Wednesday, February 06, 2008

March 23, 1962-January 15, 2008


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 Japan to scatter Michael’s ashes according to his wishes.

39 comments:

Tom said...

Though I came to expect it, I was enormously saddened by word of Michael's death.

I, like so many, came to know and love Michael through his blog.

He was not fearless, but he was fully courageous. His life was wholly worthwhile and good. I could only dream of experiencing life and death as well and with my eyes as open, and lens cap off.

Hooray you, Michael.

Lucky 327 said...

I have only known Michael's blog for a short while, but it has been inspirational. And I'd like to thank him for this window he created to his life.

molly said...

My thoughts are with Michaels family as you all deal with the loss of an absolutely incredible man.

Although relatively new to Michaels journal, I was profoundly touched by his gentle spirit, his honesty and the effect his life and dying was having on all he touched.

I have no doubt Michaels lessons to us came from an old soul, a teacher who has gone back home, a spirit that blessed everyone he touched.

I wish you all peace of heart and may the creator carry you all through this difficult time.

Mungo said...

I will always remember him through his writings which touched me deeply - and via a few quick e-mails. I'm sad right now and wish everyone well who was touched by Michael, by Daiku, by Great Sky.
So it goes.
Mungo

Janice in GA said...

Peace to his spirit, and light on your paths.

Marie Rex said...

Safe Journey.

Jean said...

Thank you for sharing this. It means a lot.

As I read your words I'm crying for someone I never met, but whose spirit I touched through his writing and photographs and our online conversations.

I feel privileged to have known (in whatever odd way it is that we can know one another through our written words) someone with Michael's talent, clarity, rigour and bravery. But mostly I just always enjoyed his take on life.

I'm so sorry for your loss, and send you and all his family my warmest good wishes from London.

Jay said...

Mike: Really, really missing you, and your friendship. Just not the same in the newsroom without you.

Doug C said...

A wonderful tribute to a truly remarkable man. I think so many of us count as a profound blessing the opportunity to spend time with Michael's family members and see their devotion to him.

ted said...

Your brother became a true friend in a very short time. I'm glad I had a chance to visit him in October.

I'm living in Japan and would like to help you when you come over. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.

Mike Cross said...

Hello Sister,

The padme in Om mani padme hum is said to be the female vocative form of padma, which means lotus, as in padmasana, the lotus posture. Mani means jewel. So manipadme is thought to be vocative form of “Jewel-Lotus,” who might be a female bodhisattva. (Bodhisattva = a being devoted to awakening as that of the Buddha.)

Who is the Jewel in the Lotus? She might be a wise midwife, a loving mother. Sometimes in Japan she is said to appear, in response to the cries of men in the world, as a gorgeous lover with a warm embrace. For the sick or dying, she might be a caring and compassionate nurse.

Om. Manipadme! Hum.

Mick said...

I discovered Michael's blog in November. Since then I have read and reread and reread again the entries from day 1. Michael's spirit has touched me deeply as it has all of you. Michael has caused me to reflect on my own "sack of skin" and has gently nudged me into a more compassionate being. Your brother was a friend to me... a friend I have never met, never touched, never spoken to, but such a dear friend he was to me. I weep as I type and I'm sure you too weep as you read. Is weeping part of the cleansing that Michael aspired towards? Thank you from the pit of my stomach for sharing the last chapter. It has brought a peaceful, yet sad, ending. Cheers from Canada, Michael

katia said...

safe journey, michael....

om mani padme hum

/O\
(^)

Anonymous said...

I miss Michael so much. I go to this website everyday wishing I could find him....magically..... even though I know he's not able to write. I am going to feel he is with me forever though...and maybe that is why I keep expecting him to write. The picture of him is so beautiful. I love how he looks in it. Your post was beautifully written. It must be in the genes. You truly told everyone who loves him thru this blog of his final days in the most poetic way possible.

I miss him so much. That is all I can say. But thank you to everyone who loved him and corresponded with him thru the good times and the bad.

I will continue to use his blog, even in his absence for reminders of strength, perseverence and art. I believe that is why he gave it to us. Amongst his many gifts.

Everyone on this blog reminds me of him, brilliant, inspirational and profound. I hope to follow you all in your travels as well.

His cousin, Lisa

m said...

I stumbled upon your blog Dec 07. I was touched by the words, by the images, by your strength and your courage.

"To my newer readers, welcome aboard. Speak up now and then." you wrote. I never did.

I am writing now, choking back tears. Great Sky, happy journey and may flight of angels sing thee to thy rest.

gasshos,
manoj

Calissa said...

Thank you for letting us know. Thank you for giving us a chance to celebrate and grieve for Michael. As the other commenters here have said, he was an inspiration. I hope I can live my life with half as much zest and compassion.

east village idiot said...

Thank you so much for letting us know about Michael. I've been checking back to his blog daily - wondering if he was feeling angry or sad at his blog friends.

I got to know your brother through his extraordinary blog over the last year or more. I even had the pleasure of meeting him in the East Village several times.

He was a wonderful, brave, kind and generous person. He wrote beautifully and his photos speak for themselves.

thank you so much for letting us know that he has moved on and how he moved on - surrounded by a family that loved him. We join you in celebrating his life. I know how much he impacted mine.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful tribute! Beautiful picture,beautiful responses from Michael's "blog friends",infinite legacy left by a radiant soul....Beautiful and beloved brother
Nancy

jcybill said...

I was recently trying to search online to see if Michael had passed, to no avail. Thank you for sharing in the midst of your sorrow. I never met your brother, but I am strengthened by his courage to share his experiences. May we all feel strength in our personal journeys.

becks said...

I have been incredibly touched by Michael through this blog. There are so many things about life and death that we are afraid of and avoid that Michael bravely dealt with. He faced death with courage and dignity. I am thankful he shared his experiences with us; I have learned, and will continue to learn, a great deal from him.
My prayers are with you, his family and friends.

Raevyn said...

Thank you, Michael, wherever you are. Thank you to the memory of you. I only read your blog, but doing so enriched my life greatly. I am privileged to have had this window into your life, and death.

Gassho, Friend.

CW said...

Rest in peace, Michael, Daiku.

BG said...

Though I never had the pleasure of meeting Michael, I feel like I know him through his legacy of truly inspirational and heartwarming writing. He touched so many lives; mine is one of them. Gd bless...

Patry Francis said...

Thanks for posting. Michael has been a friend and an inspiration to me for a long time.

Ordinary Extraordinary said...

I'm deeply sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Michael attracted much love world wide as he wrote his thoughts and he moved many people with his words and powerful photos. He will be missed and yet contribution, his photos celebrating humanity and our neighborhood that he loved so much remain with us.

For me death is peace and I understand we are all facing death.
To face death with love is a blessing.

Suzannah B. Troy

Buddhist_philosopher said...

Thank you for posting this beautifully moving story of Michael, Daiku's, last days. He was a very special part of so many people's lives, and his kindness and beauty will go on in the world for ages.

With blessings and gratitude.

Richard said...

We have been thinking of Michael ever since we heard that he had passed away from reading The Record, and we were shocked. Only acquaintances, he never told us he was so ill. My husband, Rich, opened an art supply store in Teaneck this past year, and we knew Michael for a very short, but wonderful time. He started to come in to our store frequently sharing his love for photography, and he & Rich would talk frames for his upcoming shows and projects. He filled our store with his loving presence, warm smile, and shared with us a wonderful sense of really living. He had a way about him that invited one to simply enjoy a slice of life with him. For that honor, we are privileged to have known him (even a little). Our thoughts and prayers are with Michael, always, and for his family. We had heard there was going to be a Memorial in February. We hope we haven't missed it. How can it be possible to love someone after knowing that person for so short a time? Well, we love Michael. Period. God bless you. Janie & Rich (artistic 1)

hoosteen said...

Reading Michael's blog for the last several months has been an illuminating joy, and from the comments Michael received throughout his time blogging I hope he may have had some idea of the sort of impact he had on his readers.

Danny Fisher said...

Michael came here and shared so much of himself so honestly. He touched the lives of many strangers, including this one. He will be greatly missed. Thank you, Michael.

Fitzgerald said...

May he have a peacful journey. And I pray that his friends, family and readers have the strength to continue without him. He will be missed.

Kozy said...

I don't know how I express my feelings in English because of my poor English. So I write it in Japanese.

あなたの死に大変驚いています。
あなたの英語は私には難しくて、時々よくわかりませんでした。残念です。
でも、私のブログにいつもコメントを書いてくれてとても嬉しかったです。有難うございました。
先日、あなたが薦めてくれた映画「アメリカンギャングスター」を見て来ました。
NYへ行く時には知らせる約束でしたね。6月に行くことになりました。あなたが写真をよく撮っていた場所にも行ってみたいと思っています。
どうぞ安らかにお休み下さい。

Please accept my sympathies on the death of your brother.

Anonymous said...

Michael touched me through blogland, and knowing him made me want to be a better person.
I wish I had kept in contact, but I will always carry him in my heart.
My thoughts are with you and your family.
regards
Nancy Fogleman

Anonymous said...

Hello and nice to meet you, Sister.
Thank you for letting me know about his final days. I could know all about what I had wanted to confirm.
His calm expression on his last portrait, taken after the Jukai ceremony, soothes something in me deeply.
I'm very glad to hear that you and your spouse will visit Japan this spring with his ash. Michael told me before that he wanted to die like 'Sakura'(cherry tree).
Spring is the best season to see 'Sakura'.


Dear Michael,
One my friend, who lost her best friend to cancer long time ago, told me that I didn't lose you but add you in the rest of my life.
...I hadn't thought that way.
Every time I heard the word;'someday' from you, I had no idea what to say to you, but now I think 'someday' will be created by me (perhaps you and me) from now on.

I expect you will come back this spring. Japan'll also embrace you.
I have many places where I want you
to see. I'm going to talk to you as I used to.

Don't you think I should rather sing and dance feeling you around in the nature of Japan? :)

Emiko
from Japan

Jane said...

To Michael's family I send my deepest sympathy. The world is certainly a better place because Michael was here. His words and photographs are a gift to us all. I have only known Michael since July through his Blog and a few telephone conversations.I was newly diagnosed with parathyroid cancer and he was a wealth of medical information and personal strength to me. I will miss him.
God Speed, Michael

Zen said...

R.I.P.

_/\_

Thank You!

ayako said...

I think I was one of the last students of Michael.
He was so kind to me, and to other Japanese people.
He said it's because Japanese people helped him when he was in Japan.
I could know how he loved Japan.
I'm really glad that I could meet him in NJ.

Thank you, Michael.
May your soul rest in peace.

Ayako from San Jose

garyb said...

I had just learned of Michael's passing last night and am deeply saddened for your loss. I first had the opportunity to meet Michael at Columbia Pres. in New York while we were both undergoing the same treatments for parathyroid cancer. When we first met, Michael was reading a japanese dictionary so he could plan for his much anticipated trip back to Japan for his journey to all the spiritual churches along his trek. Since we met, Michael and I shared many thoughts and fun times. We would dine at japanese restaurants , take day trips to New York City and go shopping for his upcoming trip to Japan. As life usually does, I became preoccupied with work (I am a Police Officer) and family, wife and two children (10 and 7) I feel strongly that Michael may have distanced himself when he was told of the severity of his illness so as not to bring fear to my situation ( to me, that was Michael and the absolute caring that this man brought to this earth) his photography and writing is something that I will always refer to when times are a little tough (like right now) I am very saddened that I just found out of Michael's passing because I would have wanted to be there for Michael and your family , as I know he would have been for me. Rest in peace dear friend, you will always have a place in my heart.

bob said...

With sadness I learned today that Michael had died. He and I were friends when he lived in Philadelphia. We worked together. He helped me move. We went out to countless chinese and japanese restaurants.

I knew him when he was debating his decision to teach English in Japan, and we wrote letters back and forth all during his time there. He truly loved being there. I remember his fascination with the temples he visited there and the people he met.

I was at his apartment in Philadelphia a couple times. Before he moved, he gave me a drum, which I still have.

When he moved north I lost track of him. I'm glad to know he found new friends who appreciated him. I'm very saddened that we've lost him, but heartened to read about those whose lives he touched.

--
Bob Neubauer