Monday, 12 March 2012

Obituary for Mike

Born in Aklavik June,1937, Mike Matthews died on February 25th, 2012 in Nanaimo, B.C. after a brief confrontation with cancer. His wife, daughter and beloved dog were at his side.
Mike was a vibrant and witty man, a larger-than-life presence, treasured by his friends and family for his irreverent exuberance. Growing up in Vancouver, he went to Magee High School, which he described as a peak period in his life. He celebrated his lengthy undergraduate career at UBC, where he hung out at the Players Club and the Ubyssey. In Montreal, he worked at the McGill Library, attended graduate studies at Sir George Williams University, and played baseball with the York Street Tigers where his nom-de-baseball was Magic Mitt. Back on the West Coast, he began his thirty-three year career teaching English at Malaspina College, now Vancouver Island University, and busied himself with theatrical activities, running (7 marathons), and writing book reviews and articles about food, wine and people.
Mike dearly loved his family, especially his granddaughter Charlotte and his talented dog Victor. He took pleasure in chatting to checkout clerks, bank tellers, shopkeepers, colleagues, passengers on the Protection Island Ferry, and whomever else would respond to his skill-testing questions, word games, rants and puns, encounters which he believed brightened people’s lives. The natural world delighted him, and he was a constant champion of the Protection Island Community Garden. He loved the music of Handel, Mozart, Blind Willie Johnson, and all the Protection Island musicians.  An enthusiastic cook, his specialties were plantain frittatas and Saskatoon berry pies.  He was keen on crossword puzzles, and his extensive collection of pens and reading glasses was renowned.
He detested cruelty to animals, orange safety vests, sentimentality, bragging, car alarms, plastic water bottles, and the use of the word “multiple” rather than “many”, or any long word when a shorter one would do.
Mike is survived by his wife Carol, daughter Alison (Alex Taylor), granddaughter Charlotte, brother Dick (Diane), in-laws Rod Dobell (Marnie), Ken Dobell (Pam), eleven beloved nieces and nephews, and sixteen great-nieces and great-nephews.
Those who share his passionate love of animals may wish to make a donation in his name to the SPCA. In recognition of his love of teaching, donations may be made to the Vancouver Island University Mike Matthews Scholarship Fund. In appreciation of the wonderful care he received in his last few weeks, donations could be made to the Palliative Care Unit at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.  
The family thanks all the staff of the Nanaimo hospital and especially Dr. Kim Waterman, Dr. Robin Love, and the Palliative Care nurses.
A memorial will be held Sunday, April 1st, 2012 at 3:00pm at Bowen Park Auditorium in Nanaimo, B.C.

Our Thanks

We are winding up the blog now with some additional messages and Mike's

There are many more messages of support which haven't made their way to the
blog, simply because we have been overwhelmed by the responses we have
received and we haven't always been sure that people wanted the message
redirected to the blog. If your message doesn't appear here, please know
that it was read and deeply appreciated.

With heartfelt thanks,
Carol, Alison, and family

Message from Annie Dugdale/Correia

Hi Carol and Alison,

Hannah and I had our birthdays on the 25th and awoke the next morning to the sad news. It felt so odd that we had been celebrating as Mike battled his way out of this world. I thought he probably would have made light of it with a clever quip.

We all loved him as children, but being in his class at Malaspina allowed me to know him better as an adult. It warms my heart to remember him saying that he enjoyed having me there. I think it must have looked like I was hanging on his every word, but in truth I sometimes faded off into a fit of fondness for his enthusiasm, his thoughtful looks directed at the ceiling and his boundless positivity. So while he was saying something clever, I was basking in his energy and thinking, "Mike Mathews, I just love you to bits."

I'm so sad and sorry for your loss, and also grateful that he was here and shared his abundant gifts so freely with the world.

Much love,

Condolences from Laureen Styles

Hi Carol,
My heart goes out to you in your loss of beloved Mike, partner, adventurer,
dog lover, educator, father, and the many other strengths/roles/gifts he
brought into the world during his time in this place. I can only appreciate
how difficult the last months have been for you and your family and close
friends and I am only hopeful that his leaving-taking was peaceful.

In the days that pass, I am holding space for you, sending you my positive
energy for the strength you need in these moments. Your wisdom, perspective,
amazing courage, wit, humor and resiliency will all be needed I expect and
extending my faith that your resiliency will increase as live this next
stage with grace.

And I offer whatever I can in support that might be helpful to you Carol.
And I also know that you have a wonderful family and extensive support
system of friends circle you with love, tangible help and care.

Hugs to you virtually, Laureen

Memories from Kim Leduc

I feel so much about Mike having passed away. I have such fond memories and I am glad to say such recent ones. I remember being a bit awed and a little scared of Mike when I was a child. I have a vivid memory of Alison putting her head into her father's massive (at the time it was impressive to a small kid) gut and pushing him around the kitchen floor. This might have been in the house in Harewood but as I recall it was the one near Brechin School on Millstone. I found that being afraid of Mike was not an option after witnessing the way my friend could push him around. He was always eager for conversation. I do not remember spending quiet time in repose with Mike. He was always a force of mental and verbal energy when I was around. Even if he wasn't speaking I could feel him formulating the composition of his next missive (of, as often, his rant).
I will miss his presence in my world but my heart aches for you and Alison and Charlotte and Victor.
Much love to you all,
Kim LeDuc

Steve Lane's Notice to VIU Community

Dear all,

It is my sad duty to notify the VIU community of the loss of one of its
long-time members, Mike Matthews of the English department.

Mike died on Saturday, February 25, after a brief struggle with lung cancer,
having been admitted to Emergency only on February 8. Mike leaves behind his
wife Carol, who has strong connections of her own to Malaspina/VIU having
served as one of our deans, and their daughter Alison, who has also taught
for us a few years ago. Mike was 74.

Mike Matthews joined Malaspina College at the old Kennedy Street campus in
1970, a year after it opened. Over the years until his retirement, Mike
taught hundreds of students their college composition, or Canadian
literature, or both in the Arts One program. This man kept students engaged
the old-fashioned ways: through passion for his subjects, gusto, and not a
little dash of theatricality. Mike would walk into a classroom carrying his
trademark music stand as a portable lectern, and if you walked by that
classroom you would hear Mike in full flight. No technology required; in
fact, Mike's struggles with technology are a legend unto themselves.

In those early days of the College, Mike helped to develop the department's
expertise in and connections to Canadian literature and writers, and he
helped develop the community through literary and theatrical productions and
performances. After his retirement, Mike returned to teach a few courses for
the English department, and he also got involved in the ElderCollege

I am sure many of you have a memory of Mike Matthews - I know I have
several. Many are posted on a blog that Carol maintained over the past few
weeks: <>.

Carol and Alison are still in the planning stages of a memorial to Mike,
sometime later in March. Also, I believe there are already discussions to
create a scholarship for students in Mike's memory. I will provide further
details as I receive them.

My thoughts go out to Carol and Alison. This is, indeed, a loss.



Steven M. Lane, Ph.D.
Associate Vice-President:
Academic Planning and Aboriginal Initiatives
Vancouver Island University
Phone: 250-740-6558
900 Fifth Street
Nanaimo, B.C.

From John Knowles

Hi Carol,

We were, of course, shocked at the rapid onset of Mike's illness. Somehow his image in my mind does not fit with this.

I may have already sent the following Wendell Berry poem to you on some other occasion.

All our love

The Wheel
For Robert Penn Warren

At the first strokes of the fiddle bow
the dancers rise from their seats.
The dance begins to shape itself
in the crowd, as couples join,
and couples join couples, their movement
together lightening their feet.
They move in the ancient circle
of the dance. The dance and the song
call each other into being. Soon
they are one – rapt in a single
rapture, so that even the night
has its clarity, and time
is the wheel that brings it round.

In this rapture the dead return.
Sorrow is gone from them.
They are light. They step
into the steps of the living
and turn with them in the dance
in the sweet enclosure
of the song, and timeless
is the wheel that brings it round.

Wendell Berry

From Ron and Pat Smith

Dear Carol,

Bill New just sent me a note to say that he had read Mike's obituary in today's paper. Needless to say, Pat and I were both shocked. After our return from Europe in late January, I left a brief holiday greeting and message for you and MIke on your answering machine. I was puzzled when I didn't hear back from you but now I realize what you must have been going through. I'm not quite sure what to say except that I feel a great loss, a huge gap in all of our lives. Even though we have not seen that much of each other over the last while, you two have always been very special to us, from those early days on the beach in Lantzville through to the all too short meetings in the Longwood Pub. What I regret is not telling Mike how much I admired him, as a colleague, as a writer, as a wit, as a friend, but then if I had said anything he would have argued with me anyway, denying me my view just for the sheer pleasure of verbal jousting and out of modesty. There are few people who through the force of their presence influence us but for me Mike was and will remain one of those people. I've always felt the two of you lived your lives to the fullest and for that I am thankful. Please accept our condolences and love. Ditto to Alison, she is all the best parts of both of you.

Ron and Pat

Comment from Darcy Ingram

Mike was such a great instructor.

I took his Technical Writing course at MalU and had a great time in his classroom, especially watching him trying to figure out which red-framed
(weren't they identical?) glasses were the reading glasses and which ones he needed to see our faces. Read (remove glasses); lift head to address students (put on other glasses); bow head to re-read text (take off glasses/put on other glasses).. and repeat many, many times throughout the three hour class... J

I remember him as a very dedicated instructor, full of humour, who always had the time for a student when they needed it.

From Arlene Bishop

Dear Carol
I think of you every day and especially now.  I know you are very strong, and you are not a stranger to loss, and I also suspect that you will just be putting one foot in front of the other for a while.  It is so evident that you are surrounded by circles and circles of love and support, and I hope you count me as being one in those circles.
I want to thank you for your generosity in establishing and sharing the blog with us.  It helped to feel connected to you and Mike, without one feeling intrusive into what for you and Allison and Mike, would be an intensely personal experience.  It speaks to your deep and abiding love for Mike that you would make these intimacies available to the rest of us, who also deeply care.
My sense is that what you said about Mike, that he had no regrets, had a good life, one that was mostly intensely happy/gleeful, must have been so true, in that he had no need to cling to life, prolonging his suffering.  Such a blessing.  Although I know that being the one/s left behind, one can’t help but selfishly wish for one more day, one more week.   
I hope to see you, after things settle, you get your bearings and you feel like it.
My love to you

From Eve Joseph

Patrick and I are on Galiano and just heard about Mike. I am so sorry. I can't take it in and can't imagine how you can. You have been astonishing these past weeks. If there is a definition of love it could not be shown any more clearly than in your actions and presence with Mike these past weeks.  I am so sorry. Know that you are loved and that we are here for whatever you need, whenever you need it.  With love, eve

From Donna and Marshall Soules

Dear Carol and Alison: A dear friend and very fine person has left this life, but Mike will remain in our hearts always. We salute your courage, your love for one another, and share your sense of loss. A candle burns here to light his way. Much love, Donna and Marsh

My dear friends

Carol, I didn't want to believe it, that such a message would ever come. I still don't. How much like a dream it all is. Something to wake up from in tears. But no man could ask for more than what you gave him at the end, you and Alison holding his hands, Victor there.  If there's any relief it's that he was not a long time in the going, but still, to go. We will help you survive it. We must and you must let us. We need you. I am brought up short and cannot think. What a good man he was. What you have lost, what all of us have lost. There are no words. When you need us, we'll be there, always. Terence

From Gill Collins

Dearest Carol:

Collins is especially "distracted" - his word.  He talked earlier tonight about swimming with Mike at Trafalgar Beach after meeting him in '61 or '62 when Matthews lived on MacDonald Street and also about how kind you both were to him in Montreal when he lived with you for awhile before you found him a room at Wattier's.  I remember very clearly Mike in his overalls feeding us on the large back porch you had in Montreal, in 1967 - happy times when we were all young and healthy.

Very glad to hear that you have Alison, Alex and your dear Charlotte with you and I know you will have lots of Mike talk tonight, sharing stories and I'm sure some laughter too.  

Much love to you Carol,

Gill x

Message from Kory and Ian

Dear Carol and Family     
Words can not express the sorrow of hearing that Mike has passed. He has gone to a far better place without pain.  So many loved ones lost to this terrible disease. We can only hope a cure is not far away for our grandchildren. May your family and friends be a great support to you at this time. Mike will never be forgotten. He will live on in all our memories of the good times.     
Kory and Ian

From Sheila and Curt

The final transition is the most difficult one for all. There are few words of comfort, only to say that we are very sorry that a man with such spirit will longer be with us.
These times can be overwhelming and it is helpful that your daughter is with you.  This seems like a vague offer because I do not know what may be specifically useful to you at this time; however, I am available if there is anything I can do.   I will keep in touch.
Keep your memories warm and close to your heart.
Sheila and Curt

From Dede Gaston

Carol, Am thinking of you and Allison and Charlotte. And Mike. The fact that he "let go" so quickly at the end, from my Buddhist perspective, meant he had no regrets. That takes a great deal of fearlessness and joy that, i think, comes from being well loved.
It was wonderful staying at your place, thank you. It felt both vibrant and peaceful there and I was struck by the pictures on Mike's bulletin board. Such a quirky sense of humor, clearly able to laugh at life's folly.
xo dd

PS from Norah and Peter

Dear Carol
We have just read your entry in the blog with the news of Mike's death and are filled with great sadness and sorrow for you and Allison, Alex and Charlotte.  In the too short time we knew Mike we too came to love his 'joie du vivre'.  I was thinking today that just last summer he was matching me wheelbarrow for wheelbarrow moving compost at the community garden.
It was just about 3 weeks ago that we dropped over for coffee and Mike was up and serving us and so gracious and kind.  We will really miss him and are hoping that you can find some comfort in knowing how much this island community cherishes for you both.      

With great fondness,  Norah and Peter

PS from Jo Ellis

Very dear Carol, I am sorry Mike had to leave you so quickly. Little time for you to prepare; trace a course on the map, pack a bag, close the door of the house.
Thank you for sharing the thoughts of your friends as they described their relationship with Mike. I came to know him as a person this way. A lovely man indeed, a man of many dimensions.
I mourn Mike's passing, Carol. Wish we could all stay forever -- as advisors, perhaps.  How this planet would whirl with the voices of our souls.
Bill and I, our thoughts are with you and the children,
With much love, J.

A note from Joe

A note to Mike and Carol,  

my hands have always been better use in the dirt than trying to put words on paper, but I need to let you know how much I have loved being able to cross that awesome red bridge into your garden of Peace ( inturrupted by Victors welcoming bark ), Love ( of each other,family,friends,and nature-despite the odd tomatoe eating deer ), and Happiness ( the infectious sunshine of your smiles ! )

Thinking of you, paint brush in hand…


Post Script from Audrey Bean

Dear Carol, thank you for your account of yesterday - the essentials simply put. I ache for the hollowness you and Alison must feel today - so many shades of loss are involved. What is comforting to me is to have read the blog, as it gives me an inkling, in their own words, of the members of your terrific circle. So to the extent that solace lies there, you will have it. Here in one of your other circles, Montreal has had its finest snowfall of the winter. I skied for an hour on Mt. Royal today - the blue trail circles up to the cross, which is as handsome up close as it is from a distance, but in a different way. Of course, my thoughts turned to you and Mike, Montrealers at heart. John sends his love - he has been reminiscing about early days, and some of it may make its way into an email . In the meantime, our love is winging its way west to you and and Alison. Audrey

Post script from Fred Schloessinger

Hi Carol,
I was away for 3 weeks in Calif, and when I returned yesterday, I heard the sad news. I will miss Mike, his wicked humour, his crossword puzzle mania, of which I know nothing… his love of books, his love of the garden and the Island. My heart goes out to you and Alison, who had so little time to adjust to his decline. Stay well, and if there is anything I can do, please let me know.  hugs, Fred

Post script from John Lepage

Dear Carol,
Pam and I have just heard about Mike's death, and I wanted to pass on our most heartfelt sympathies. We are travelling in Mexico and have not been in touch, and so we were shocked to have this news. I want you to know that of all my senior colleagues Mike was the one to whom I most looked for kindred feeling, intellectual fellow-feeling, and humour. As a middle-aged fogey I looked to Mike's faux gruffness as a gesture of shared humanity. We shared a fondness for the unusual power of words that made me go to him when I needed a smile or a laugh. Mike hated the word "centre" applied to a building. He loved and collected the names of students who could not spell their own names, as he put it, like Micheal for Michael.  He loved unwitting puns, like the sailor changing his tact. Once, when I was dean, he came to me to indicate he was in trouble because he had used bad language in the classroom and certain students had objected to it. In spite of my reassurances, he insisted that he deserved some form of recrimination because he had acted inappropriately out of his love of the drama of the moment. Nothing came of it in the end, because nothing could not come of it and because his students, who loved him, could not complain. I loved Mike's humanity, which well bespoke our faculty, and from what I have just now heard, Mike carried that humanity and all its dignity into the last moments of his life. I will miss him dearly, and I am so sorry for you and Alison that he had to go. It is moments like this that put me in touch with my own mortality, and when I survey my own life I worry about the lack of dignity next to that modelled by great people like Mike. In your middle age you begin to realize how little time there is in order to make good on life. Mike made good on life.
You have all our sympathies and  best wishes - John (for Pam)

Friday, 2 March 2012

Blog entry from Alison's friend Deborah deMille

My deepest condolences.  Thinking of you so much and decided to write my own blog about your Dad. Hope you and your Mum are hanging in there.  Love to you all.


Saturday, 25 February 2012

February 25, 2012

At noon today, Mike escaped into another realm, like the white dog in Marshall Soules’ collage, like the way he disappeared in Bill Gaston’s dream.

Alison and I had been with him throughout the week, and he was visited by some much loved family members and friends. He signalled with raised eyebrows or frowns that he understood the conversations we were having as we “talked amongst ourselves.” There were many other dear  friends and family members who were not able to see him during these short two weeks, including his much admired older brother who arrived at the hospital just after Mike had died.

He was very well cared for in Nanaimo Hospital’s Palliative Care unit. I stayed overnight in Mike’s room  last night and was with him during the night when he was wakeful. This morning he was awake a lot and, when it was time, he was really ready to go and he just took off. Alison and I were with him, each holding a hand, on either side of the bed, with Victor lying quietly at his feet. We were very proud of his brave endurance of pain and his determined departure.

He had a good life and, we think, no regrets. He’d never been in hospital until all this began last fall.  As John Tucker said when he first heard Mike was ill, "Some people feel too strong to be thus afflicted. Mike is one of them." His life was too short, but we’re glad that his suffering was brief.

There was no one like him, and he will be with us forever.

Thank you all for your love and support. We read your messages to him every day and feel sure that they gave him comfort, as they did us.

From John and Audrey Knowles

Dear Carol, Suspending the blog seems right now. Reading your note makes it clear that this is a time of contracting, not expanding, focus. Besides, the blog has unleashed a flood that seems to be building, not abating! Even I woke this morning with a belkoom for Mike in my mind. Here it is, with much love to you both from John and me. May he go in peace. Audrey

Dear Mike,

You imagined choice ‒

A long swim,
No other voice.
But no, a slew
Of thoughtful tender beings
Is swimming with you.

Message from Margaret Fulton

Carol dear and family,  I have just reread all the tributes to Mike and you.   I can only repeat my love for you.
Knowing Mike's love of literature, I thought these few lines from Shakespeare at this time might be of some comfort for you:
There is Providence in the fall of a sparrow.  If it be now, 'tis not to come;
If it be not to come, it will be now,
If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.
I'm sure that Mike and you and all his many friends are ready.  I am totally with you in spirit

Another From Rick and Adrianne in Cambodia

HI Mike, Carol and Alison,
Here we are in the middle of the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, taking the clinic to it’s new destination on the Stung Sen River, it is day three and we are able to find internet... hard to believe. You are all travelling with us in our hearts and we know you are surrounded by family and friends and we wish we could be there with you if it was possible.
Mike you would laugh as Rick seems to find work to do on this slow boat/clinic and is constantly in motion, today it was figuring how to pump out the bilge by motor.  
You two have had many discussions together and spent time talking pumps and other Island living challenges. I wish you could have been on the shore when we were taking off, it was a bit of a gong show as the small boat that is towing us took off and those that were not coming with us were scrambling to get off the clinic and then the plank got caught and almost put the outside cooking stove through the wall. Then the clinic broke loose and we were adrift and Rick had to jump ashore and then he fell in to the water up to his waist, everyone yelling and pulling and jumping in the water trying to help. You can imagine!!!! Somehow Rick just can’t get away from “messing around with boats”.
We are sending you all our love and missing you all.
Adrianne and Rick
So glad Victor is there too, your trusted and constant companion
PS we do not know how to blog so are sending this the regular way
xoxoxox big hug!

Message from niece Sharon Matthews

I am thinking of the three of you, being brave together.  
It is amazing that in this time of great sorrow, you bring people together and make art out of it.
Uncle Mike’s “g-ness” is spreading, even as his physical being is going in the other direction.  
I echo what was said earlier – this world is a better place because of you three – your bravery and your powerful warmth and grace.
I am glad Uncle Mike cannot see me, barley able to type, a weeping woman at my computer.  But there it is.  
All my love,   

Message from Neil Smith

Like so many of us who care about you, we have followed the wonderful stories posted on the blog, and like so many of your friends, we struggle for meaning, question the lack of fairness, and try to make sense of what is happening in your lives.
But then we step back from our immediate sadness and we try to imagine your experience as you move from day to day.  It is in this imagining that we recognize the incredibly special thing you have created together as a family; the strength, intensity and deep love that the three of you share.
As we read through the blog, your influence on the lives of friends and colleagues is evident in each and every story. Each writer’s life is enriched by your fierce courage, infinite energy and full commitment to building a better world.

Together, you have truly offered us the very highest of standards – whether they be measured by love, moral courage, or humour.
For that we thank you.  Our hearts are with you ...    Neil and Deidre

Friday, 24 February 2012

From niece Leah

Dear Carol and Alison,

My sadness as I read of Mike's decline is profound, but it's tempered by admiration, wonder, and even laughter as I read the many messages on the blog, each of which captures Mike's essence in it's own unique way. What is also abundantly clear is the love the three of you have for one another and your strength as a family. All three of you are facing the unthinkable with inspiring bravery and dignity. It seems so unfair that the incredible love you have for one another should have to be disrupted, and yet I know it is the strength of this love which will get you through the dark times ahead.

With all of this in mind, I have a few more things to add to the list of 75 things we like about Mike. I won't bother trying to number them, because I'm sure others are also sending their lists. I fear I'm taking up more than my share, but I can't imagine anyone will object if there are more than 75 things on the list

That he married Carol (I like this for two reasons. It demonstrates that he was smart enough to recognize what an amazing woman Carol is, and it made him part of our extended family)

That he and Carol raised an amazing daughter

The way his eyes light up when he talks about Charlotte

That his profound love for his family is evident in everything he says and does

That he has touched the lives of so many family members, friends, colleagues and students

That he is, without a doubt, leaving this world a better place than he found it

Sending you much love,

Leah xoxo

from Sharon Tillie

Hi Carol,
Please know that I stand as a member of that wider ring of people who have been touched by you and your dear Mike and I offer you the words of this old Irish Sun blessing:

May the Longtime Sun Shine upon you.
All Love Surround You
May the Pure Light Within You
Guide your way Home.

sharon tillie

From Tricia Blair

Dear Mike and Carol,

I, like many many others, have been spending much time mulling over
times spent with you both. Many sweet images enter my mind’s eye. The
beautiful light of a summer evening making me feel like I was in an
Audrey Hepburn movie as we sat together on the deck on Protection with
good food, lovely wine and the best company. Sitting in a church in
Nanaimo in the afternoon listening to music with joy and peace because
you two had thought to invite Jay and I to come along with you - you
thought we might like it. The transformation of our kitchen into a
room full of culinary harmony when we had the chance to host you for a
meal now and then (because Carol, Jay and I don’t often cook together
so peacefully!). But the sweetest, most vivid and the most apt picture
that comes to mind is from the very first time you two came to visit
at out house. Hannah Lily was only five at the time. We knew you two
were coming and we prepared some cheese and bread and crackers - maybe
a few olives too. The power that you and Mike have to elicit grace and
generosity in those around you is so powerful that my five year old
daughter took it upon herself to help with all the preparations for
your visit. When we saw your car pull up in front of our house and we
said you were here, she opened the door, walked down the path to greet
you and announced “We’ve got everything ready for you!”. You see, she
had never met you but because of how Jay and I spoke of you and
because of the very essence of who you are (which if why we spoke -
and speak - of you the way we do) she became the generous and
welcoming host. This was NOT usual behaviour for her at the time!

Know that we love you and that we are ready and able to help in any
way we can.

Oh Carol. There really are no words.



From Al McWilliams

Oh, Dear Carol,
I can't imagine that unique force that is Mike being diminished, and so quickly. I really don't know what to say. I have tears and I feel for you and Alison - I do know that heartbreak is a real thing, it is physical, palpable. All Lyse and I can do is send you our love. Know that we are thinking of the three of you, Yes, he is a man of 'G' words - glint, glare, guffaw, gruff, grace, generous, grin...but never goofy.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

From Carol -- Thursday, February 23rd -- 10:20 pm

Things are worsening quickly. The main goal now is to keep Mike comfortable for the next few days, which likely means an increase in pain medication. Alison and I have just come home for the palliative care unit, having been assured by the nurses that Mike was likely to sleep comfortably through the night. We will return in the morning when we expect him to be more awake and a little more communicative.
He is very brave, dignified and accommodating, and it breaks our hearts to see how difficult all this is for him, especially since only a few weeks ago he was his hearty, hardy, humorous – OK, then, gleeful – self. In retrospect, I can see that he was worried about a few things, but they seem much like the worries we all have at this time of life: forgetfulness, mild confusion, lost keys, fatigue, and so on. Now we realize that he was likely ill for some time, that he probably had lung cancer for at least a couple of years, and maybe he was uncomplainingly ignoring some symptoms. Or maybe the symptoms were silent. In any case, after all the stresses he endured last fall (two surgeries, a long time on a catheter, and so on), the cancer just spread really quickly, affecting the spine, the pancreas, the brain and the liver as well as the lungs.
All of us, family and friends, are glad that he will not have to suffer an extended illness. He appeared hale and hearty until February 8th, when he was admitted to hospital for, I think, the first time in his life, and he has had an extraordinarily happy 74 years, entertaining himself and others and, as he liked to say, “exercising his faculties at large.”
We are hoping for a few more peaceful and comfortable days with him. Probably I will be staying at the hospital from tomorrow night on, and probably Alison will do so for a few days as well. We’ll keep adding to the list of things we love about Mike – it’s so easy to find those – but I think the blog may be a little silent for awhile.
Thanks so much to all of you for your expressions of love for Mike. It has been a great comfort to our family.

I Love That Man

Today I spoke to Brian and Marg Smith here at Parkridge, where Mum and Dad have their Nanaimo Condo, and they asked to pass on a message to Mike from Ray Lawrence.  Ray lives in the complex as well, and he is now in his late eighties.  Some years back he was a student in Mike’s English class at VIU.  Though I haven’t met Ray, I recognized his name because Mike had mentioned several times to me that he’d had a “wonderful” older student who was a pleasure to have in the classroom. Mike said Ray was a pleasure to have in the classroom, always so attentive and, as well as having his own intelligent comments, was so interested in what other younger students had to say.  

Ray’s message, upon learning of Mike’s situation, was “I love that man.”  He acknowledged that it is not the fashion now for a heterosexual man to profess love for another heterosexual man, although in Shakespeare’s time it was different. “But, he said, “I do love that man.”

It is such a comfort to know that my father’s students (and friends and family) love him so dearly.  And at this time, though my father’s decline continues at a shocking pace, I witness too the mighty and profound love between my parents.  Mike was dozing off holding Carol’s hand, and I started click-clicking again on the electronic thingy.  After a while, I looked up to see my father asleep in the hospital bed and my mother half asleep in the chair, still holding hands.  A very awkward position for my mother, and I suggested we could head out since he was settled.  “As long as he’s holding my hand, I’m not letting go,” she told me.

May we all have such fierce shepherds to keep watch over us.

Letter from Terence Young

Hi, Carol,

I was corresponding with my sister, Joan, and she told me she thinks she remembers meeting Mike at the old Munro's on Fort Street, and that he recommended Rose Tremain to her, for which suggestion she has been grateful ever since. With this small act and countless others you and Mike have influenced so many people. Lives well lived, I say, and my sister said, too, that this blog of yours bears witness to those lives beautifully, and at the right time when all that should be said gets said and not later. May it be so for all of us. I am no Alexander Pope who believes that "whatever is is right," but I can also see no other way than the one we've got, and am perplexed by it all. How much more so then must you be who are ahead of us on the path. Your strength and grace are an example to us all. Our Hollywood hearts are growing by leaps and bounds with every post and every testimony to Mike's greater heart. Tomorrow we send Liam back to Edmonton after hosting him for a few days during reading break, or what the Albertans call Family Week. Funny as the name sounds, we have been conscious of nothing but family the last little while, yours especially, how much larger you have made the idea seem with messages coming from around the world. I know I am glad to have been a part of it for all these years. Please tell Mike I never had a brother, older or younger, but he's pretty much what I would want if I could have the choice, one who cooks brilliantly and likes good scotch and a goofy project to occupy the body and the mind. All of that.

Much love to you both,


From the Frasers

Dear Mike and Carol et al,

It's at times like this that my memory plays the most damnable tricks on me. I could swear that we have a great picture somewhere of Mike standing in Ross and Judy's dining room, holding a glass of wine with a big, self-satisfied grin on his mug. I wanted to find the photo and forward it, but despite this damnable piece of technology in front of me, it eludes discovery. On reflection, maybe it never was a photo that I had, just a fond memory...

Speaking of which, I remember we came to your house on Brechin Road one cold Christmas Eve for a group reading of A Christmas Carol. As soon as we walked in your house I was immediately warmed by the smell of mulled wine and by the presence of loving souls. As the evening unfolded, though, what I remember most -- and it comes back to me every Christmas -- is an image of you, Mike, standing tall and holding your copy out in front of you with your glasses on your nose, and you just transformed and completely became Ebeneezer Scrooge. It was one of the most delightful bits of magic that I've ever seen, even if it wasn't that big a leap for you in some parts...!  

This an apropos moment to celebrate such warm memories, but also hopefully to express my overwhelming gratitude to you for everything you have shared of yourself with me, and with us -- your excellent company, your care and kindness, your wit and zeal, your intellect and wisdom, your love and compassion, and so much more. I also want to express our thanks for the blog because we feel so far away and a bit helpless, but the blog has helped us feel closer to you.

You are all in our hearts and we are thinking of you every day, wishing you all strength, grace and peace.

With all our love,
Jeremy (and Janet, Jennifer, Caitlyn, Emily and Heather)

Janice McCachen's letter to Carol

Dearest Carol,
Just hung up the phone with Lucy who was so glad to have spoken with you today, though sad too. You and Mike and Alison have been constantly in my thoughts.  This week I have been teaching the closing scenes of The Tempest and it seems to express so much of what is happening with your lives. Transformation especially:  "Nothing of him that doth fade but doth suffer a sea change into something rich and strange..." That part for sure. And Victor as Mike's magical spirit Ariel. Except that's you too.  And Alison. And Charlotte.  The blog shows how much you and Mike have and continue to transform other people's lives, make them richer (stranger? Well in a good way). And you live on a magical island and  Mike would make a great Prospero, with his rough magic,  except that he's not so much of a bully and he certainly has a better sense of humour.  And of course the problem with that play is no balance: where are all the women? When I read the speech "we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a dream" I cried and my class (the sweetest group of  young souls)  was very impressed. The Epilogue too "Now my charms are all o'erthrown /and what strength I have's mine own/Which is most faint...As you from crimes would pardoned be/Let your indulgence set me free." That too.
Today I also was teaching an excerpt from Bertrand Russell's "The Happy Life" and we read this: "The happy man...feels himself a citizen of the universe; enjoying freely the spectacle that it offers and the joys that it affords, untroubled by the thought of death because he feels himself not really separate from those who will come after him.  It is in such profound instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found." That too made me cry. Reading everyone's letters it is clear Mike holds that passport.
Lucy and I said how we are ready to be there when it's time for us to be or when you need us to be. You know that of course. Oh Carol.
Love Janice

Poem from Fred Wah

Dear Carol,
I tried posting this poem to the blog today but it ended up as a comment on the Crossword.
I don't have any cross words for Mike but I'd like him to have this.
love, Fred

Dear Mike,
maybe the body is poetry
and it rhymes (or doesn’t)
but now in our own old bodies
I think it’s easy to say that
harder to think it

The talk’s been a joy
(the poetry too
ok, novels)
but when I think of you
I think of your body
which is always where you are
slight query of your head
(just like Victor)
swaying height and tilted
like the ideogram for “man”
the intensity of running
no, that’s from your eyes

Well, I guess we do think in pictures
the mental life belongs to all of us
but the body is a beautiful poem
(at least that’s the plan)
we can read it and read it
and read it

So I see you dear friend
every part of you moving
like the words of a poem
(ok, and a novel)
our music at the heart of thinking
always there to be read

with love, Fred

Rod's List

          A Few Recollections, and 75 things we like about Mike
A few things from the past stick in the mind (but not guaranteed accurate): 
In Grade 8 (roughly 60 years ago), Mike, tasked to use the word 'tendentious' in a sentence, offered "Olive's breasts were tendentiously high, firm and well-separated." 
Robbed in early high school years of his closing line "Now I know the importance of being Ernest" by my premature closing of the curtain—despite the attempt of Miss Langridge hanging on the curtain rope to forestall me—Mike offered me condolences for my mistake, rather than condemnation for my theft of his spotlight moment. 
Robbed later in high school of fame for his adaptation of Julius Caesar, the one that introduced the character of Little Caesar to clear the stage at the close, by my failure to deliver my one line audibly, Mike was again accepting of my incompetence (though I believe he lost that tolerance with respect to politicians in all places later on). 
Much later, in the Elder College role he created to back Alice Munro in cage matches against all comers—even Mavis Gallant—Mike returned to the tolerant classroom persona that clashed so violently with his moments of political commentary.

75 things we like about Mike in his 75th year (to be completed by others on the blog):
1.    1, the rants (of course)
2.     2.the plantain breakfasts (of course)
3.     3.the turkey mole
4.    4. the inspirational guidance to aspiring young chefs
5.     5. his communion with Victor 

          6. his espresso (WHAT!? sugar! Hrrrumph)
          7. the gusto in which he embraced...everything. 
  1. 8. the logs he loves to move on the beach he loves to tromp across to get at them and the grimace he loves to make every time he lifts one.
    (Terence Young)

    9. his welcoming, generous and caring nature
    10. his honesty (whether we want his opinion or not
    11. his imagination and creativity
    (niece Leah, with love and admiration)

    12.The fact that he knows even less about septic tanks than me.
    (Dag Goering)

    13. his pruning technique (or, how not to be intimidated just because it’s bigger than you)
    14. his letters, and his insistence on writing them to a digital world
    15. the way his eyes light up just before an especially good rant
    16. his delight when you accept a second helping
    17. the comments he offered on my graduate English essays(with love, niece Darcy)

    18. the way he wouldn't dream of harvesting logs from across the invisible border on the beach: Those are Sprout logs! (we wouldn't have minded)
    (Frances Sprout)

    19.  the fact that he created a Fetish. To guard the house or maybe to protect his logs or keep his septic pump going or just because?
    20.  that he was delighted to receive 5 gallons of kidney beans for his birthday
    21.  he could rant and rave and yet be gentle in editing
    (Liz HK)

    22. his unbeatable homemade salsa
    23. his disdain for sentimentality
    24. his lavish improvidence
    25. his encyclopedic command of trivial facts
    26. his love of dimes because they fit so neatly into his coinsaver
    27. his utter lack of elitism, sexism, racism, or most other "isms"...though he does admire prisms.
    28. his magnificent collection of pens.  And glasses.
    (Carol & Alison) 

    29. His strength.

    30. His laugh.

    31. His tableaux - and the gusto he brings to all performances.

    32. His love of the arts, from the Bard, to basketball.

    33. The born teacher in him.

    34. His appreciation of the little things, as well as the big ones.

    35. Himself.

    (niece Lauren)

    35. His disgust with the use of the word "multiple" or of any large word when a smaller one would do as well.
    36. His big expressive hands, too large to be fitted with gloves.
    37. His long arms that can reach the highest shelves
    38. His long eyelases that he gave to his daughter and grandaughter
    39. His dislike of anything cute
    40. His love of everything grandly Mozartian

    41. That he married Carol (I like this for two reasons. It demonstrates that he was smart enough to recognize what an amazing woman Carol is, and it made him part of our extended family)
    42. That he and Carol raised an amazing daughter
    43. The way his eyes light up when he talks about Charlotte
    44. That his profound love for his family is evident in everything he says and does
    45. That he has touched the lives of so many family members, friends, colleagues and students
    46. That he is, without a doubt, leaving this world a better place than he found it
    (niece Leah)

    47. his no nonsense "stomp stomp stomp, splash" into the bay!
    48. his subtle ;) warnings to my dog Henry about where each dog gets to go/bark where when visiting the bay.
    49. his influence on my 10 year career as a bad ass chef!
    50. that he shared his summer visitors with my little brother and me for years(and fed us, and made us feel pretty special)
    (Megan Sprout)

51. His concern about dishes touching in the dishwasher.
52. "Smuggy, smuggy, smuggy!"
(son-in-law Alex)


    A Crossword for Mike

    Ok I know it isn't a challenging cross word, but defiantly a worth while one.  All of us here are sending lots of love to you and your family.
    Krista, Fredrik, Dexter, Lola and Ruby

    Fw: O Teacher, My Teacher

    A Message from Rhonda Lillard:
    Hi Carol,
    I don't think anyone has yet written about Mike's important work as a teacher, a role he threw himself into with all the characteristic traits already mentioned...gusto, glee, and grumpy grace. As just one of his hundreds (thousands?) of former students, I can attest to his greatness. We all have, if we're lucky, at least one teacher who really makes a difference. Mike was such a one for me.
    Mike was my theatre instructor at Malaspina in the early 70s. Having already been a member of a small theatre group in Ontario, I thought I was pretty hip, but Mike imparted, as no other instructor before or after, the sheer magic of The Play. From Antigone to Uncle Vanya, he provided insightful background information and encouraged us out from our comfort zones to strut our stuff. I can still see him striding into the class (one of those dreadful portable classrooms at the Kennedy St. campus), ready to rock our complacent adolescent worlds.
    I remember two particular shows that Mike directed. One was a modern-dress version of Moliere's "The Physician in Spite of Himself," in which Mike cast me (for reasons I now blush to think) as the wet-nurse. He and Carol have a photograph of me on stage in this production...with my big hair and short, tight nurse's uniform! (How much ransom $ for that photo, Mike?) And another memorable show was Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood,"
    which was eventually filmed, at the seaside, somewhere near Yellowpoint I think. I wonder if that film still exists in college archives?
    Anyway, Mike was instrumental in my choosing to complete a BFA in Theatre at UVic, and while it's not been the most useful of undergraduate degrees, it has served me well in other walks of life. "All the world's a stage...(and I'm leaving on the next one.)"
    If we're lucky, remarkable teachers can also become remarkable friends. To have never lost touch, after all these years, means a great deal. Thanks Mike. Thanks Carol.
    My love to you both,

    Frances's photo

    Sunrise on Protection Island

    Hi Carol,

    Megan and I have both left comments on the blog earlier, but they may  
    have been lost in the wonderful plenitude you and Mike have inspired.

    I don't need this to be uploaded to the blog (unless you wish to do  
    so), but thought you might find some small comfort in an image taken  
    from our shared beach this morning.  We do miss seeing the lights on  
    next door . . .

    We'll be heading to Victoria on Saturday to talk wedding plans with  
    Zach and Joey, but otherwise are available if you need anything  
    brought over or want someone to check anything in the house. Just give  
    us a call.

    hugs to you and Mike
    and a pat on the head to Victor (after the usual wary inspection, of course)

    p.s. I hope you don't mind, but I ended up mentioning you and Mike  
    (without names) on my blog this morning. If you're uncomfortable with  
    that, I'll delete the post:

    From Adrianne and Rick in Cambodia

    Dear Carol,

    I can imagine you are click, click, clicking through so many e-mails and here is one more. I just needed to write you again.  I truly wish I was there now but I will soon be home and be there with you. It is so hard to believe this is all happening.
    The other day in the village a woman came to see us; she told us her story of how she had ten children and her husband drowned in the floods, she could not afford to bury him and so they put a rock around his waist and  sunk him in the Lake, she cried as she told us her story and my heart broke for her. We were able to help her with some thatch for her house and a fishing net so she could feed her children. I thought of myself and my loss and I thought of you and your loss and I thought of how loss has no culture and no boundaries. It also reminded me about how strong we are and how we can face losses even though we do not think it possible at times. I know you are facing this head on with courage and grace..just as Mike is.
    We are off again tomorrow for another 7 hour journey. I am tired and wish I was home but I also know what we are doing here is helping many  people, the people in the village were at the clinic all morning getting medicine and getting help and we felt good that we could all bring this to such an isolated area. Thanks to you and Mike for always being such a part the work  here. Please tell Mike how much we have always appreciated his wonderful support. Please give him a hug from me.
    Sending you love,

    ...from Ross MacKay

    I was at the pub yesterday with some English department folk (Frances Sprout, Marni Stanley, Terri Doughty, Brenda Sully, Dawn Thompson), and of course, we were talking about Mike and how great a colleague he was.  The unifying theme was the great love he had for his work and his students, and his quirky, mischievous sense of humour.  A few tears were shed.  Everyone is concerned for your well-being through this ordeal, but confident that your strength, optimism, and the love you have for each other will help you through it.  

    All these qualities and more you have generously shared with the huge community you have built together, something that is evident in every post on your magnificent blog.

    Love and blessings from Ross, Lynne, and family.

    Message from Linda McDonell

    Dear Carol:
    I wanted to let you know that I heard news of Mike’s illness late last week and have been thinking lots about you over the past few days. Mostly I have been thinking about how supportive and caring you and Mike have always been to others and what a force you are as a team. I always have had an urge to suppress a giggle when I am with you both - even when there is no joke as I know there is one coming from one or other of you!
    I have checked the blog to keep up with what is happening – after a rather stressful effort to become a google account holder! I am not sure if I am ashamed or proud to say I have no experience with facebook or any of the other social network sites so I was a bit nervous to become a google friend. All was good, I had access and thought I was set to go. Sadly, I can’t get back in! Drat! Please accept this email in lieu. What an amazing list of contributors!
    Take care both of you. It must be great comfort to know there are so many friends who love you and are there for you even if in spirit and not person! Count John and me as two more.
    With lots of love and white light your way,

    Wednesday, 22 February 2012

    From Pauline Butling

    Dear Mike and Carol
    I've been so touched by all the tributes from friends and family: what an incredibly rich life you've led together.  I myself seem to be at a  loss for words other than to say that our hearts are with you and we hold you close. I'm sending you a playful/serious Phyllis Webb poem (It's from a section called "The Birds" in her book titled Water and Light) that seems right for this moment. I hope it resonates for you, "if only for the sound of"
    Grey-eyed dryad, have you seen one if only for the sound of grey-eyed dryad. Or gull gone into blue empyrion, the liftof wind fabulous, flowing, free-for all.Nothing is pure praxis,axis of this globe sends degree by degree us into curvedpath of portent, accident, perishableeye-sad dryad. Look at her. Here.The varied thrush, the orchard oriole,the crying dove, the skin-smooth olivegreen, olive-green, with a red pimiento heart.
    Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

    Message from Kory and Ian

    Mike and Carol   Thinking of both of you at this very challenging time in your life. Keeping you in our thoughts and hoping for the best.         Kory and Ian

    Anecdote from Caroline Purves

    Hi, Carol and Alison and Mike,

    That story of the boys on Snake Island reminded us of a time you came
    to our rescue. We had come to Nanaimo for Christmas after we'd gone
    back to the States and were left completely stranded on Boxing Day. I
    hadn't thought to buy food; every story was closed, as was the hotel,
    so we 4 were well and truly stuck. So we called you and you and Mike
    had us over for a wonderful Boxing Day dinner, and we all watch Raising
    Arizona. True friends in deed.


    Thinking of you with love.


    Mike's triumphs

    ------Original Message------
    From: George Bowering
    To: Waywordr
    Subject: Re: Dear Mike
    Sent: Feb 22, 2012 4:19 PM

    Okay, I will admit, for the sake of argument, that you may have been
    a better stage actor than I was.

    I was today re-reading your letter of August 3rd and 8th. I have to say
    that it is one of the greatest letters of all time, easily matching or surpassing
    John Keats, Samuel Pepys and Gordy Lipkowitz.

    Well, it was just an honour, for a rube from the Okanagan, to be on the
    same UBC stage with you, eh? And then you showed me the ropes at the
    Ubyssey and the Raven.

    I got to play on the same ball team in Montreal, and then I think I got
    to be on some committees trying to withhold degrees from you in Montreal AND

    I got to co-author a novel with you, and you were the funniest of the 4 authors.
    But I was pretty funny too. So the book did not win any awards? Well,
    neither did Jake Zilber or Gordy Lipkowitz.

    But here's my favourite thing. When you were working on the docks in
    Montreal, once in a while a crate would break and i got to help eat what had been inside.

    I love you, fellow.

    George Bowering
    The pen is mightier than the pencil.

    Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

    Fwd: we love you

    Message from Steph Johnson and family
    Dear Carol & Mike. I'm so grateful you've been keeping us in the loop during this sad time in your lives. My folks and I have been reading and re-reading your beautiful blog - numerous times throughout the days and feel right by your side in this journey. 

    I've longed for my life the experience of feeling the 'big' love you two share together. You are beautiful partners to each other - true friends, supportive, silly, solid, caring all come to mind. I can't imagine one without the other. 

    Please know, we are sending our love to you and your family and all that love you too.

    All our love,

    Stephanie, Delores & Jim Johnson