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life

Farewell Old Friend

It’s never easy to lose a friend, and sometimes their passing truly stings despite how anticipated it may have been. My friend Michael died this morning and my heart grieves. We became neighbors when I first moved to the coast 15 years ago and we remained friends after he sold his home and moved across town. He was an odd one in his own way, and had some struggles at times with mental health, but at his core he was a really good human with an optimistic spirit who loved well. His brilliant mind coupled with his enthusiastic spirit sometimes accelerated his thoughts to several times faster than he could easily articulate. I’d sometimes lose sight of that and I admit to losing patience with him more often than I wish I had, yet we were always quick to apologize and remained close.

I took this picture of him about 6 weeks ago in a room in his apartment which he had set up to have pretty much everything he’d need to keep himself occupied and engaged and comfortable as his cancer progressed. You can tell by the books and tools around him that he was a fully inquisitive and curious soul who always had something new he was making (rings were one of his favorite things to make) or delving in to learning. I even recall how he created flashcards to teach himself Egyptian hieroglyphics.

It felt good to be his friend. He was ever-loyal and always made me feel valued, respected and appreciated. He liked to think of himself as my second dad, but one brilliant father was plenty for me so I deflected that as best I could.

After his diagnosis, we talked often about life and his illness. The true gift he gave me was in sharing how appreciative he was of the life he had and how comfortable he was with the approach of his death. His appreciation, I surmise, led to an acceptance of the reality he was facing which in turn led to what appeared to me as a simple ease.

Nearly a week ago he sent me a couple of one word text messages that simply said “goodbye.” Thinking he might in fact be dying, I responded asking if we could talk. We got on the phone and chatted about all sorts of stuff like we always did. Only this time when he tired, we said our final and appreciative goodbyes. Life can be full of so many wonderful things and places and experiences, but in the end, it’s always the connections we cultivate that matter the most.

The poem below is from one of my favorite poets – Czeslaw Milosz – and makes me think of Michael:

Awakened

In advanced age, my health worsening,
I woke up in the middle of the night
and experienced a feeling of happiness
so intense and perfect that in all my life I had only felt its premonition.
And there was no reason for it.
It didn’t obliterate consciousness;
the past, which I carried, was there,
together with my grief.
And it was suddenly included,
was a necessary part of the whole.
As if a voice were repeating:
“You can stop worrying now;
everything happened just as it had to.
You did what was assigned to you,
and you are not required anymore
to think of what happened long ago.”
The peace I felt was a closing of accounts and was
connected with the thought of death.
The happiness on this side was
like an announcement of the other side.

I realized that this was an undeserved gift and I could not
grasp by what grace it was bestowed on me. 

– Czeslaw Milosz

Thank you and farewell old friend. 


5 replies on “Farewell Old Friend”

I woke up to this post and knew immediately who this was. Although I didn’t really know him, obviously I know him intimately. Sometimes I lie in bed at night and wonder about his thought process, reasons for designing what and how he did. I was overjoyed when he stopped by a couple times last year. I hope he felt a peace of mind knowing we treasure his beloved creation & saw our boys and our additions as a beautiful new life for his dreams. It’s so hard to lose friends who become family and who teach us such important life lessons. Sending you lots of love Ted!

Hey Ted, this was poignant, as was your last piece. It really hit me at a time in my life where I’m having a lot of transitions internally, myself, and it makes me wish well for you.

Your old friend looked like he aged well right up till the end. I’m not sure how I’d take it if I ever got to where he was. I think that if I couldn’t put on my ballet shoes anymore, or couldn’t get up into sarvangasana – that there’d be no joy or peace in the world – then I might just end it right there, one way or another. No need to make a comfortable safe cocoon or anything.

And yet… there is your friend. He looks so happy in that chair, with the minimum he needs, and pictures of what looks like are his kids, and you were there, visiting him. I’m not sure I have words for the emotions it brings forth. What does it all mean?

I’ve been thinking about these kinds of things, even before reading this. I think about the choices I made to be more free-spirited, which turn out to be maybe not-so-free-spirited after all. And yet, I can hardly say I didn’t go exploring. I think about continuity and legacy too, even though I never feel like I really got to live life the way you seem to have, the way so many people seem to have. So I don’t know. I see this picture of your friend, and it makes me feel happy for him, and yet I also feel some fear.

Thanks for writing and sharing some of your own very human contemplations. Other people’s lives and especially other people’s deaths have a way of impacting us and forcing us to reflect upon our own lives. I clearly recall when my mother died how I vowed to let her love live on inside me. I also had my long hair chopped off as something about it felt fake and vain in counterpoint to the realness of her passing. My father’s death earlier this year and some of the things he had said in the year or so prior is helping to spin the flywheel of my own life to perhaps make larger more significant changes to the way I live.

So other people’s illnesses and deaths have the ability, the gift if we can really call it such, to bring a mirror up to the face of our own lives, and support us in coming to terms with the ways in which we’ve lived and how we may wish to live moving forward.

Someday it will be my turn, and to date I’ve largely seen grace and acceptance in those I’ve been close to who have gone before. I am hoping that such grace will perhaps infuse me as well.

Thanks again for writing. You’ve helped me to reflect more.

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