A note before reading. This blog post, my personal reflections, and this website, are the domain of me, Jamie O’Reilly, a writer, performer, and friend of Michael’s. I do not act as agent, or handle his business affairs. Those roles will be his family’s to determine, now that he is gone. Please go to his personal website michaelpetersmith.com, for updates. If you choose to stay and read, thank you, please do so respectfully. It was my honor to know Michael and make beautiful art with him. We all miss him terribly. – jamie
Read this as an Enewsletter.
A Note from Jamie
It’s taken me months to be able to write a newsletter. Covid slammed us good, and no gigs to promote… I’ve been posting on Facebook, and sending emails. In the past six months, I lost many people to non-Covid related illnesses. Molly O’Reilly, Ginny Amandes, Cindy Unger, and Wayland Rogers. All were deep, loving friendships, and I will honor each in their own way.
I am sure you know by now that Michael Smith died this summer. He had untreatable colon cancer, that traveled to the liver. He was diagnosed in late June, went into hospice, and died at home on August 3.
We planted an oak tree for Michael at his friend Blair’s farm on his September 7th birthday. (Photos below.) He would have been 79.
I’ll be singing a tribute concert to Michael on WFMT Radio’s Folkstage, hosted by Rich Warren, with my best friend Anne Hills, who came here and took care of Michael for two weeks in July. My brother-in-law Paul Amandes, who shared the stage with us many times, will join Anne and me. John Erickson will accompany on piano. You can listen online or radio. WFMT 98.7 FM, wfmt.com.
I have added a feature to my jamieoreilly.com blog called Song Notes, where you can listen to songs Michael wrote for me, and/or performed with me. The obituaries and features about him are there as well. What follows here are two pieces I’ve written about Michael. There will be more, I trust.
I appreciate all the love and support you’ve given me.
Thank you for your love of Michael and his music.
A Raft in the Storm
“I hope you have a long and beautiful life.”
That was the last thing Michael said to me before he died. That, and that he loved me. Then he fumbled a bit with the phone, and hung up.
He was clearing the deck. The business of dying all new to him, he had work to do.
It was several weeks more before he passed away, peacefully in his sleep. I wasn’t there. He spent his first three weeks of hospice at my place. The last at his apartment, tended to by his sisters.
Sparing me the end, a weary effort or magnanimous choice, is a puzzle I may never solve. Say what you want about the big good-bye, when you’re left behind, the loss is all your own. The beloved moves on, no longer on for making the transition easier for you. The ultimate untethering. And you, forcing the seafaring cliche, are at sea.
“I won’t care, I’ll be dead.” Michael would say when I’d ask him, from time to time, how he wanted this or that handled. His wry candor a little bit funny, even with this touchy theme.
It all happened kind of fast. His ending. I’d like to say I was caught off-guard. That I was ill-equipped to venture down the end-of-life, no-hope-for-recovery road with him. But I’d imagined what it would be like for awhile. That I’d probably care for him when he was old. I just hadn’t allowed for the fact that that was imminent.
He surprised us all in how matter-of-factly he took to it. This sudden ending. In his final act, Michael outdid himself.
“What made you think I could do this?” I asked him, one long night, weeks into hospice in my home.
“Your maternal instinct. I thought you’d be good at it,” he said. “And you told me you’d be with me forever.”
I did take good care of him. He got to finish his business of living, looked after by those he loved. And I got to observe.
A poet till the end, Michael’s parting gifts to me were words. His last letter: “You are my raft in a storm. You are the spirit of life to me and I love you dearly and feel so fortunate to have your unswerving attention and benevolence.”
A cell phone recording of a dream forecasting his death: “There were young people there playing music…it was so beautiful.”
A fablelike story, haltingly told for twelve minutes during my final visit, summing up his life, my role in it, and his surprise as it came to an end: “It was perfect. I am so grateful I had a wonderful true life adventure.”
Six weeks into the mourning of losing Michael, I have my footing. I cope okay.
I throw myself into projects. I painted my kitchen. I sing his songs. I talk to him. I cry. I hear his voice, resonating with an opinion, comforting me.
A luminous autumn sky tempts me to trust something new awaits this sad heart, telling me to seek beyond. But the horizon eludes me.
“If your life is true
You don’t have to go far
To find heaven and earth
On the rim of your doorway
To have ocean and sky
Everywhere that you are”
(Michael Smith, “There” )
September 19, 2020
We planted a white oak tree for Michael at Blair Thomas’
Tiny Tempest Farm on September 7, Labor Day,
on what would have been his 78th birthday.
The Pear Tree Tale
For Michael and Olive
At the corner of our yard, bordering a big wide city alley, is Joe’s pear tree. It towers over the far more pruned apple tree in the fenced-in yard of Mrs. Go, and we see them both from the back deck. My first late summer here, I saw the pears in busy clusters, weighing down the branches as they turned from green to gold, ripe and show-offy with the clear assumption they were the pride of the house.
In spring, the pear tree flowered lush as cherry blossoms in a Kurosawa film, and the petals fell like snow when the breeze blew in from Lake Michigan.
Several summers passed and Joe diligently gathered the pears, up on a high ladder to harvest every last one, a sixth sense for the perfect time for each. Before the squirrels. Before the rain.
Last year the pears did not come. I saw one or two, and asked Joe, as he meticulously clipped jasmine flowers for tea.
“Where are the pears?” I asked?
“They don’t come,” he replied, in his barely audible mumble.
This year we saw the flowers come and go in the spring. Michael and I caught the evening breeze here, watching back porch life, during this spooky pandemic time.
He sat here for breakfast and watched the dawn come early summer. And the pears grew, more than one could count, clustering like siblings in their “pods”, holding tight to branches, as they ripen into gold.
Olive came here yesterday, and taking in the burgeoning branches made a plan to steal some of them, under cover of night. Her Papa coyly suggested this, to give drama to the fairy tale we crafted.
Instead, we chose one branch and Olive picked a pear. A miniature little thing, like you’d see on the banquet table in ancient China.
Olive fell asleep with the notion I’d wake her at midnight and we’d tip-toe down the stairs to gather more. But, though I was awake most of the night, I didn’t wake her, and left her to sleep in the other room. Her first overnight here since winter, a magical distraction to my impending grief.
Today is Sunday. I sit on the porch and watch the sunrise above the pear tree. The air, soft and sticky with foreboding. Thinking of my treasure.
Thinking of Michael, and bracing for the dawn.
By Jamie O’Reilly
July 26, 2020
Rest in Peace
Michael Peter Smith
Born September 7, 1941
Died August 3, 2020
Read Obituaries and Features about Michael on Jamie’s blogs.
The Michael Smith Tribute poster design by Nia O’Reily Amandes
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