A story about coming back from death

I have been thinking about this since the day I died at the end of July after a big heart attack no one saw coming, save for my wife, who had noticed a marked decline in my level of energy over a couple of weeks.

As I understand it, I was dead for eight minutes. The paramedics tried three times to revive me in the one block it took to get an Evanston Fire Department ambulance to St. Francis Hospital. It is right up the street, and that is quite fortunate.

On the third attempt, after all kinds of valiant tactics, I returned.

That’s from death.

I returned.

I am still shocked whenever I write that, think that, say that. Many developments flowed from that “event” as they call heart attacks in modern polite speak in hospitals. I got four stints installed in my heart arteries. I got a lot of pills to take for a long time. I got a back strain that is irritating, but a reminder that the firemen who saved me didn’t have the time to be gentle about it.

I am going into cardio rehab at Evanston Hospital in November, the first slot available. In the interim, I walk and do light exercise. I will eventually be fine. As my GP told me a little while ago, “Don’t die again.” I think he is right about that.

But I still have a problem with getting to return.

Why me? How do these things happen?

The priests at St. Francis, which is a wonderful place, said God had decided it was not my time to die, that there was purpose left in me. That is so sweet, I think. That was the morning after they gave me Catholic last rites, cleansing me of sin and preparing me for the big shuffle to the afterlife. I can’t remember any other time in my life I could honestly say I was free of sin. Perhaps just after birth and before baptism. But I don’t know.

I am filled now with an abundance of humility, the clear replacement for the abundance of certainty and arrogance that defined much of my previous life. I find it difficult to accept the thought that I am so important, so valuable, that God would intervene and give me more time.

In my 40 years as a reporter, I have seen plenty of death. I am sorry that sometimes I took that lightly and just moved on to the next story. Everyone deserves love, kindness and respect. It doesn’t have to be earned, it should just be there as part of life. I know we don’t think that way, at least I didn’t. But I do now. For all the people I hated before for whatever reason, I am deeply sorry. It was wrong of me to disrespect those lives. I don’t think I will ever think warmly about Donald Trump or his army of loud followers. But I don’t hate them. I can’t hate them. They are reflections of the complexity of our humanity.

Ultimately, politics are only important in the abstract. Something to argue about. There are things much closer to us that are far more important.

What I do know is that I am loved by my wife and three sons, who watched in deep sadness as I died, and watched in fear as I struggled and then came back. My extended family, which was on vacation in West Virginia, stood and wept on the porch of a rental chalet when they heard I had passed. Then they rejoiced and ate a big meat loaf dinner when they heard a little while later I was back. That is such a Madigan way to respond first to a perceived tragedy and second, to a surprising return. What a lovely group of sibs.

I am at the point that I can make jokes about this now. I have lost some 22 pounds, which led one of my friends to label me “Skinny Lazarus,” and then pronounce that the perfect name for a little band we formed. Just to irritate my old friends, I always make certain to note that I had died and come back to life in each phone call.

But I think the most important think I can say is to you, and I hope you share this story with everyone you know. Don’t be afraid to love your family, your friends, the humanity around you. Once you are gone, the chance to do that disappears. It lightens the heart and makes much more clear the reason we are here in the first place.

A final note. There is nothing there in death. I thought hard about that and realized what you need to witness anything in any situation is a good set of senses. Mine were all shut down. I am sorry I cannot report tunnels with bright light at the end, Morgan Freeman like voices calling me home. Nothing like that.

But I do know that there are angels at St. Francis Hospital, in the Evanston Fire Department, probably all around me. They work in mysterious ways, dancing with death each day. Don’t try to understand them. Just know they are there, believe.

I will say no more about it. Long life to all of us!

33 thoughts on “A story about coming back from death

  1. I never knew this! What a beautiful lesson you are passing to us as we still have a chance. I’m so very grateful you came back, I never would have known what a talent and old soul your are. From one Madigan to another….❤️


  2. What a great piece of writing Charlie about a subject most of us try to ignore on a daily basis and and an experience almost none of us will be “privileged” to experience.
    May we all live long, happy lives
    Thanks so much for sharing.


  3. You have had quite the medical experiences.
    Guess there is still something you need to do or finish!
    Take good care. Share a hug with your wife from me!


  4. JesusH. Christ! First, you are respected and loved. Second the Grim Reaper did not get away with stealing any of your highly regarded writing ability. Thirdly, perhaps Meatloaf Madigan would be another new moniker for you. Lastly, thank you for sharing this with us. I will be passing on to everyone I know. Take care CM. Enough drama for a while, eh.

    Gary Quarry


  5. You always meant so much to me as a writer, a giver of advice, and as a friend. I’m glad I got the chance to tell you. I wouldn’t have, because it sounds very cheesy, and I would have thought it very hard by your casket. But I guess you’d want to know that your generous sharing of life experiences were both funny and inspiring, and your writing has always been something to look up to. Thank you.


  6. I don’t have any witty quips. Only that I’m glad youre still with us and hope you remain so for the forseeable future. I read all of yor posts and enjoy them. Love and Light…


  7. So my friend, found after over 60 years. I am so glad that we were able to reconnect. So glad the Wailing Banchee never came your way and that you are safe and secure. Take your meds, listen to your Drs. Go to cardio rehab. It really does help heal you. I know. I have been there too.


  8. Thanks Charlie. Who knows what’s next in your life. I’m just glad you’re still here. I’ll definitely share on social media. Sending love to you and the family.


  9. You are one lucky guy. Thanks to Linda for saving you and your children for their reaction. Welcome back. Stay a while.


  10. I was so grateful to wish you a happy birthday last month. But had I known what I just read – well, it deserves the full name with the middle initial — Jesus H. Christ! — I am so glad you are still in this life with us. I love you.


  11. Madigan blood is tough stuff. Keep on keeping on, and don’t stop writing. Give Linda some seriously big hugs from all of us. We are so grateful for her intuitive and caring self!


  12. Oh, Charlie…

    WELCOME BACK!!!! Stick around awhile, there’s plenty of wood to work, music to play, and encouraging words yet to write.

    On Wed, Sep 1, 2021 at 5:38 PM Madigan’s Gleaner wrote:

    > Charlesmadigan posted: ” I have been thinking about this since the day I > died at the end of July after a big heart attack no one saw coming, save > for my wife, who had noticed a marked decline in my level of energy over a > couple of weeks. As I understand it, I was dead for eig” >


  13. You are a gift to all of us.We cannot loose you, little bro. God heard our prayers, for sure.We are so grateful for the wonderful wife and sons you have been blessed with. May God bless them and take care of all of you. WE LOVE YOU


  14. It was a war you won. More significant than Vietnam, Afghanistan, or all the others, you and the army of docs and EMTs who had your back. And I’m forever grateful.
    Recover, get very well, and Make More Music. It’s our greatest salvation.


  15. Oy.
    Please stay well. Try chicken soup. Also (doctor permitting) a little whiskey.
    And read some poetry. I’d start w/ Tennyson’s “Ulysses” and go on from there.
    For what it’s worth, you still write good


  16. You are certainly worth that box of Kleenex we needed to prove just how important you are to our clan! It was interesting to observe that everyone shared their grief with each and every one young to old, old to young… it was beautiful, and in retrospect enlightening. So, in addition to the fact that we are more than overjoyed to have you with us, you have given us a gift of appreciating you and each other. Keep on keeping on in all of the great ways in which you have gifted this world and family. God said so!
    Love you bro. Robin


  17. Beautifully written.
    I read it in church before the service started. Overwhelmed! You have no idea how many want you to stay alive and find a wellness to keep you with us!! Take special care!!
    Love you. Hugs!
    Brad and Susan


  18. Dear Skinny Lazarus, Thank God you were picked to live and tell this story. Your words, always weighty, are weightier than ever. I am listening. I am listening weightily. Love, Mahany


  19. Dear Charlie—Please do your best to stick around! Your gifts as a writer and good-hearted human make a great difference in this world. Thanks for sharing your experience and return. I’m a fan of Fr. Greg Boyle S.J., who says God protects us from nothing but sustains us thru everything. So grateful to know you!


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