Mike has been gone for two months as of Friday. I thought it would get easier with time, but the grief just shifts around and changes focus. It’s always there, pulsing in the background.
Shortly after Mike died, my friend Stacy, who also lost her brother, gave me some advice. She said, “In the end, you get to choose what someone's life means to you. You get to choose what you keep of them.” Mike asked us in his suicide note not to mourn him. He asked us to celebrate his life.
Right now, it’s hard to think about Mike’s life without thinking about his horrific death. Thinking about him, in the days leading up to his suicide, and thinking about him alone in a vacant lot on that rainy morning in Virginia Beach, is the dark cloud hanging over the beauty of his short life and the joy that he brought to the people around him. I hope that with time I will celebrate more and mourn less.
Here’s how I remember Mike:
Mike was incredibly smart—like crazy genius smart. At some point when we were kids, my parents got our I.Q. test results. They wouldn’t tell us our scores—just that one was higher than the other. I never had any doubt in my mind that Mike was the brilliant one. He didn’t always have the drive that I did, but he was certainly gifted. When he finally found the career that made him happy, as a radiologic technologist, he was a straight-A honor student and helped tutor his classmates.
Mike was an amazing artist and photographer. Before he became a rad tech, he worked as a photojournalist in Iowa, Ohio, and West Virginia. His specialty, however, was as a nature photographer. The waterfall photos in this post and at the top of the page are his.
Mike was a wonderful cook. He worked as a cook while putting himself through school. Some of his specialties were deep-fried turkey, beef and deer jerky, barbecue ribs, and peanut brittle. When he would cook, he would make enough to share with his neighbors and co-workers. I’ll miss his cooking over the holidays.
Mike custom built computers as a hobby. He built a beautiful computer that he left for his best friend Chas. Mike also loved to fish. He used to fish almost every day at the pier in Virginia Beach.
Mike was very sensitive and generous. He would help out a friend in need. He volunteered as a cook at a homeless shelter. He would donate time and money to causes he believed in, even though he lived very modestly himself.
Mike was also clearly very much loved and respected by the people in his life.
Celebrate more. Mourn less.