(I wrote this August 2009.)
Michael visited us in Columbus before heading back to Florida where we were planning a going away party for him. (Florida is home and where our family lives.) He had just completed a rigorous Navy rescue swimmer program and was on leave before beginning his duty in Guam.
He died one week after his visit to us in Ohio. His graduation celebration became his memorial.
When someone asks what his work and training were like, I suggest watching the movie called The Guardian. In a sentence, he'd be the person to jump from a helicopter into rough seas to save you.
Michael was joy-filled, curious and adventurous, generous and caring, and made friends instantly. He also thrived on intense, risky experiences.
On a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being an extreme, Michael was active, sensitive, and needed set routines. For example, a couple pickles with his sandwich was not enough, he’d eat the entire jar. He walked at ten months and rode a two wheeler at three years. He actively swam hours at a time in the pool or the sea. He wore his toe skin raw from hours in the pool as a young child.
After honoring and mourning Michael's life with family and friends in Florida and saying goodbye to him, I returned to Ohio to teach. The first early morning back, school director Jill Roshon called me outside to see a triple rainbow. I felt it as a joyful message from Michael.
There is so much I want to share about loss, letting go, the value of life, what I'm learning about living and dying, and the nature of existence. I will write about these precious lessons at another time. Today I feel Michael wants me to talk to you about something else.
Many people ask how Michael died. My first response was that he died of a big (enlarged) heart. However, the truth is that he died of an accidental drug overdose from prescription drugs obtained illegally.
I was in shock and denial about Michael's death and it wasn't until I received his autopsy 12 weeks later that I began to admit what happened. I read that he was a pillar of good health, in prime athletic condition, but I also read the list of prescription drugs, illegally obtained, in his body, and the words "death from accidental overdose of Alprazolam, or Zanax." Michael began his joyful one-month home leave before active duty in the Navy with good intentions, but it ended in a relapse that took his life.
Michael struggled all his life juggling sobriety and relapses. Finding that just right high after a year of extreme physical training collided fatally with his addiction.
After he died, I felt shame and embarrassment and deep regret for all the things I imagined I could have done to protect him and cure him of his addiction-disorder. I thought I caused his drug addiction by not doing the things I could have done better, that I didn’t do enough or I did too many things that were not good for him.
I imagined I could have saved his life. When I called the coroner, she said that they had 12 deaths from accidental drug overdose in the month Michael died (August 2006).
Counseling and regular attendance in a recovery program taught me that I did not cause and could not cure or control his addiction. Meditation teaches me how to sit with my feelings. Support groups provide me a place to share my mind and heart with trusted friends.
Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al Anon, and Alateen are organizations that have changed and saved lives. These organizations have resources for learning about and working with compulsive tendencies.
Michael was proud of the slogan of his work: "So others may live." May his life and this message help others.