Saturday, January 23, 2010

Scattered Thoughts

In looking for the photos of my last visit to Big Sur with Michael, I found that we had gone on March 24, 2009. It was a little later than I originally remembered. But how we spent the day itself, I remember so clearly. We drove down in Michael's convertible, and put the top down. Michael loved his car, and really enjoyed when we took short trips by ourselves, as we could leave the larger family car at home. On this day we drove straight to Big Sur after getting the kids off to school.

Once we got to Big Sur, we stopped at a small deli, and bought sandwiches, and bottles of water. We drove over to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. We parked the car, then walked over to the McWay Falls Overlook trail. We walked along this trail that provides the most beautiful view of the ocean. The trail takes you along the edge of the cliffs, and ends with a couple of benches, where you can sit and enjoy the view of the coast line. There we sat, and had our lunch. I remember feeling happy, eating, holding Michael's hand, and listening to him retell his stories of past times in Big Sur. Michael was a wonderful story teller. He was horrible at jokes, which the kids said were never funny, and became fondly known as "Mike Jokes." Let me just say, I loved the "Mike Jokes." He would always have the biggest grin when telling them. Then look so disappointed when the kids would just stare straight at him and say, "I don't get it." We would all break into laughter, including Michael. I got them, but then the kids would say, "oh Dad, you just laugh because you love Mike so much."

Yes, I did love him so much.

As you see, Michael, was actually known to all as Mike. He was a guys guy. When the kids first met Michael they looked at me confused. "He's gay?" Michael would come to the house for dinner, and we would then settle in to watch a movie. We would always end up watching some science fiction or action flick. Again, the kids would look at me strangely, and then say to Michael, "you know, my Dad would never watch that kind of movie if you were not here." He would just laugh, as he kind of knew that I was indulging him.

Anyway, back to Big Sur. We finished up our lunch, and Michael began to talk about spreading his ashes there in Big Sur. He said he would love to have a memorial bench somewhere in the park so that people could stop and enjoy the natural environment. I listened to him talk, and fought back tears.

We walked back to our car, and headed over to Nepenthe Restaurant. They have the most beautiful view. We sat outside in the sun, drank coffee, and shared a dessert. When we got back to the car Michael again began talking about wanting his ashes scattered in Big Sur. With that I lost all control, and just began sobbing. I couldn't handle the idea that there would really be a time that he was not around. Michael came around the car, saying "Honey. Don't be upset," and he held me there in the parking lot for quite some time. We then got into the car, and began the long journey back home.

A couple of months later Michael was busy typing something on the computer. When he was done, he printed out a document, and brought it over to me. It was instructions about what he wanted done with his body when he died. He said after looking into the idea of a bench, he learned that the state parks no longer have benches available as memorials. They are now trying to get people to make donations to provide picnic tables in the parks. As I have said before, Michael wasn't sure he liked the idea of random people eating, and dropping food, all over a table inscribed with his name on it. Instead, he had written a new plan of what he wanted. Michael's new plan was that he was to be cremated, but that he wanted his ashes to stay with me in our bedroom. He said that he hoped that when I died, the kids could have our ashes combined, then placed or scattered somewhere together.

Michael really knew what I would need. I have been so comforted by having his ashes here with me. The urn I selected is called "A Walk in the Woods." Every night I light tea lights in front of it, and their soft glow provides the perfect warmth for him. After Michael's death I decided to share some of his ashes with his mother and best friend Craig. The three of us had become such a solid team of support to Michael, especially along his journey with his cancer. I wanted his mother and Craig to always have a part of him with them. This weekend, Craig will share some of the ashes with Michael's friends as we celebrate his life.

In looking at the photos from our visit to Big Sur in March of last year, I found the two you see in this post. The first is of Michael posing along the picket fence which overlooks the ocean. The second is the same spot, sans Michael. These are both photos I took with my Blackberry on that March afternoon. I'm not sure why I took a photo of the fence alone. Perhaps I was preparing myself for the day that I would return to the McWay Falls Overlook trail, knowing that he would not likely be with me. I am likely there as you are reading this post. It is here that some of Michael's ashes will be scattered by me. It is a place where I plan to return each year.


  1. oh Dan, your love for Mike (may I call him that?) shines right through this post :-)

    I can see why this is a favourite place - the view is almost too beautiful ... and today, my wish for you is that you see the beauty still, even though he is not there to hold your hand.

    Because you still hold each other in your hearts.

  2. Beautiful post and gorgeous viewpoint along the ocean! I hope your trip there today brought you peace and happy memories of times there with Michael. Where we spread most of Austin's ashes last summer was also at a place with a beautiful view of the ocean, a place where we had spent many happy times as a family on our sailboat. I'm going back there in three weeks, so I can be alone with him, his memory and my thoughts. I think it's great that you're going to have a place where you can go and be with Michael, surrounded by the beauty of nature and by loving memories. I hope it brings you peace.

    I've always wanted to see Big Sur, so thanks for letting me live vicariously through your pictures! When I was in university I bought a print of Big Sur and hung it in every place I lived for the past 24 years (wow, I'm getting old!). I look at it every day and now I'll think of you and Michael every time I get lost in that magnificient shoreline.

  3. You've taken me away to a beautiful place again and spread some of the love and warmth you shared with Michael. Very interesting observation about why you may have taken the photo sans Michael. I think it is very appropriate that Michael's mom and best friend were included in receiving some of his remains and that now Craig is going to share them with others. I hope you are holding up and the beauty of Big Sur and the memories you and Michael shared there will comfort you this weekend.

  4. It's good that you are able to revisit a place that has special significance to both of you. I have done that occasionally throughout both this and last year's trips across North America and down the west coast. I often revisit places and shoot photos taken from as close to the same vantage points as those where I photographed Don in the past (I have many photos of him from our past adventures). For me, it has the effect of bringing him very near and seeming to remove some element of the passage of time.
    I brought Don's ashes with me last year and this and will continue to take them with me wherever I travel. His wishes were pretty much the same as Michael's, which suits me fine.
    Hope the weekend turned out well.

  5. What a beautiful spot and a wonderful place to leave some of Michael's ashes. I am so glad you took those pictures on that "better than today" day.
    I hope your return visit was not too hard on you and enjoyable in a way.