A Good Death.
Cover: Michaelâ€™s sisters watch preparations for the funeral.
life well lived means fewer regrets at the end. That was how my friend Michael put it to me when he told me he was dying. He said heâ€™d be dead by Christmas and was ok with that, he had a good run. Michael was a fighter. He fought like hell to build his career from nothing to the pinnacle; as a gay man who survived the AIDS pandemic in San Francisco; and as a father who adopted two brothers from a deeply troubled home. He fought for those boys till the end. And he fought like a motherfucker for eight years to defy the disease that finally took him down. All while giving his love, wisdom and support to a legion of devoted friends. Six months ago he was giddy with the news that alternative treatments heâ€™d received in Germany seemed to have worked. His New York doctors could find no sign of the tumor. As it does, the cancer came rushing back, secretly pulsing like black, venomous smoke through his bloodstream. He wanted to be buried on his farm and left instructions for a tradtional Irish wake and funeral. They dressed him in special burial clothes and laid him out for friends and family to say goodbye. An elegant pine casket was hand made by a close friend. And people flew in from all over to share a beautiful, artful celebration. Whiskey flowed, music played, and bonfires burned away our grief.
A portrait of Michael the morning after he died. It used to be a common American tradition to produce a photographic â€œdeath maskâ€? before the burial. Following page: the youngest son Terrance spends a few, final moments with his father before putting him in his coffin.
Michaelâ€™s eldest son Silviano digs his fatherâ€™s grave.
He was in terrific pain at the end yet maintained the astonishing, stoic grace he brought to everything he did. All in all, a good death.
Michaelâ€™s close friend Shannon and Silviano comfort each other as they wait for the coroner.
Previous spread: Michael’s sisters and parents are leading a procession of friends and family in a funeral procession across a pasture to the grave. Above left, Michael’s son Terrance leaving his muddy handprint on the beautifully painted pine coffin. Above right, Michael’s brother Allen.
Michael was an impresario and producer with a theatrical flair so it seemed fitting to have bonfires burning during the funeral. In many cultures, they symbolize the release of the spirt as a step to rebirth.
Photographs & Text by
Doug Menuez. Represented by Stockland Martel 212.727.1400