

They laughed and cried and told him their favorite stories of times they'd shared, from his days in the Kansas City area to San Diego, where he finished high school, to Texas A&M before transferring to K-State. And then some. They talked about those wondrous moments he enjoyed in quarterbacking the first 10-win season in Wildcats history (1995). They told stories about Snyder and reminisced about how the baseball team had to be its own grounds crew. They remembered Royals' star George Brett coming to the Miller's house when they were kids and how they used to run around Lamar Hunt's condo at Arrowhead Stadium … among the perks of Les Miller's job. They basked in recalling their youth sports glory days in Shawnee Mission with friends like Todd Renko, Matt Monroe and Gurley, the former Kansas basketball player who now is a KU assistant athletic director and basketball color commentator. They came to watch the Chiefs play the Bengals on Sunday and watch the Wildcats play LSU in the Texas Bowl on Tuesday.

That also was the day former KSU teammate Kevin Lockett learned that Matt's 5-year-old daughter, Dani, would have a birthday this week … and slipped out to get her a bunch of presents and wrapped them for others to give her. On Thursday, her sixth birthday, Renko, Monroe and K-State baseball teammate Chris Bouchard brought cake and gifts on the behalves of others to the hospital for Dani, who at the end of the day told her father, "I love you; I will always be with you." Often with his two older daughters, Mia, 17, and Maggie, 16, sitting nearby and taking it all in, every last one of the visitors showed Matt by their actions or told him directly why he was so special to them. "When you became part of Matt's circle, you were family," said Bouchard, a former roommate who has spent hours and hours at the hospital these last few weeks. Nearly overcome with emotion, he added, "He is truly a brother and somebody I could count on."

All of this was his life, which included coaching Tyreek Hill at Garden City Community College. All of that, Marty reckoned, made this "as close as you can get to being at your own funeral." That's why amid his grief Marty also was soothed by a sense of deep appreciation of both Matt's life and all those he touched. He had dreaded coming here on New Year's Eve. But as gut-wrenching as this has been, he said, it's also been an "unbelievably special experience." "It's been amazing, the outpouring of love and support from all those groups of people," said Marty, who has been scouting for the Jacksonville Jaguars since 2002. "It's been incredible." So, too, is Matt's love of his girls, for whom childhood friends have created a gofundme page also intended to help with ancillary costs associated with Matt's care.

(Originally published by Kansas City Star, author Vahe Gregorian)

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