Saturday, November 13, 2010

Symbols of Mikael's Life--I Kayak+

Oak tree: In the months leading up to his death, Mikael had gone back to university, choosing two courses: Evil in Religion and Death in Religion.  Not the best choice for someone who has been suicidal but he was nearly 25 and could make his own decisions despite my concerns.    I`m not sure if it was an assignment or something he did on his own, but he wrote out a description of what he`d like his funeral to look like.

One instruction was that he didn`t want a lot of flowers.  Instead he wanted trees.  Lots of them.  That wasn`t too practical but to give a nod to that desire we decided to get one tree that we would later plant in his honour.  I chose oak because of my own partiality to it but also because it is a strong, firm tree.

The family to whom Mikael had sent his only two farewells to, went and bought the tree for us and in a small ceremony we planted it in a nearby park (with permission), placing some of his ashes in the hole.  The tree is now chemically part Mikael!

Kayak: One day in the spring before he died, Mikael and I were in Costco and wouldn`t you know it, they had a kayak for sale.  Mikael was excited because he`d always wanted one and this one was  reasonably priced.  He didn`t have much money but he was very frugal with what he did have and so we brought it home.  The river was still frozen and he could hardly wait until there was water flowing.  When the ice did thaw, the river was at flood stage with ice floes.  Would Mikael be safe?

The first day he put the kayak on his head and walked about 30  minutes to a swollen creek where he did laps, getting used to the feel of things.  He confided that he was actually quite scared of water, so I knew he`d be careful.  The second day, before he went on the river, we talked about different possibilities and how would he handle them.  He would keep in touch by phone and if I hadn`t heard from him in three hours, I would start looking for him.  Each day he went a bit further and exhilarated in his freedom.  

One day he called me excited and concerned.  He`s just come across a car in the river, only its roof showing.  What should he do?  Call the police!  He was told to stay with the car until rescue units arrived.  Four fire trucks arrived with all the firemen standing on the shore trying to figure out what to do.  The story made it into the Winnipeg Free press, showing Mikael, the water rescue crew and the submerged vehicle.

The kayak was probably one of the best things that happened to Mikael that spring and summer.  It gave him life, energy and the chance to enjoy the outdoors as he loved so much.

Photo: Mikael`s first foray into university was with the School of Music, playing oboe.  For all his performances he would need a tuxedo and it`s cheaper to buy than to rent.  He loved wearing that suit and looked very dashing in it.  Sadly, he had an oboe prof who taught under the principle that the more you brow-beat your students, the better they`ll become.  Mikael couldn`t handle the stress of that and so dropped out after first term.  Tom bought the tux from him some time later and wore it for his worm-eating stunt at school.

Blanket: This was Mikael`s favourite blanket.  I don`t think he used it to sleep with, but curled up in it whenever he was watching tv or movies, or reading a book in the living room.  The night he died, this is the blanket I covered him with, wanting to keep him warm as he finally got a good-night`s sleep on the couch.  

Paniers: You can`t see the panier in the photo above because it`s wrapped in the blanket.  One year Mikael got it in his head that he was going to cycle across Canada by himself.  He didn`t have the money to buy the best of equipment and so he looked for ways to save on costs.  He decided to make his own paniers.  Mikael was an avid sewer from quite young.  When he was nine he got a hand-held sewing device for Christmas and had also learned to use my larger machine, making all sorts of things--patchwork quilt and green overalls with bright red buttons are two things I remember him making.  

To make his own paniers, he first needed to draw a plan, a pattern.  And they had to be waterproof.  Murray Tent and Awning was very accomodating and sold him the rubberized fabric, thread, zippers and other notions.  Unfortunately, my machine was not strong enough for such heavy fabric, so he borrowed an old, old Singer machine.  That didn`t work either.  Undaunted, he sewed all four paniers by hand.  It was a tough job but he was determined.  He was not one to give up easily.  

Along the way, we collaborated on ways he could solve particular problems, such as how to attach them to his bike and yet have them easy to remove when he needed to.  He used upsidedown brass coat hooks and after the trip (he made it as far as Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario) the paniers continued to serve him as he rode to university or took other trips out of the city.

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