Favorite letters of 2015 marked by the passing of a friend

Len Brauer's request tells you much about his character: “In lieu of flowers, Len would like for you to go out of your way to do something nice and meaningful for someone and ask them to pay it forward.”

His obituary also mentioned that one of his passions in retirement was writing letters to the opinion page of the Daily Herald. He wrote about handicapped parking, separation of church and state, a World War II hero, how he agreed — and disagreed — with the Tea Party. He wrote with passion, but was compassionate and always shared his views in a gentlemanly way. Great sense of humor, too.

But the letter that caught the eyes of those of us who edit them was the one about his impending death. Len, at 79, explained why he opted against life-prolonging open-heart surgery and the arduous recovery that was sure to follow. “I'd rather take my last breath with the dignity of living at home with my family and my dogs without tubes and machines keeping me alive,” he wrote in December 2013. “Although I don't know exactly when my time will come, I do have a pretty good idea. Odds are I'll be around for my 80th birthday in April, but the odds aren't good for my 81st. To paraphrase Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘God's finger will touch me and I will sleep.' I'm OK with that.”

That letter was in the first group of “favorite” letters chosen for 2013, an end-of-the-year feature we launched then. The selections that appear on this page today for 2015 are the choices of Jim Slusher, assistant managing editor/opinion, and yours truly. The letters cover topics as far-flung as world issues to things as close to home as a thoughtful thank you for a new park in Wheeling. A quick note appears before each letter from Jim or me, explaining what we liked about it.

When we began picking our choices for 2014, Len, once again, contributed several gems to the mix. One of them was compelling enough that we made Len our first two-time winner. But before we announced our selections, one of our editors called Len to give him the news, but, frankly, we wanted to make sure he was still alive. He assured us he was, and appreciated being honored as one of our favorite contributors.

Not long after, though, Len wrote to tell us that his health had declined to the point that he would no longer be writing. As it turned out, he had one more letter he wished to share with us, sent to us after his passing by his son, Josh. It was written Oct. 6, and appears in full on today's editorial page. And it seems only fitting that we make Len our first three-time contributor to our favorite letters compilation for his eloquence, his sense of humor and his bravery.

Len wrote that after his decision not to have surgery, a routine physical “vindicated” that choice: He had now contracted leukemia. “I could now live the rest of my life in dignity with my family, my dogs and the wonderful home and garden my wife has created.

“When I first wrote about this 2 years ago, I closed with the following statement, ‘To paraphrase Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘God's finger will touch me and I will sleep.' I'm OK with that.' But today I would like to add: Please God, give me the finger, already.”

Len died Nov. 27.

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