I have received SO much feedback from people that truly knew and loved Mike, they say this blog has helped them as they grieve. None of us really chooses to grieve; it’s not like we think, hey, I wonder what we should do tonight? I know! Let’s sit around and grieve some more! In that vein, I realize that for me to linger on and on about Mike, about his life, about his death, all of it, it can only go on so long for the rest of you, although those of you who knew and loved Mike will surely grieve some more. So, maybe just a couple more posts that do some justice to both his wonderful spirit and epic challenges.
Mike’s memorial service happened on a bright, beautiful day, at one of his favorite places. It strangely and certainly felt a little celebratory despite the undeniably tragic and untimely circumstances. So many wonderful people loved Mike, so that energy was a shared gift to us all. And so many of my daughters’ beautiful friends were there to support them. I found this remarkable, as I imagine many parents might struggle with how and whether to have their children attend an event such as this. Nonetheless, they were there, and they were absolutely adorable.
Clearly, no one would think to take pictures at a memorial service, either, except that one of our favorite family friends is also a stunningly talented photographer. She brought her camera that day and asked if I’d like for her to take pictures. Of course, she lost Mike, too, and I said I hoped she would get through the service in whatever way felt best to her. As are many photographers often most comfortable behind the lens, she captured photos that day that I have already realized I will treasure forever. It’s almost impossible to get through a service like that, so the last thing I could do was remember it.
I think the best way to communicate a sense of Mike’s memorial service is to share a few words that some of his amazing friends said about him. He was remembered for being generous and universally compassionate. His passion for learning was described as “tremendous curiosity crossed with a deep desire to help people.” He influenced people with his kindness.
The fact that he was “not fully equipped for this life” was precisely what made him perfect for his life of helping other people. He was always searching, always outside the box, asking hard questions. He was always looking for new ways to understand things. Wondering what could be possible.
Mike was remembered for his seriousness about life, but equally for his “states of reverie.” He spent most Halloweens dressed as a wizard, which personified his notions of transformation and magic. One friend astutely pointed out that, because we have lost him, Mike’s search is now our search, and we carry him with us as we ask ourselves all the hard questions going forth.
Here are a few excerpts from another friend’s eulogy; his words are better than mine, so:
How many times did you pull into a troop meeting as he was single-handedly wrangling some convoluted project with a dozen high-pitched girls buzzing from one corner of the room to the other? No one else paying attention to anything but this magic he'd unleashed, and Dr. Mike barely containing the madness, determined not to squelch any ounce of exuberance. Him just sopping it up. All the chaos. He loved it. He empowered all of us to be innocent and free and our best.
Everyone in our wacky multicellular community depended on him in a million different ways -- not just because he was so easy to take advantage of if you needed a Girl Scout troop leader or a chaperone, but because he was so fundamentally good. You'd talk to him and know that at his core he just wanted to help.
Everyone. And anyone. It was his life's work, and you could talk to him and just feel it.
Clearly, there were gaps in his life that he was trying to fill in. He was adopted and sought out his biological parents, but he was too late. He joined the navy after high school, because he didn't have a home. Did you know that he coded military computers back in the day and could still have probably built a machine from scratch if he had to?
For all of his awh-shucks humility, he was brilliant. And the danger of delivering a eulogy for Dr. Mike is that you could summarize all of his accomplishments, and that would be enough because his accomplishments were prodigious.
Not just professionally where he was revered for his gifts as a psychologist. Right, he went into psychology late in life to heal other people, because he deep-down understood their pain. He was famous for jiu-jitsuing suffering and turning that pain into strength. He could do this because he was so sensitive to it.
But as a father and as a friend, he never failed to be there for everyone else. Everyone else.
But that leaves me wondering why he couldn't be there for himself, and why it was so hard for him to understand how incredible he was and necessary and needed and loved.
It honestly beats the hell out of me, but it makes me think of To Kill A Mockingbird and Atticus Finch's pronouncement that you can't judge a man ‘til you've walked a mile in his moccasins.
Now that he's gone, though, there a million sparkling ideas he isn't gonna share with me anymore, so I'm going to try, and I am trying. Because there's this Dr. Mike-sized hole in my life, that it's left to me to fill in with his grin that rippled from his belly and stretched across both cheeks and his eyes that listened deeply.
Now it's on all of us and on each of us to be that much more for each other. Our great and good friend Mike inspired us to be more, and we owe it to him. And we owe it to ourselves to keep him with us.