Friday, February 24, 2012

Notes on a broken heart

I’m wrapped in a blanket, sipping tea with honey, listening to African music, nursing a broken heart. I think I really am sick—some sort of virus—but I can’t distinguish physical illness from heartbreak at the moment. It’s all intertwined anyway.

My dear, dear friend Mike died two days ago. My cowboy. He slipped away alone, in the wee hours of the morning, after a long battle with mesothelioma. He didn’t plan on the cancer cutting his life short but he directed every detail of the unraveling of his life. For that, for his intentionality, I give him such credit. He was a strong man.

I have almost never written about Mike on my blog. I found out some time ago that he was a stealth reader of the blog. Occasionally he would slip and tell me it made him laugh or cry. So I wouldn’t dare write about him.

Our relationship defied definition. At one time we were romantically involved but we broke up and got back together so many times that we forgot if we were on or off. We talked about marriage, then decided it wouldn’t work. We settled into a kind of détente—acknowledging that we weren’t headed for anything other than a long-term, deeply caring friendship. And we loved one another. That was enough.

So when he got his cancer diagnosis late in 2010, just before Christmas, I promised him that I would not abandon him, that I would be there with him every step of the way. I kept that promise.

Mike was a quietly intense man. When he got interested in something he pursued that interest with dogged determination. In high school he taught himself how to pole vault and ended up being the South Carolina state champion. He worked to put himself through college. He learned carpentry and became a skilled rock climber and sea kayaker. He learned to play guitar, mandolin, and banjo. And after he and I took a trip to Arizona, he got into horses. He both owned and trained horses. The cowboy version of a Renaissance man.

I met him when he became my guitar teacher. Mike was such a gifted, versatile guitar player. He never was able to teach me to play guitar well, but eventually we played together—Mike on guitar and me on banjo. I learned so much about music from him. He is so deeply enmeshed in my music that I don’t know how I’m ever going to play without him.

In his final weeks of life, Mike became a Christian—the biggest and most wonderful surprise of my life. On the day he was baptized, he said I had taken him on some great adventures, but that was the best of all. Even in his short days as a Christian, he was learning all he could about his faith. And that faith gave him peace and hope for eternal life.

When I was leaving his hospice room, just two days before he died, I said, “Didn’t we just have the best time together?” His response—“Why stop now?”

I miss him today. I’ll miss him tomorrow. I’m probably going to miss him for the rest of my life.

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