On June 11 two years ago Michael's journey on this earth ended and appropriate words are still hard to find. I know his sons, their wives, his grandchildren, students and dear friends still miss him even as they go on with their lives. As for me, it continues to be an uneven road. Love and compassion for Michael remains and the loss will always be profound.
Living through this has taught me that in recognizing my own pain, the pain of so many others becomes palpable – people suffering irremediable depression and anxiety, people who must live through the aftermath of suicide, people who experience traumatic losses from so many causes. With suicide, illness drives the act, tragic as it is. As much as someone may love others, have deep connections and all the blessings in the world, the psychological pain is unendurable.
It's hard to accept at first but there is nothing anyone could have done to change the outcome for Michael. Someone quoted Jack Kornfield saying “forgiveness is giving up hopes for a better past.” So is acceptance. Yes, Michael's death is part of my life but so are the joys of walking the seawall, seeing Sara and Becky and Sam and Isaac dance and play together, the company of amazing friends, watching whales swim by, and the peace and equanimity of my practice. And yes, we are left with our loss but also the fact that we were fortunate to have known and loved a man who had such a big heart, generous spirit, intelligence, and sensitivity.
In response to Michael's death, there was a great outpouring of condolences, and I apologize for not always responding to the kind words of others. I know people understand. Recently I was moved to hear from Christopher Phillips, a Professor of History at University of Cincinnati, who had this to say:
“In the spring of 2012, I had completed the first draft of a book manuscript for Oxford UP and asked if he would read it. It was much too long, but I needed trusted eyes. So I sent it in 2 batches and he read the entirety of it at your vacation home on the island. Then we had a 2-hour phone conversation about it, and then he sent me a 5-page review. Honest and supportive, as he always was. Only a couple of weeks before I learned the news, I emailed him a revised concluding paragraph as per his critique. I got a validating email back that said, simply, "Bang on." It was so him.
That OUP book is nearing production now thanks largely to his support and critique. In the summer of 2013, I published a smaller book drawn in part from the bigger OUP book, entitled The Civil War in the Border South (Praeger-ABC Clio). I dedicated it to Michael, and another volume in a series was done by Dan Sutherland, another of Michael's longtime friends and co-authors. As you might expect, it is on guerrilla warfare in the Civil War.
The festschrift (U Press of Kentucky) is being edited by 2 young historians who Michael's work, like so many, have been influenced in their work on guerrillas, Joseph Beilein and Matthew Hulbert. The title, I think, will be "Unfolding the Black Flag." I contributed the lead essay, and they also asked me, knowing my long friendship with Michael, to write a Forward. I finished it yesterday in Florence (I'm in Italy finishing up a Fulbright, coming home next week) and sent the draft to them. Obviously, I'm flattered to be able to offer some personal words in print about him.
I have read several tributes to him online, and know that there is a prize with his name on it. I can only hope my OUP book (my 7th) lives up to his faith and abiding support.
I very much miss him, as I'm sure you understand. I won't begin to compare it with your loss. But I hope that I can keep his memory alive with my words, just as he sustained and helped my career for more than 2 decades.
Michael's deep connection to others has spurred wonderful initiatives by his friends and colleagues – notably Hannah Gay, his History colleague, Laura Quillici ex-student and now Faculty Advancement Director, an anonymous donor, and David Beers, his friend and founder of The Tyee. I am gratified to say that SFU's Michael Fellman Endowment Fund has reached its initial target of $30,000 and that it did so with matching funds from SFU's Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The Michael Fellman Memorial Essay Prize will be awarded for outstanding graduate essays alternating between History and Graduate Liberal Studies. Contributions to the fund are still more than welcome. https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/donate.aspx?EventID=122944&LangPref=en-CA&Referrer=direct%2fnone
The Tyee has awarded it's initial Michael Fellman Prize to Christopher Phelps, a talented and insightful historian whose piece you can see at The Tyee website and announced here: http://thetyee.ca/News/2014/02/24/Michael-Fellman-Award-Phelps/ The essay is very much in the spirit of Michael's work. He would be proud.
With all good wishes and affection,