This morning the Toronto social media/PR community got word that our friend Michael O'Connor Clarke has died, succumbing to an aggressive cancer that was first diagnosed earlier this summer. Others have waxed more eloquently on their blogs about Michael while he was still with us, but I could not find the words at the time. Now all my thoughts and words seem to come flooding out at once.
Michael was an Irishman with a quick wit and a big heart. Our first direct encounter over four years ago is recorded for posterity on YouTube, when he put me on the spot at a Third Tuesday meetup (the third video in this blog post). I knew who he was, but I don't think we had actually spoken before. Funny how the Internet can capture random moments like this.
We were the same age, and both shared a love of music. We would sometimes talk back-and-forth about bands we loved via Facebook. I suspect if we had been on the same side of the ocean 25 years ago we would have been good friends back then.
He was in hospital since June. When cancer and treatments left him without his physical voice, he was still able to reach out and participate in the online community via Twitter. It was a real pleasure to be able to still joke around with him when it was not possible to visit him in person. His whole family who were geographically dispersed (siblings, cousins, father) soon were online giving him words of love and encouragement. We so rarely see such private, intimate moments in others' lives. And yet for Michael--who was such a part of this online community--it was appropriate. I thank them for being so open, and letting the rest of us participate and provide moral support.
Unlike many of the people in Toronto, I never worked with Michael or was mentored by him. But still, I can already see that his absence will be leaving a big hole in our lives. He was ever present online with some words of wisdom or a joke. You may have even seen a meme or two that he originated. He was a real "do-er," quick to jump in to help organize events such as the HoHoTO fundraiser. It will be strange to participate in events like Mesh and PodCamp Toronto without him.
I am at the age now where so many people in my circle of family and friends are struggling with cancer and other ailments such as dementia. Michael's passing really brings home the message that we cannot take each other for granted.
As happens when we lose someone we care about, so many thoughts come to my mind as I realize once again how short life really is. Michael has inspired these musings:
- Appreciate our loved ones. We do not know how much time we have together. Spend time together. Tell them you love them.
- Don't wait to do the things you want to do in this life. Don't wait for retirement. Get out there and live your dreams! What is at the top of your bucket list?
- Take a chance. Find a way to live your life to its fullest.
- Live passionately. We are only here for a short time--make it count.
- Take life with a sense of humour. This makes any pain easier to bear.
- We must help and support each other. A touch of kindness goes a long way.
- Don't be afraid to be yourself and show your personality.
This song goes out to Michael. You were a flame that burned bright, extinguished all too soon. Rest in peace, my friend. My heart goes out to his family--my condolences at this difficult time.