This is my uncle Michael.
His passing wasn't exactly a huge shock; Michael had been sick for many years. I had the good luck to had seen him just a couple of months prior to his death, while I was in Connecticut. I was able to spend a little time with him before he ended up back in the hospital. That's where he was when I said goodbye.
Despite him being sick for so long, when my mother called me to say that he had passed, the news took my breath away. You see, Michael was one of the most amazing, selfless people I had ever known. Even though I knew the end would be coming any day, I never could have been ready to lose someone I loved so much.
When I was a small child, Michael was That Awesome Uncle. When he came to visit, it was always REALLY exciting and fun. He'd play outside, dance around the living room, and get messy and smile and laugh the whole time. While I was living in Connecticut and he was in California, he would send care packages that were like treasure chests. I remember one large box arriving, full of old t-shirts. I was wearing "Cheers" and "Late Night with David Letterman" shirts before I even knew what either of those programs were, but I didn't care, because they came from My Cool Uncle Michael.
As I grew older, I learned more about my uncle and the fascinating, adventurous life he led. By the time I was in middle school, I was constantly asking about his travels and his life in California and Alaska and Miami. What was this like? What was that like? What did it look like? What did you do? What did you see? I was enraptured.
Because Michael was from a far-off exotic city known as San Francisco, he had worldly appeal to my tween-age self. He UNDERSTOOD my vegetarianism when no one else did. (I went veg when I was 11 years old.) Long before I went vegan, he introduced me to veganism by ordering a pizza with no cheese once when he came to visit. Pizza without cheese?! I had no idea that was even an option!
Michael also understood hardships and adversity and tough times and fighting for happiness. He understood love and loss and pain and heartache. He always had kind, comforting words to say at just the right time. He had sage-like advice. He would send me new agey books on volunteering and compassion and inner peace. I usually never finished reading an entire book, but I treasured them all the same.
I am at peace with Michael's passing. I know he's finally comfortable and no longer suffering. I miss him, though. When I made the difficult decision to leave Missouri, I wished I could have talked to him. I wished he could have guided me through it somehow. And maybe he did, because I did leave, and it was okay. I wished I could have called him from the road, to tell him about all the great things and people I encountered on my solo journey to Florida. And then when I made it to Florida and started to rebuild my life, I wanted to call him and tell him how happy I was, how hopeful I was, how the world looked different now and how I would catch myself sitting in traffic and a giant grin would spread across my face for no apparent reason: I was just HAPPY. I like to think that he knows, though.
Michael was and is my inspiration. His tales of travel are what got me first dreaming about traveling myself. (He is also the reason that San Francisco is #1 on my list of dream destinations.) His compassion for others no doubt rubbed off on me in some way (I like to think it runs in the family, actually). His fearless love for life has motivated me to seek out my own happiness, no matter what it takes, no matter how painful it might be initially. He taught me to give, to help, to take chances, to get through this, to hang on, to be positive, to love, love, love.