Tag Archives: death

Memories of the Peripheral Dead

A friend who keeps her Facebook locked down pretty tight shared about how a 31-year-old man was found dead of methadone overdose in his cell not too long ago, and how the man was once a boy whose file came across her desk when she worked in a law office. “He didn’t stand a chance,” she said.

I suddenly thought of a face I hadn’t pictured in a few years. For a few weeks, I taught ESL to an student staying with an Asian family in the mid-late ‘90s on a cul-de-sac in Surrey. Some years later, I saw a photo of that family on the front page of the paper. The father killed himself and his four family members in a murder-suicide.

I’d never liked being in that home. There wasn’t anything evil going on, but sometimes unhappiness is so thick it’s like trying to walk into a windstorm. It slows you down and defeats your balance. The gloom in that home was omnipresent, but I never imagined it could have that kind of outcome.

I don’t know why I felt like writing, and the words aren’t coming now. I’m lost thinking about how some people seem to both live and die in vain, and their legacies ripple further in death than they might have in life, but those legacies are more of how wrong things can go, and how many of us on the outskirts sense the trainwreck to come, but are defeated before we can even get involved.

I know I pushed my student, who seemed as depressed as the family she lived with, to step outside the language bounds, get creative, and try to find some kind of passion to write about, but the futility of it was crushing, and I was, in the end, dismissed of my tutoring duties because I was focusing more on ideas and communication than I was on nitpicking grammar and teaching an endless list of rules.

In those fleeting moments when worlds collide, one person on an upward trajectory while the other’s on the down, there’s no telling how long which of those influence plays out. Maybe years later, like the dozen years I have lived past that family, a shadow of our connection will linger.

Somewhere inside, I guess, the idea of that family dying in vain, for a stupid moment of complete despair and rage in the father’s mind, has long struck a sad chord inside, and the fact that I’ve even thought of them, though I can’t remember their name or locate a news story about them, is something I feel obligated to record.

Even that sense of obligation makes me a little sad right now. How many people forget about this family altogether? Like they were just vapours floating through a limited life?

But there you have it. Some people live in vain, die in vain, and are a struggle to remember after the fact. I suppose there’s a part of me feeling like I’d like to be anything but a struggle to remember.

I like to think I’m succeeding.

I’m sorry I can’t remember more of her, the family, or that sense of omnipresent gloom in their home, the memory of which gives me chills as I type.

Do not doubt the range of pathos and trial that some people live with. Don’t delude yourself into thinking the awful stories are uncommon.

And don’t think that you’re likely to change their stories either. We can’t make people change. All we can do is jump out of the way when the existential shrapnel starts to spray.

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Our Lives After Their Death

There’s a full moon tomorrow. I’m in a weird headspace.

In social media, I’m seeing snippets here and there from those I’m connected with, remembering the passing of our good friend Derek Miller last year. My thoughts on Derek, as his death took the world by storm by way of an incredible blog post, were posted here.

Someone once graffiti’d a lot of sites in my new neighbourhood, and this one made me think of Derek last week — a lighthouse, a beacon, at the end of a long path, and at the foot of it, “The things you really want, you can’t buy.”

Derek’s death became a lot of things for a lot of people, and I’m having trouble even now identifying what it meant to me, but I know his blog post, and his passing, were part of why I spent the next few months realizing how unhappy I was with my life. The thing was, I knew someone like Derek would simply comment, “Well, then change it.” So, I tried to figure out what I needed to change, why I was so deeply unsatisfied with everything.

He may have “just” been a husband, father, and all-around geek, but I got the sense that there was really nothing else Derek wanted from life. He had everything he wanted. He was where he wanted to be. All he wanted was more life, more of the same with the people he had around him.

All The Things I Wasn’t

I found myself thinking a lot about, well, I’m not where I want to be. I don’t have what I want. I don’t have the people in my life I want (ie: love). Let’s not even talk about the bigger picture.

I’d been kind of skating through life and sort of ignoring anything below the surface. I’d stopped being a good writer (in my view) and stopped living the deeper, observant, involved life I’d once had. I’d been depressed before, but this wasn’t depression — this was plain old unhappiness.

Derek’s death somehow was a slap in my face, like a loud shout of Wake up! Get it right! Time’s ticking!

And, it took a while, but I think I’m where I am now because I’d realized through him of just how far afield I was from the things I considered basic requirements in life — time to write, close to the ocean, quiet, and so many other little things that speak to who I grew up being, who I was in my 20s, when I was most “myself.”

I’m new here, in Victoria, so I’m ironically even more “alone” than I had been in Vancouver. I’ve not been looking for a new tribe yet, but I will begin later this month. Because that’s another lesson I’ve learned through him. Some people just make our souls feel better, and we need them in our lives. We are better people when we have better people around us, and there are few we can’t learn something of life from, but others offer a master class in it.

Two Lost Souls Swimming in a Fishbowl

When I sat in that theatre for his remembrance, listening to all those amazing people paying homage to Derek, hearing their stories, I couldn’t stop thinking about the degrees of life. This couple, Derek and Air, they were in the same crowd I’d run with nearly 20 years before. But by inches and degrees, we must have missed each other here, there, and at different times. Somehow, some way, we never connected until the end of Derek’s life.

What if I’d paid more attention? What if I’d slowed down? What if?

I’m not done learning lessons from Derek’s life. Or anyone’s life. I’m just not done learning.

Next week, Mother’s day rolls up again, and the Hallmark Machine is playing that message loud and clear. So, these days, I’m thinking a lot about the people I’ve lost in life, the legacies they’ve left me, and whether I’d feel I’d done enough if I were to leave this realm tomorrow.

Coming Back to Life

Getting here, moving, that was a start toward the life I’d like, and the legacy I seek to leave. But I’ve barely even begun on my way. I was off-track so many years that just getting back on-track is a hell of a journey in itself.

I’d like to think there’s plenty of time for me to get it right, but that’s foolishness. Sooner is better than later.

So, as the full moon messes with my frequencies, and the hazy oppressive clouds dampen the world beyond windows, I’m lost in thought about who I am today versus who I’d like to be, when I really should be writing a project quote and starting my day job’s work.

Sigh. I don’t know how to finish this post. I’ve tried six different endings and I keep deleting them. Maybe there is no ending. Not for me, not for this, not yet. Maybe there is just a beginning.

Well, then. That’s how it is.

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An Open Letter To My Mother

I wrote the following post on the 6th anniversary of my mother’s death.

Now, it’s more than 6 years later, tonight being the 13th anniversary of when her tumour was found.

I’ve been meaning to post this writing here for years, but dragging it up is, well, heavy.

Tonight, I’m more bothered by loss than I have been in quite some time. As the months and years go by, the pain tends to lessen for the most part, so much so that you feel like a traitor for not being a mess on a day-to-day basis. Moving on can feel like betrayal.

But sometimes, on rare and distant days, it comes back so hard and raw that you think it’s only been weeks. Usually, I find this happens when things in my life are going in a new, better, awesome way, in ways I wish more than anything I could share with my mother.

Good things… Like my incoming move to Victoria, which is where she took me for the most fabulous weekend when I was in the 4th grade.

Instead, it’s my dad I call with good news, and I’m lucky I still have him. I’m not even 40. It should be both of them.

Next Tuesday would be my mother’s 70th birthday. She passed at 57.

If you want happy, find another blog today.

I don’t want to re-read this, so I’m posting it word-for-word as it was first published on August 6th, 2006.

Thanks for reading.

Steff, February, 2012.

_______________

 

blackness. utter blackness found me as i rocked fetally in the corner, on the cold hardwood floor that february night.

rocking, rocking. alone in blackness. perhaps a metaphor for my future, i wondered? blackness. aloneness. isolation. fear. nowhere to go.

because of cancer. angry cells gnashing and clawing at what little health lived in you. mutations eating you from the inside out. tumours spongeing up your blood, leaving you in the throes of anemia, a wasted, pallid mockery of the beauty you once had been.

the prognosis? grim. rare, they said. aggressive. “mysterious.”

a rare, mysterious killer,” as if that somehow made my fear more palateable.

we’ve done what we could,” he told me. the liar. the fucking rat bastard. what they did was break the tumour, dropping the grapefruit-sized mass on your ribcage. they spilled the cancer’s seed back into your fertile belly.

it burst. it spilled. it took hold. you produced a harvest of cancer. a veritable bounty. a cancer crop.

you succumbed to a web of tumours so large, so intrusive, that they obstructed and shut down every major internal organ.

but the rat bastard never told me he dropped the ball, and with it, what little chance you had at life. no, i had to wait as my rage consumed me, drinking myself into increasing stupors nightly. months later, i learnt the truth: butterfingers.

i sunk to new lows. cavernous lows. sub-terranean.

i drank more after that. filled with fucking hatred for a medical system that almost works. for doctors working too long of shifts, having too shaky hands. for that slip of the finger.

i gulped through a nightly bottle of red through much of that first year, lost in a whirlwind of that angst and hatred.

my future held blackness.

i’d been down so long, with love, at the bank, and now this, the threat of being rudderless. a daughter without a mother.

and six years have passed in the longest time of my life, in a heartbeat, in a haze. i don’t know where those years have gone, but i’m stunned at all they encapsulate.

and i’m so glad to be on this side of it now. my god, the changes i have seen, the depths i have gained.

i don’t expect this grief to ever leave me, and truth be told, i hope it never does. knowing what i’ve lost keeps me tethered to what remains. keeps me holding on to that which i still have.

and what i still have are the lessons you taught me. the woman you were. the woman i should become. that i have become. and the bounties it all brings.

in your dying days, a clarity of values found you. you realized what you had squandered, that you played the game well finally, but far too late in the game. how great this gift of life is, how important dreams and desires are, and since your death, i have striven to hold those values as my own.

but this year, this time, your death day is different. this time, it comes after the steepest, sharpest incline of growth i’ve ever had. brushing with death and dreaming of greatness, this past year has been the year that has finally given me a sense of self like none i’ve ever known.

that sense that you yourself only obtained within months of your death. the sense of self i only gained from escaping mine.

there’s a strangeness to my grief this year. i have imagined you on a payphone in heaven, in a cloud of whiteness, beaming with a proud smile as we talk of my small accomplishments, of the dreams taking shape before me, and a warmness fills me.

then i open my eyes and the flatness, emptiness, this strange new normal returns.

but that’s just another part of me now, a part i sometimes embrace, when the time is right.

_______

…six years.

come 4:14 a.m. tonight, it’ll have been six years.

six years since i awoke with a shot in the dark, confused why i was sitting up in the night with this sudden unavoidable sense that all the good in the world had been snuffed in an instant.

six years since my door cracked open and your neice entered to find me awake, a faint stream of light pouring in the door, hitting me in the eyes.

steffani…” she started, tears in her eyes.

and then i knew what had been snuffed. across town, in a hospital, you wheezed your last breath and expired the moment before i awoke.

devastated, i was consoled by one thing — even in death, we remained tangibly linked.

and no matter how alone i ever feel, that stays with me, that mysterious bond that keeps you in me.

like that moment during your memorial in that rented space on jericho hill, as the clouds broke, the sun began to shine, and the reverend said, “i’m sure shirley jean left this life thankful –” when a gusty wind crashed a window open and roared into the service, blowing copies of my eulogy across the checkered floor.

silence befell us all as just sat there for a few brief, miraculous seconds as the breeze worked the room, then quelled, remaining calm for the remainder of the service.

but we all suspected the weather had little to do with it. it was a rare moment where disbelievers suspend skepticism and, without speaking of it, everyone knows something slightly inexplicable just occured.

since then, i’ve always suspected you’ve been in my life in some capacity, though i’ve never been conscious of how.

some days, you’re a feeling. a fuzziness that hangs over me and covers me in a soft coat of contentment. a haze of easiness that leaves me impermeable to the cruel world outside.

other days, i remember the woman i lost, the mother who made me who i am, and a tsunami of sorrow engulfs me, pulling me under, leaving me turning, churning in a tidal wave of terror, alone, reaching, trying to break the surface, but choking, suspended a wall of liquid horror.

fortunately that fear seldom finds me now, but it’s still something i know will return. after all, it’s what loss is, and that i understand.

but in that loss i have found so much of myself, and i’m grateful.

for that, thank you. xo.

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The Red Pill Makes You Smaller

Whitney Houston died this weekend, just the latest in celebrity deaths caused by prescription drug abuse.

There’s nothing more hypocritical than the American War on Drugs when this parade of legal abuse deaths goes marching on. Doctors everywhere just lining their pockets from commissions based on prescribing drugs, corporations raking it in hand-over-fist as a population is encouraged to stop coping with emotions and instead just mask them with things like Xanax.

While some people legitimately need pharmaceuticals, there’s no way in hell the number of people who are doing them should require them. Life IS stressful. Life IS tiring. Sometimes we can’t sleep because we can’t sleep. That’s life — it’s tough. Get a helmet, not a pill.

But that’s not what doctors today say, think, or do. Instead of telling some folks they should exercise harder for stress management, they prescribe pills. They push pills for a quicker here-and-now solution rather than asking patients to exhaust other methods of coping before turning to chemical solutions.

Many doctors don’t care if you’re still on prescriptions or you have a backlog. I have pills kicking around that I could have one hell of a party with, since I stopped the prescription, but has anyone inquired whether that’s the case? Not really, no. And my doctor’s one of the good guys.

People legally skate through life on a 24/7 high thanks to the lack of pharmaceuticals accountability in doctor/pharmacist offices.

Seldom do these prescriptions come with active education or management. They’re handed over all casual like by doctors who are either too busy or apathetic to care.

America’s fighting the wrong war on drugs.

Big Pharma’s a part of the addiction problem. A big part of it.

Over a decade ago, a movie named Requiem for a Dream did a brilliant juxtaposition of addiction’s downward spiral — one through heroin, the other through prescription abuse. They were both harrowing in their awfulness. It’s a dark, jarring movie, and I’ve always been impressed at the similarity in the depravity of those downward spirals. Legal-schmegal — when it comes to a drug that’s got you in its grip, it doesn’t fucking matter if it came by way of a prescription pad. Ask Michael Jackson.

Prescriptions need to be doled out judiciously, and more doctors should be investigated for their keen tendency to problem-solve through pills rather than tough-love.

Frankly, laws involving all drugs need to be revisited.

No one dies from smoking marijuana, you know. Who’s the person really in danger here? The guy chewing Xanax like it’s Tic-Tacs between beers, or the fella toking off a bong and watching Harold & Kumar with a big bag of Cheetohs?

Whether it’s preppy kids in universities, housewives in suburbia, or celebrities in bathtubs, I’m getting tired of people dying from prescription drugs because doctors can’t be bothered to investigate before they prescribe.

Can we finally admit this is a problem?

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Legacies: When All That’s Done is Said

Wow, so this posting got long. It should probably be separated. I just don’t have the emotional-editorial prowess for that, so I’ll leave it all jumbled together. I’m sure as the days and weeks move on, I’ll become more cemented in what I believe about Derek’s legacy in the blogging world, but, for now, I’m less academic and more the fumbling friend amazed at the outpouring of interest in a loved, lost voice on the local scene, to say the least.

__________________

As of yesterday, our Vancouver friend, the Penmachine, Derek K. Miller’s infamous The Last Post had gone viral both on the web and in the world’s news media. On Monday, the Canadian Press newswire went live with a story on Derek, it was picked up by American Press’s wire, and suddenly it went from 23 notable world press stories on Sunday to more than 220 press organisations (at this time) carrying this story on Derek’s passing worldwide.

I wrote last week that, in blogging, Derek would “…have told his story. A ripple in the pond. That’s all most writers really want to make — a ripple in the pond.”

Some kinda ripple, Derek. Well done, friend.

Words, words, words

I think, in the scheme of Derek’s life work, in all he tried to share with others, that the legacy being created through this worldwide exposure to what blogging can DO for a man, his life, his legacy, and the memory others get to have of him, that Derek’s changing the world’s perception of blogging.

Maybe I’m too close to it.

Maybe I know the man, his work, and maybe I want this to be bigger than it is, but as someone who’s watched the press all her life and knows what the public thinks and feels, this is a rare, rare moment when a really honest, simple, powerful statement is getting heard by the whole world.

And it’s not a world leader. It’s not some political activist dying for a cause. It’s not a celebrity known the world over.

It’s just a statement from a good Canadian man. A father of two, a guy who married his soul mate and died still madly in love with her. It’s the guy we all knew we could call with a technical problem that needed urgent solving, or who we KNEW had just happened to take a secret perfectly-timed picture of us at that event where he just had a camera. He was that guy.

And somehow, who he was, who he loved, and the life he led, that was all captured in a mere 1,500 words. His perfect 1,500 words.

Then the world read it and, in 1,500 words, realised what was truly important in life, what can all disappear in a moment.

Like Derek wrote, “As soon as my body stopped functioning, and the neurons in my brain ceased firing, I made a remarkable transformation: from a living organism to a corpse, like a flower or a mouse that didn’t make it through a particularly frosty night. The evidence is clear that once I died, it was over.”

In a moment, we’re all gone forever. Then what?

Legacy-Making

So what’s his legacy, then? Super-nice local legend loved by those who were at the cusp of all the tech/web/music developments for 20+ years? Great writer? Spokesman for cancer, early testing, and living out loud?

Sure.

But I think Derek’s legacy is bigger, with more global implications.

Derek Miller took time in his dying days to write a post that, if we’re lucky, changes the way we’ve been thinking about language, communication, social media, writing, and connection.

For Derek, blogging (and podcasting) was truth, education, community, sharing, connecting, activism, camaraderie, and putting his stamp on the world. He did it all. He stamped good.

There are a lot of really shitty blogs out there. Content farms, traffic-whores. A lot of bad blogs.

Derek was never guilty of bad blogging.

He wasn’t a “writing filler” kinda guy. He didn’t have some self-imposed turnstile of copy-quota where he “had” to blog every day. He was a writer who was compelled to share a statement, a truth, or anything, but he certainly didn’t blog so we the audience had something to read, or the PR companies with schwag gifts had reason to mailing-list him.

Derek K. Miller always blogged because he had something to say. Something smart, well-said, perfectly edited, often insightful, and never sensationalised.

Somewhere along the road in the last five years, blogging became about expected numbers, certain amounts one had to get done on a weekly basis. Some “experts” claim 3–6 posts is the “perfect” amount. They’ll tell you a “good word count,” and that Derek K. Miller’s The Last Post was 900 words too long. They’ll show you how to juice it up with “search-engine optimising,” and sex it up with a graphic or two — oh, and break it up with headings, gotta do that too.

But they don’t tell you how to have heart in your writing.

They don’t tell you that your readers deserve significant content. They don’t tell you that creativity, quality, honesty, and originality count.

Somewhere, somehow, blogging and social media became about having a social resumé, hawking your wares, getting connected, getting laid, everything someone like Derek K. Miller never bothered manipulating it for.

I’m a writin’ romantic — a passionate idealist about language, writing, and communication.

I believe that blogging is the BEST thing to ever happen to writing.

And I think blogging is the WORST thing to ever happen to writing.

But, for every site concerned primarily with driving traffic, and not worried about enriching your life, there’s a blog quietly churning out good content week-in, week-out, just like The Penmachine did.

I believe a quality blog only needs one posting a week.

If it’s great, then one will do. If it sucks, then none will do.

I believe the sparse, simple, shocking truth behind Derek Miller’s brilliant The Last Post serves as a reminder of what economy of language, a simple desire to state the facts, and opening yourself up to the world can provoke in all manner of people.

We all want to be remembered. We want a legacy.

Blogging: Whoop! There it is

Not stupid blogging. Not bad blogging. Not blogging where you’re talking about ordering a muffin.

Blog about what that muffin means to you — what do you remember when you’re eating it, what was the most emotional muffin you ever ate and why, what happened right before that muffin was served, how did it smell, how did it taste, and does the emotional overload that triggered that muffin return to you now and then when you’re enjoying one, and if so, what’s that like?

A muffin, does it matter to the world at large? No, but your experiences that determine how you feel about a particular muffin, those experiences might.

And that’s a sort of ridiculous-but-clear example of blogging is — a chance for every person to have a real, true, digital record of their understated lives. Their commentary, opinions, injustices, whatever. It’s a record.

We’ve lived in a world where publishing, media, communication have almost always been in the hands of those with money and power.

For the first time ever, we can control our words.

We can make sure others can read them, even strangers in far away lands.

AdAge magazine called Derek Miller’s The Last Post an example of the “democratization of publishing.” Yeah, okay. Sure: Cheap-n-easy self-publishing.

Personal blogging is powerful, not only for you but for the people who get to read it… and maybe even those you leave behind.

We’re told not to “tell” too much. Yeah, all this not-sharing stuff seems to be doing a LOT of good for society.

Oh, no one will ever understand what you’re enduring. No one will get that.

Derek Miller blogged about wearing diapers, yet millions are hanging off his extensive cancer-living archives this week.

You know who doesn’t know what people want to read? THEM. The “experts.”

You know what I want to read?

I want to read people who write about things that leave them feeling uneasy when they hit publish — or proud, or desperate to see what the comments are because that post mighta been pushing it or so angry while writing that clicking “publish” felt like they’d just flushed the toilet on all the shit that had ‘em feeling that way.

I want to read about people experiencing life — in all its varieties.

If you CARE what I think, I probably don’t want to read you. If you think, while writing, “how should I say this to best elicit a reaction?” then I likely don’t want to read you.

If you write because you need to write, because you feel like you have something on your chest and you’re hoping writing will help sort it out, or because you just can’t NOT share THAT observation you had earlier today?

Then you’re the kind of blogger I wish everyone was.

Empowered by Blogging

Blogging is a tool we have for breaking down barriers.

We can connect, teach each other, expose injustices, examine life, do whatever the hell we want.

No longer are we under the thumb of industry when it comes to distributing our creations.

As artists, writers, musicians — if an audience is all we require, then we have the whole world before us. We have 100% artistic control. We have instantaneous access to publication and audiences. We are not at the mercy of industry. Industry is at the mercy of us, and the tide is turning.

Back in 1990 was a movie I always thought was ahead of its time on some of the issues (though dated now), Pump Up the Volume, about Christian Slater as a pirate radio DJ named Happy Harry Hard-on, aka Chuck U. Farley. The premise of all his angsty railing against society was pretty simple come movie’s end: You have a voice. Use it.

In the end, if Derek Miller’s legacy is that people realise they can use the voice they have, I can’t think of a better one. Nothing broke my heart more than to know Derek had lost his speaking voice for much of his remaining weeks in life, and to think his “eternal” voice is heard around the world now… well, it blows me away.

You have a voice. Use it. Leave a legacy of your own choosing.

And, more importantly, consider today what you’d write in your obituary for tomorrow, and take stock now of what you need to change to have that obituary reflect a life you wish you’d have been living — and an emptier bucket list.

Blogging: It’s good mental lifting. Writin’ does a soul good. Check it out, kids.

(Photos: Derek K. Miller — from Facebook profile shots he’s used.)

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A Good Man Is Gone: Words About the Penmachine

There’s something really right about how people around the world are being moved to tears at the amazing end-of-life “The Last Post” published posthumously by my friend Derek K. Miller.

If you don’t know the story of Derek, you can read the Vancouver Sun’s tribute to him here.

I didn’t know him well. I had the good/bad luck of befriending him when he had less than a year left to live. We were in touch online for a few months before that, but we didn’t even meet until a year ago this week. After, I only saw him twice more. He invited me to his 41st birthday at his home, where I met his family, as well as his incredible Living Wake celebration of life in March of this year.

It’s with great sadness that I know now that Derek was friends with friends of my brother, more than 20 years ago, but we never met until 2010.

There are a lot of people I “know” today about as well as I knew Derek, but few could have me this devastated upon news of their death.

Did you see Harry Potter, the first movie? Remember the opening sequence when Dumbledore stands on Harry’s street, and plucks all the light from all the streetlamps, and the world falls dark?

I sorta felt like that when I woke yesterday and heard the news that Derek had passed. Few lights will ever shine as brightly as that man. Not for me.

On the page, erudite and expressive, profound yet simple when commenting upon the world around him, and in person, the warmest, kindest face you could ever see, with eyes that just drank you in because he was THAT interested in everything you had to say.

He was one of those rare people I consider a “hundred-percenter”. He absolutely gave 100% of himself to you, to his work, to his family, to his blog, to life. He did everything seemingly effortlessly, with grace and cool that people just don’t have anymore… even as cancer ravaged him, even to his final days.

In the end, I got to experience him the way the world did, electronically. Cancer’s not exactly awesome for one’s social calendar, so Derek wasn’t getting around much in recent months. His blog was all we got. But what a blog — an affirmation of life being worth living, death not being so scary, and how important little things are — from Diet Cherry Coke to walking the dog.

I knew he was dying, so I read his blog as he wrote it, but now I have years and years of archives to read, and I’m thankful his friends will be keeping that temple of Derek alive online for us all to experience.

Derek found me. He started following me on Twitter. I checked him out. There, in his bio, was “stage IV colorectal cancer.”

Me and cancer, we go back. My immediate reaction? I wasn’t gonna make the mistake of befriending this guy just so he could go and die on me.

And then I read his content.

I thought about it. Pretty fascinating guy. And, “it’s only Twitter.”

Followed him back. We engaged. He read my blog, commented regularly, and the exchange and mutual respect grew. Pretty standard digital story.

Then the Northern Voice conference came along in May, 2010, and I had to do a speech. The auditorium was packed with a lot more people than I’d imagined would come out, and my nerves were at Puke-Alert Level 3.

They tell you one of the public speaking tricks is to find the face of the kindest, most interested, most riveted, gracious-looking person in the auditorium, and look to them when you need someone to buoy you.

Instead of my friends, I made eye contact with Derek K. Miller and felt safe. I felt really, really safe, I let my guard down, and I had one hell of a successful talk. I don’t know if I could’ve had that same vulnerability without lucking into someone who was so incredibly responsive and supportive in the audience, like Derek was for me. He had this little smile throughout the speech, never broke eye contact for the whole half-hour, and now, whenever I think of Derek, I see him sitting left of centre in the front of that audience, his legs crossed, leaning on the armrest, his camera in his lap.

But, because the advanced stage of cancer left me unable to experience more tangibly the gift of his in-person friendship, the part of me that will mourn Derek the most is Me the Writer.

Even seasoned writers will tell you that ripping the Band-aid off and exposing your gaping wounds on the page is a tough, tough business. So many of us get wrapped up in the drama of it, dressing up the experience and making it so much more, or else totally missing the ballpark with this clinical detachment that “tells” and doesn’t show what’s going on. In those weak and affected retellings we lose the truth of the experience, and it’s nailing the truth that makes for great writing.

Derek, though, he had this incredible balance, an economy of language, and it just worked so well. His scientific predilections made him irrepressibly truthful, always, and frankly straight about it, but his heart infused his passion in his words, and his boyish wonder of the world would be inescapably obvious. Few writers can offer that combination of heart, passion, matter-of-factness, and childlike wonder, and Miller brought it all with a bang. His voice was rare.

And he wasn’t afraid. He had no pride getting in the way of telling us he was wearing diapers at the end, or in explaining physicality of the disease itself. He didn’t play the sympathy card. He simply wrote.

He wrote for the purest reason a man can write — to share his story because he knows he’s not alone in the human condition, and even if he would never meet that face on the other side of the world, he’d have told his story. A ripple in the pond. That’s all most writers really want to make — a ripple in the pond.

Derek K. Miller had one of the earliest online presences in this country. He had a legendary history on the web. He kept a weblog for almost as long as they’ve been around — 14 years now.

He wrote because he simply had to write.

He’s the kind of person I want to be when I grow up.

And he doesn’t exist anymore.

We, the Vancouver community, will forever remember you, Derek. You used the internet in the way we dream the whole world would — to teach, inspire, communicate, shed truth, entertain, build community, record posterity, and, most of all, just plain make friends.

Another good man’s done and gone, too fucking soon. Rest in peace.

**** **** **** ****

My Dream For Derek:

I love that Derek’s The Last Post is causing people to stop and rethink life around the world — from Roger Ebert all the way down to a housewife sobbing as she reads it on her iPhone in the WalMart parking lot (like a friend back east told me she did). He was that good a writer. He deserves the audience, even if he’s gone.

It’s his ripple in the pond, and I hope it ripples forever.

I would love a publisher to take his work and make it into book form. I would buy that book. I would gift that book.

I would love his amazing daughters and wife to receive royalties on his life’s work.

If Derek’s work could have a life after him, and provide a life for his daughters, it would be a beautiful, wonderful thing to behold.

The world would be a far, far better place if it were men like Derek that we all aspired to be, not celebrities.

Derek K. Miller, a man for the ages.

PS: The photo’s caption isn’t displaying for some reason. It’s a self-portrait taken in the photo booth at Derek’s Living Wake, about 6 weeks before his death. He chose it as his last Facebook profile avatar, and I think it was Derek’s funny way of toasting his friends for being a part of his life. ‘Cos he’s that kinda guy.

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