My brother Michael passed away on January 15, surrounded by his family. Though his decline after Thanksgiving was precipitous, his life spark glowed until his final moment. He continued to work until Christmas eve. Christmas day, which he spent with my husband, myself, and my husband’s family, was probably his last good day. We worked with him on making all sorts of necessary arrangements, including finding a good home for his two cats. One of the most harrowing days was December 31, when we struggled and finally succeeded in getting him a prescription for the painkiller he needed. Beginning on January 1 until the end, we were with him virtually 24 hours a day. On January 2, with immense effort, he went to the office of the newspaper where he had worked these past nine years. Confined to a wheelchair, he said goodbye to his awed colleagues. He had told us he couldn't just disappear without a word. We got him home hospice care in his apartment on January 3rd. That was the day Michael wrote the poem “Fatigue” and posted it to his blog.
By January 5, it was clear that Michael needed 24-hour care in a residential hospice. We moved him to the in-patient unit that night, but not before he had his Jukai ceremony, which had been planned for the coming Sunday. Jukai signifies a serious commitment to Zen Buddhism, to the main precepts of Buddhism and to the salvation of all beings. Michael could scarcely lift his head, but he was determined to fulfill this commitment. The priest, friends from his meditation group, and I crowded around his bed. Michael's Dharma name Daiku, which he was given that day, means Great Sky.
Michael wanted to be aware and in his "right mind" until the end. By an amazing force of will, he achieved that objective too. It was only in his last two days that the drugs got the better of him and he slipped into another reality. The hospice care was amazing and inspiring. Caring for Michael through his last days was one of the most profoundly meaningful experiences of my life. But I was far from the only one he touched. Literally hundreds of people were inspired by his spirit, including many who knew him only a brief while.
While he lay dying, the newspaper mounted an exhibit of Michael's photography. The last really happy moment he had was the Thursday before he died. My husband and I went to the opening reception for the exhibit. Along with the photos, there was a beautiful picture of Michael on a huge piece of paper where his colleagues wrote their comments about his work. We brought it back to Michael and he positively glowed when he read it.
It was Michael's wish to be cremated. My husband, I, and Michael's Buddhist priest participated in a simple and beautiful service at the cemetery before the cremation. The rest of the immediate family and many friends participated from their individual homes or wherever they happened to be. Sometime in the spring, my husband and I will be going to