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Tuesday, March 21st

March 21, 2017

Yes, I’m back for a day, because it’s a special day. First day of spring? Yes, it’s that all right. It’s also another notable date for me.

Six years ago today (pretty much exactly six years ago this moment in the morning) Mike went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. We’d been in Vancouver for the weekend, seeing his kids, running some errands. He had an appointment with his Vancouver doctor later in the morning, then we were heading back to the island. I’d packed up the car, ready for our return. Mike just had to brush his teeth and then we’d be off.

I heard him call my name, but it wasn’t in his normal voice and there was a great sense of urgency in it. I went to see what was wrong. He was sitting on his walker in front of the sink. His head was down, turned to the left. His left arm was up in the air, his finger pointing at the ceiling. I bent over him, asked what was wrong, gently pulled his arm down to his side. His entire body started to spasm violently and all I could do was hold on to him tightly to stop him falling from the walker to the floor. When the spasms stopped I ran for the phone, dialled 911. I thought he’d just had a massive stroke – something which, given his frequently uncontrollable temper, I’d always feared. As the call went through I hurried back to the bathroom to hold him up. The emergency operator asked if he was conscious, if he was speaking. He was and wasn’t. He was barely conscious and he was speaking gibberish. I ended the call, continued to hold him. He started speaking in an agitated manner about the need to get to his appointment with his doctor Brad. I reassured him, told him I’d rung Brad, told him to come to us, he was on his way. This satisfied him for a moment, then he’d start the same conversation again. After half an hour, I rang 911 again, asking where the hell the ambulance was. The operator told me it had been diverted to a major traffic accident, that another ambulance had been dispatched. Mike kept trying to thrash around. I kept holding onto him tightly. Then there was another spasm, shorter less violent. The moment it ended, the door opened and the ambulance crew walked in. They shifted him from the bathroom to the floor of the hallway and started to work. I knew that me hovering over them would be unhelpful and, truth be told, I didn’t really want to watch.

Instead I went out onto the balcony where I started chain smoking and pacing. I should, of course, call Mike’s son, but what was  the point until I knew what was going on? I carried on pacing and smoking. I don’t know how long it was before one of the ambulance crew came to find me (twenty minutes? half an hour?). He told me they were getting ready to take Mike to the hospital. I said I wanted to go with them, asked which hospital. As they were getting Mike onto the stretcher I called his son, told him I thought (as I still did) that Mike had had a massive stroke, that the ambulance crew were preparing to take him to the hospital. His son said he would call his sister, that they would get to the hospital as soon as they could.

Mike had, in his time, dodged a number of bullets. Illnesses, both real and self-inflicted by alcohol abuse, had come close to carrying him away, but somehow that bullet was always dodged. This would be another one. My main question, as the ambulance raced, sirens blaring, towards the hospital, was how much damage the stroke had caused.

We arrived at the hospital. Mike was rushed away. I was directed to Admissions to hand over his medical card. I sat there for a while before a nurse came to find me, told me there was a private room where I could wait for the doctor. She led me there, left me. Not a single magazine of any description in the room. Nothing to distract me from my thoughts. Time ticked on. I started worrying about his son and daughter arriving and not being able to find me. Eventually a doctor entered the room. He started asking me about the morning, how Mike had been. I told him Mike had complained of feeling a bit light headed when he got up. I’d told him he might just be hungry, made him a bowl of oatmeal. He’d felt better after that. The doctor told me the light headedness had been caused by blood failing to pump adequately to his brain. He talked some more and then something he said hit me. “Is he dead?” I asked, stunned. Yes, the doctor said. Hadn’t anyone told me? No, I said, thinking I might faint. The doctor, without apologising or offering his condolences, started asking more questions about the morning. Without actually telling him to fuck off, I made it pretty clear that’s what he should do. Mike was dead and I didn’t feel like talking about his breakfast. I asked what the hell had happened. Mike had, the doctor told me, a massive cardiac arrest. Even if he’d been in hospital for something else at the time, the attack had been so severe they would not have been able to revive him. But the ambulance crew, I protested. Surely they’d revived him before transporting him? No, the doctor said, they’d attached him to equipment to keep his heart beating artificially until they could get him to the hospital.

And that’s when I finally realised: that second, smaller spasm had been the end, the moment Mike died.

When we first got together, Mike said he wanted us to be together forever, that he wanted to die in my arms. He said this many times while we were together. I could never say I felt the same way, never promise that he would get what he wanted. I’d wave it off, saying forever was a very long time, that we never knew what life might throw at us, but the truth was, even early in our relationship, I knew forever wasn’t on the cards.

But Mike did get his wish. He died in my arms. At the time I found this realisation both touching and comforting. I still do.

Six years. How is that possible? How is it possible I’ve been back on the island on my own for longer than I was back with him?

Mike 1

This is one of my favourite photos of Mike. It was taken in the mid-1990s when we had our See BC holiday – Vancouver to the Rockies and slowly back. If I had a scanner I could post some other great pics from that trip, but I don’t, so I can’t.

I know I’ve written previously about some of Mike’s demons, the alcohol and the anxiety (the former foolishly used to self-medicate the latter) and how difficult these demons made it for me to live with him. But there was a reason we were together for as long as we were, a reason I came back when he needed me. When the demons were not haunting him he could be the best company – smart, funny, interesting and interested in everything.

March 21st. I do rather wish Mike had died on some other date in March. Pretty much any date would do other than St Patrick’s Day. Hardly anyone (oh, let’s be honest, absolutely no one) mentions the Ides of March these day, so even the 15th would be okay. But March 21st? Spring solstice? Not so much. Every year someone says – on the radio or in person – that it’s the first day of spring. And I immediately register the date’s other significance for me.

Mike 2

This was the last photo ever taken of Mike – the Friday night before he died. We’d met up for a Chinese dinner with his son, daughter (Heather on the right), daughter-in-law and granddaughters (Celeste on my knee). It was a good evening.

This is what I said at his memorial service:

When Mike died so suddenly and unexpectedly on March 21st, he was looking forward. He was looking forward to regaining his mobility and independence, to travelling again, to watching his grandchildren grow up and to all the work he still had to do. Knowing what a miracle it had been for him to survive his dire prognosis in 2008, he was determined to use the time he’d stolen from the cancer to make the most of his life and his abilities.

I’ve known him for nearly 20 years, as a partner and a very, very dear friend. There were many things Mike enjoyed. He loved the opera and the theatre and classical concerts. He loved art and architecture. He loved baseball (more so when the Blue Jays were actually winning). He loved an intellectual challenge and a lively debate.

There were two things about which he cared most passionately.

The first was his family. Although he often found it difficult to articulate his emotions, he loved and was so proud of his son and daughter and his grandchildren. Those two young girls lit up his life.

His second great passion – one to which he dedicated his professional and much of his personal life – was peace. He worked tirelessly to press for disarmament and the abolition of all nuclear weapons. He also played a pivotal role in preventing the BC government bringing in nuclear power some decades ago. The work was challenging and often frustrating, but he was tenacious.

In fact, that was one of five words one of his Pugwash colleagues used to describe Mike after learning of his sudden death: Insightful, tenacious, principled, funny and stubborn. I couldn’t have summed him up better myself, so I’m not going to try.

Given the passion and animation with which he shared his encyclopaedic knowledge about peace, disarmament and nuclear issues, it might come as some surprise to his Pugwash colleagues and others who worked with him over the years to learn that Mike was a painfully shy man. He did not make friends easily, but he treasured the ones he had.

Mike had his flaws – as we all do. His tragedy was his inability to properly see what others saw: that he was a wonderful man in so many ways.

Our tragedy is that this wonderful man will no longer be a physical presence in our lives.

If ever there was a man who was entitled to rest in peace, it is Mike.

I hope he is.

  1. Donna permalink

    Thinking of you…x

  2. Mariam Zama permalink

    Beautiful post Anne! I’m one of those whose been reading regularly, and will miss the frequent glimpses into your thoughts.



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