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– Czeslaw Milosz
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.
Thank you and farewell old friend.