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Living Wake

posted at 6:14 pm
on Mar. 4, 2011

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I went last night to a living wake for a friend, Derek Miller.

I say friend; I mean acquaintance.  I haven’t ever had dinner with he and his wife, nor do I know the names of each of his kids and parents.

But I did say friend, and why not? Derek has a way of making friends of all of the people he meets, of touching the lives of more people than most of us ever do.

He’s a musician, and a story teller, and when someone is dying, I would sound churlish to undervalue my emotional connection to him. “Oh, yes, it’s a sad situation, but you know, he’s just an acquaintance.” To hell with being timid; we are all in this together.


I’ve never been to a living wake before.  It was like a wedding, with the colliding social circles and the sense that something important is being marked, but with less formulaic speeches.

The speakers all said really touching things, but ... what do you say?  And what do you say when the man who really does have something to say, Derek, a) lost his voice earlier this week, and b) has a blog upon which he’s said so many things, so well and for so long?  He’s a hard act to precede.

I told Laura I was going to a living wake, and she said, “i cant.. imagine.. just waiting to die. knowing you will soon.. or.. soon-ish”

And I thought to myself: You’re so right. Because, even though in some sense that’s what we’re all facing, our choice is to wait for it, or to do something now, in death’s face, despite it, to spite it.

And ultimately, that was the feeling I left the wake with: Derek’s friends and family telling stories about hope, about love, about memories, and about choosing how you spend your days, your nights, and the limited time we all have here in Vancouver and the 20,000 km you can travel away from it.


Earlier yesterday, an ex-girlfriend of mine messaged me out of the blue.  I hadn’t heard from her in a long time; it was one of the most unexpected things I’ve had happen to me in ages. We had some good catching-up conversation, commiserated on the busy-ness of life, and the (usual?) things people talk about. She’s doing the things people do: romance, travel, work, and dealing with the general troubles the human body throws at us to remind us that we’re flesh and bone.

Google Chat isn’t the best venue for reconnecting… or perhaps it is, come to think of it. How much harder would it be if you had to drive a horse-drawn wagon over to my farm and actually knock on my door? Lots. I don’t have a farm, for instance.


Driving to the Waldorf’s tiki room for the wake, I thought about endings, and beginnings.

You never know what tomorrow will bring. You never know whether a conversation will be your last, or who’s on the other end when the phone rings (assuming you forget to look at Caller ID), or if a person beside you at a party will turn out to be a creep, a nobody or your next best friend.

And waiting around isn’t going to help you find out.

So I’d better get out there.

Thanks, Derek, for the life lesson.


“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?




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