Your red dress is waiting. love and leukemia and coming home

“The pain then is part of the happiness now.” This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “Painful things are like knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place.” The pain experienced will make me appreciate life more and find happiness in the little things. Knots in life are necessary to appreciate the beauty of life. –Michiel Brandt (1981-2012) 

 

Michiel Brandt passed away on July 9th, 2012, from complications of her third bone marrow transplant. She was thirty years old. She was one of the founders of this blog and my BFF (Best Friend Forever).  We were friends for over eight years. If you’ve read  Tokyo Vice, you’ll find the following acknowledgement: “Michiel Brandt, the most cheerful researcher and two time leukemia survivor in the world. She’s inspirational”.

I’ll have to correct that.

“She was the most cheerful researcher and four-time leukemia survivor in the world. She was inspirational and the best friend I have ever had.”

Today is her 一周忌 (いっしゅうき)–the one year anniversary of her passing. In some schools of Buddhism, on this day, sutras are read, incense is lit, prayers are said, and offerings (追善法要) are made to ensure that the departed moves on to a better reincarnation. It also marks the end of mourning. It doesn’t mean forgetting. I put out some gluten free cookies and lit some incense for Michiel. I know she likes the cookies–the incense, maybe not so much.

 

Michiel “Mimi” Brandt. November 2011.

One year has gone by since she passed away. I couldn’t make it back to Japan for her funeral in July of 2012 but her good friends and I were able to arrange a memorial service in San Francisco, which her brother attended. He brought her ashes and her parents joined by Skype. Over 25 people came on short notice, including her childhood friends, her college professor, her ex-boyfriend. She was very loved.

I know that she would want those of us that remain to celebrate life and the joy of living rather than be in mourning for weeks. Yet, I still sometimes find myself overcome with feelings of sadness and despair so dense that I feel like gravity has been turned up and I’m sinking into the earth.   I’ve written a eulogy for her here and I reposted it today. It’s long, full of Japanese and English, and not well-written but the sentiment is heartfelt.  I couldn’t find the words myself to express how charming, funny and compassionate she was so I’ve let her speak for herself at times. In between the lines of her letters, her emails, so much is said that I couldn’t articulate.

It’s so lengthy I doubt anyone will read it to the end but that’s okay. If one person who knew her reads it, or one person finds something inspiring in her words or her life, that’s enough. I am posting it here because she was one of the founders of Japan Subculture Research Center and this is my way of saying thank you for all you did for this blog, your loved ones, and for me. I have never had a truer friend.

 

******

When I first Michiel Brandt, I was still working at the Yomiuri Shimbun as a police reporter in 2004. She was studying in Japan at Waseda, after graduating from UCLA with a degree in political science and international relations, and intensely interested in the human trafficking problem and helping women victimized by the forces of darkness.  She was charming, cheerful, curious, brave and bright. Her enthusiasm was contagious. We quickly became friends.  I’m ashamed to say that at first I sort of considered her to be like a well-meaning muppet. It took me years to realize how substantial she was as a human being.

I  remember the first time she was diagnosed with leukemia. Michiel, her friend Chris and my pal had all gone dancing at Vanilla (in Roppongi) and she suddenly felt ill. I thought she had drunk too much and was a little worried but made sure she got in a taxi home. And then I couldn’t reach her for days. Finally, I got ahold of her father and he told me what had happened. Leukemia.

Michiel survived four bouts of leukemia. She had two bone marrow transplants and final third bone marrow transplant which they hoped might cure her. She was born with a genetic predisposition to leukemia, and she was hit with four different types of leukemia during her short life.

The first bout of leukemia was very bad. The doctors gave her less than a 50% chance of survival. I visited her in the hospital as much as I could. I got her a portable DVD player and a load of bad movies so she could have something to do during those long hours in bed. It didn’t look good. However, her brother Daniel turned out to be a perfect bone marrow match and she lived. We were all ecstatic.

The first bone marrow transplant actually gave her curly hair. She sort of looked like little orphan Annie. So of course, I mercilessly made fun of her. Because that’s the kind of pal I am.

When I was creating this blog and writing Tokyo Vice in 2007 and 2008, Michiel gave advice, did translation, research and was a constant presence in my former digs in Nishi-Azabu. I know she felt like she wasn’t doing great work but it was awesome help. I wish she’d known how much I appreciated her. All my room-mates knew her and grew to love her. When I was put under police protection in March of 2008 and I told Michiel what was going on, she still continued to work for me on and off. She wasn’t afraid.

Michiel Brandt fact-checking the early draft of Tokyo Vice.

 

Before the Washington Post article came out in May of 2008,  she was so worried that she started crying when she saw me and I was truly touched that anyone could care so much. I wrote to thank her and told her not to worry.

 2008/5/12 Joshua Adelstein:

みみちゃん、色々ありがとうございます。泣いちゃだめですよ。大丈夫だから。(Thank you for everything. Don’t cry! I’m okay.) 

一応、記事はここですよ。当局の一部は激怒です。案の定ですが、マル暴の刑事は受けが良い模様です。連絡するよ。頻繁に。(Here’s the article. The organized crime cops liked it, not everyone did. No surprise. I’ll keep you posted on a regular basis.) 

I hate to say mushy crap, but I love you Michiel, like the little sister that I always wanted. You’re great and I admire how you’ve  handled all the things in the last two years. You inspire me more than you know and more than I will ever tell you. I don’t want your pumpkin head to get all swelled up with pride, you know.

jake

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/09/AR2008050902544.html

あるいはワシントンポスト内の検索で「Jake Adelstein」を入れると出ます。(If you search the Washington Post and put in my name the article will show up.)

 

From: Michiel Brandt

Subject: Re: The article

Date: 2008年5月14日 2:57:33 GMT-05:00

To: Joshua Adelstein

Dear Jake,

I’m glad to hear you’re okay. I am so sorry I broke down like that. I think I’ve been on pins and needles recently, and that last moment before the article came out was just too much for me. It’s just that, I’m quite fond of you, ya know. You really are like a big brother to me, and when I think about anything happening to you–はぁ~。心が締め付けられるよ。(It makes my heart feel like it’s being crushed) 

I just want you to know how much respect I have for you. One of the cops’ wives at the party told me that her husband  (the cop with the glasses) is embarrassed for you having to do what he and the others don’t have the courage to. And you’re a gaijin! He feels that you’re more Japanese in spirit than they are. なんと言うか、それを聞いて貴方をとても誇りに思いました。(And when I hear that, I was really proud of you) 

Thank you for such kind words. Coming from you, they mean a lot. もう、また泣いちゃったじゃない!(Anyway, I think I cried again) I can’t wait for all this to be over so we can gather at your place and laugh around the coffee table again!

I love you, Jake.

Mimi

At the coffee table. Michiel’s hair was just starting to grow back after completing chemotherapy.

 

Things were good after that but by the Christmas of 2008, when I got her card, I knew that the leukemia was back. And it was my time to be worried about her. And I was.

A Christmas card from Michiel 2008. She never failed to send one. Even in this digital age. And unlike my writing, you can actually read it.

 

We kept in touch. She got better. She’d get sick again.  I saw her in San Francisco, in Tokyo. We hung out when she was well and I visited her when she got ill and I always felt that no matter what, she’d be okay.

I never saw her get down. She survived every bout with leukemia with grace and dignity. She was never bitter, even when a resurgence of her leukemia completely shattered her plans and her work. She worked at the Asia Foundation. She went back to school in Monterey. We always stayed in touch. No matter how bad things got, she could find something positive in it.

She also had a huge hunger for social justice, to make the world a better place. Her essay, On Modern Slavery,  which so eloquently explained why she wanted to attend Monterey Institute of International Studies is heartfelt and inspiring even now. Sometimes, I re-read it to remind myself why I stay with the Polaris Project Japan.

Michiel had a few years of good health. The leukemia came back. She was undaunted. When the leukemia reached her brain cells, she considered herself lucky that there was finally a medicine that could breach the brain-blood barrier. And she survived a little longer. She meditated, she read, she turned her hospital room into a little temple of good will and hope.  Last November, after her 4th bout with leukemia Michiel returned to Japan for treatment. She was reluctant to do it because she was very close to getting her Masters from Monterey Institute of International Relations . But she didn’t have much of a choice. The US medical system is not kind to the seriously ill nor are insurance companies. She expressed gratitude that she had Japanese citizenship so that she could get medical treatment, a good treatment to boot.

I visited Michiel in the hospital whenever I could and when the doctors would let me. I brought her a cheesy $9.99 BFF necklace from the states. It was a yin-yang design. Michiel was very philosophical and meditated often. She was well-versed in Taoism, Buddhism and Eastern philosophy. I knew she’d appreciate the gesture and she did. I explained to her what a BFF necklace was and she made fun of me. “Jake, I was an eleven year old girl once. I know what a BFF is! You’re so silly.”

 

Best Friends Forever. I was hoping forever would last a little longer.

She was the yin (female/principle of darkness) and I was the yang (male/principle of light).  But really,I think she was much stronger than me. She was the yin, but full of warmth and light. I’m full of darkness and cynicism. According to some schools of Taoism: “Yin and Yang are dependent opposing forces that flow in a natural cycle, always seeking balance. Though they are opposing, they are not in opposition to one another. As part of the Tao, they are merely two aspects of a single reality. Each contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a black spot of Yin in the white Yang and vice versa.” I took the dark half of the necklace. She took the light.

In that sense, we were like Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. She was Will. I still have my half of the necklace.  I was hoping someday that we’d join halves again. Wonder-twin powers: activate! (Only Justice League of America fans will get that reference.)

The Yin/Yang BFF necklace. The best $9.99 I ever spent.

 

Sometimes, we’d sit around the hospital room, reading books, chatting, listening to music, watching movies. We watched The Adjustment Bureau together. It made me think that God really doesn’t do a very good job of micro-managing the world. Because Mimi-chan was a very kind and sweet human being. She should have lived longer.  She couldn’t leave the hospital very often. So I went to her. We did our cherry blossom viewing (花見) on the hospital grounds. She was dressed in a pink shirt and purple sweatpants when we went out. I joked that we should call her Princess Sakura. She just laughed. No one could rock a purple jumpsuit like Michiel.

The best cherry blossom viewing ever. Michiel is rocking that purple sweatsuit.

 

I’m repeating myself here but it’s hard to capture what Michiel was like in my own words. And after thinking about it for a very long time tonight, I’ll let her say what she was thinking in her own words. I edited our emails a little bit because even the departed have some things that should remain their own secrets.  But I think she’d want people to know that she was ready to go and that she was at peace with it.

 

The last photo taken of Michiel, by her sister-in-law. She would have made a great Buddhist monk. We could have gone into business together. When posing for the picture, Mimi said, “I always look cool. Peace!”

 On Wed, May 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM,

Joshua Adelstein wrote:

I was hoping my photos of gluten free cookies would bring a smile to your face. :D

When is the transplant surgery taking place? How are you feeling?

I’m back in Japan on the 29th and for a while.

I’d really like to hang out a bit.

Things are pretty good with me.

Here are some photos of the kids. Beni still remembers you!

 

From: Michiel Brandt

Subject: Hi!

Date: 2012年5月23日 11:31:13 GMT-05:00

Adorable photos!  They sure put a smile on my face :)

Sorry for the delayed response, and oh my goodness, THANK YOU for the dvd player!  I can’t believe you actually sent me a dvd player!!!  You’re incredible, Jake.  I’ve set it up and watched Galaxy Quest–hehe–great cast.  And it’s awesome being able to watch the shows I’ve downloaded onto my flash drive on the big screen too!

I actually just opened your box yesterday.  On Friday, as I was chill’n in my clean room, there was this sudden downpour of dark water from the ceiling!  I was sent home at once so they could fix the problem and re-sterilize the room.  Can you imagine if I had already had my transplant and was immuno-compromised?  Scary.  But I’m back in my room now, and with the reassurance of multiple checkups confirming that the room meets the standards of a “clean room” again, I’ll be beginning pre-transplant treatment tomorrow.  Day 0 is the 31st.

I have to let it out.  I’m scared.  On Monday my doctors pulled me aside for a final confirmation meeting.  They explained everything over again, as well as all the possible side effects for each treatment I’m receiving, and reiterated the fatal risk of this being my third transplant.  Then they asked me if I still wanted to go through with it.  Of course, I said yes.

I was aware of all the risks before, but now that it’s happening, I can’t help but be really afraid.  And I think not having been able to talk about my fear hasn’t helped.  I always feel I need to be strong for my family, strong for my friends even.  I love my friends and they’re always there for me, rooting for me, but I’d hate to put them in a spot where they would feel the need to console me about something like this, you know?  I mean, what could they say?

You are the only person I can be honest with, because you’ve been through so much and I know you’d understand.  I’m not seeking consolation or reassurance.  I just need to be able to talk about it openly with someone.  Thanks for being that special someone for me :)

All that said, I don’t dwell on the fear either.  Meditating, picturing myself getting through this smoothly, imagining my bright future that lies ahead, all help me stay positive and believe in my recovery.  And now, yowane haitara sukkiri shita!  Arigato! (I’m feeling better after admitting that I’m a little scared! Thank you!)

I wish I could see you when you get back, but I can’t have any more visitors :(  Genki ni nattara jazz mini tsuretette! (When I get better, take me to see some jazz!)

xoxo

Mimi

From: Joshua Adelstein

Subject: Mimi-chama! So very good to hear from you and thank you for confiding in me.  I am honored.

Date: 2012年5月23日 12:56:37 GMT-05:00

Michiel-chama,

I’m so glad. I’m going to take the time to write back to you right now in depth because now is always the best time. 思い立つが吉日

On 2012/05/23, at 11:31

, Michiel Brandt wrote:

Adorable photos!  They sure put a smile on my face :)

I hoped they would. they are such dorks. good god, beni makes fun of me amazingly well.

Sorry for the delayed response, and oh my goodness, THANK YOU for the dvd player!  I can’t believe you actually sent me a dvd player!!!  You’re incredible, Jake.  I’ve set it up and watched Galaxy Quest–hehe–great cast.  And it’s awesome being able to watch the shows I’ve downloaded onto my flash drive on the big screen too!

You’re totally welcome. I loved Galaxy Quest–because I’m a secret Trekkie. I idolized Spock. Probably because I have a pointed ear (just like Spock)  and wished I could mind-meld, be stoically calm and logical, and kick ass when I had to with the Vulcan Grip.

Hey it’s not only a DVD player–it’s a Blu Ray player as well. And it can play a flash-drive? WHAT? Hey, give it back! (Just kidding).

I actually just opened your box yesterday.  On Friday, as I was chill’n in my clean room, there was this sudden downpour of dark water from the ceiling!  I was sent home at once so they could fix the problem and re-sterilize the room.  Can you imagine if I had already had my transplant and was immuno-compromised?  Scary.  But I’m back in my room now, and with the reassurance of multiple checkups confirming that the room meets the standards of a “clean room” again, I’ll be beginning pre-transplant treatment tomorrow.  Day 0 is the 31st.

Good god, you are lucky. 物は考えよう。I’m glad it’s a clean room again but if anything goes wrong, I’ll be happy to sue on your behalf. (LOL). Day 0 is the 31st? May I come? I know I can’t meet you but can’t I wave through the window at you. I’d really like to be there.

I have to let it out.  I’m scared.  On Monday my doctors pulled me aside for a final confirmation meeting.  They explained everything over again, as well as all the possible side effects for each treatment I’m receiving, and reiterated the fatal risk of this being my third transplant.  Then they asked me if I still wanted to go through with it.  Of course, I said yes.

Michiel, it’s okay to be scared. I’m scared too. I’d really hate to lose you. I know the risks are high, as are the side effects.

I was aware of all the risks before, but now that it’s happening, I can’t help but be really afraid.  And I think not having been able to talk about my fear hasn’t helped.  I always feel I need to be strong for my family, strong for my friends even.  I love my friends and they’re always there for me, rooting for me, but I’d hate to put them in a spot where they would feel the need to console me about something like this, you know?  I mean, what could they say?

It’s true. It’s hard to know what to say. But I’ll tell you this–you have had a very good life. You have had  a tremendously positive effect on people’s lives and you are loved. Certainly, you’ve had a very good influence on my life and I’m grateful. You may not realize but your support and kind words over the years have really kept me going and I have learned a lot from you. You are the closest I know to a living Buddha. Maybe if I’d dated you, I wouldn’t think so but fortunately this never happened. :D

You are the only person I can be honest with, because you’ve been through so much and I know you’d understand.  I’m not seeking consolation or reassurance.  I just need to be able to talk about it openly with someone.  Thanks for being that special someone for me :)

I am really honored to be that person and it’s good that you’re not seeking consolation or reassurance because I’m terrible at those things. :D This may not cheer you up but I remember these very beautiful words I read as a child from Crowfoot, an Indian warrior and orator. I never forgot them. I still have the book my father gave me in which they were written.

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

~ Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

Life is a very transient thing. However, even being born is a miracle. It means that the sperm that was 1/2 of you beat out about several hundred thousand other sperm to the finish line–making you an amazing winner from the day you were conceived.

There is a possibility you may not make it. To deny that would be unfair. I think you will do very well. My spidey-sense says as much and I have very good instincts.

All that said, I don’t dwell on the fear either.  Meditating, picturing myself getting through this smoothly, imagining my bright future that lies ahead, all help me stay positive and believe in my recovery.  And now, yowane haitara sukkiri shita!  Arigato!

It’s okay to be afraid. Fear and anger are powerful emotions and we can transmute them into positive energy. You have reasons to fear. “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

–Mmm, pardon me, that’s like total bullshit. :D But Holy Buddha, if there’s anyone that can get through this intact, it’s you. You are doing everything right and you are a tough little cookie. A tough little gluten-free and very sweet cookie.

I wish I could see you when you get back, but I can’t have any more visitors :(  Genki ni nattara jazz mini tsuretette!

I hope that you’ll let me come on the 31st and wave at you through the window. When you get out of the hospital, we are definitely going to a jazz concert. And I’m taking you out for a great dinner.

xoxo

Mimi

PS. I think I should be honest here and say that over the years I have come to love you like a sister. And sometimes, I feel like I love you more than a guy should love his sister.

LOL. Which is my awkward way of saying I really care about you and I think you’re awesome.

And I love you.

In the best sense of the word, in that your happiness means as much to me or more than me than my own. You’re a great person.

I re-read this speech by Chief Seattle when I was waiting to see if I’d survive last year. It’s about the circle of life and it’s about death as well but it’s also about hope. I read it, made my peace with the fact that I’m mortal and I felt better, got better.

“To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret. Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors — the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars. They are soon forgotten and never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely hearted living, and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them.

Day and night cannot dwell together. The Red Man has ever fled the approach of the White Man, as the morning mist flees before the morning sun. However, your proposition seems fair and I think that my people will accept it and will retire to the reservation you offer them. Then we will dwell apart in peace, for the words of the Great White Chief seem to be the words of nature speaking to my people out of dense darkness.

It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many. The Indian’s night promises to be dark. Not a single star of hope hovers above his horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Grim fate seems to be on the Red Man’s trail, and wherever he will hear the approaching footsteps of his fell destroyer and prepare stolidly to meet his doom, as does the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter.

A few more moons, a few more winters, and not one of the descendants of the mighty hosts that once moved over this broad land or lived in happy homes, protected by the Great Spirit, will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more powerful and hopeful than yours. But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We will see.

We will ponder your proposition and when we decide we will let you know. But should we accept it, I here and now make this condition that we will not be denied the privilege without molestation of visiting at any time the tombs of our ancestors, friends, and children. Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch. Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits. And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.

Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.”

your BFF

jake

On Sat, May 26, 2012 at 2:32 AM, Joshua Adelstein ‪ wrote: I hope I didn’t say the wrong thing

Hey, I hope you’re feeling good and not nervous about the surgery.

I wish I could give you a big hug.

When you’re recovered and ready to hit the town, I’m going to take you shopping for a nice red dress and we’ll go to the Blue Note and eat an awe inspiring  gluten free meal with chopsticks and groove to the finest jazz inTokyo.

Deal? I get to cover the tab because I’m your 先輩!(^_−)−☆

 

From: Michiel Brandt

Subject: Re: I hope I didn’t say the wrong thing! :-(

Date: 2012年5月25日 19:48:38 GMT-05:00

 

No!  I’m so sorry I even made you think that.  I was so touched by what you said.  You made me laugh, reflect, gave me strength.  I liked how you wrote that the sperm that was half of me beat out several hundred thousand others, making me a winner from the day I was conceived!  And the speech by Chief Seattle made me feel better too.  ”There is no death, only a change of worlds.”  そうだね。You wrote you were terrible at consoling and reassuring, but you’re wrong, because you did both.  Thank you :)

The treatment’s been killing me.  Literally, they are killing the cells in my body to make room for my mom’s.  I’m either really sick or asleep.  But this morning my fever broke and I feel well.  Though in a couple hours I’ll have to go through it all over again =/

It is incredibly sweet that you want to wave at me through my plastic curtain during the transplant, but I’d hate for you to make the trip and not even be able to talk!  気持ちだけありがたく頂きます:)(I’m just thankful for your kind thoughts.) Instead, I’ll be looking forward to getting better and going to see jazz with you!  In my sexy red dress ;)

Sorry if I can’t write, but I’ll let you know how I’m doing whenever I can.

You take care too!

Love, Mimi

 

She told me not to come to the hospital on the day of her bone marrow transplant but I didn’t know if I’d be able to see her again, so I ignored her and went anyway and I’m glad I did. It was the morning of May 31st.  She was in the clean room and so I had to wear a mask and disinfect myself.  Her father was there and I wasn’t supposed to stay long. I stayed anyway and we talked.  As I was getting ready to leave, she reached out her hand and I took it. Our eyes met and she smiled and so did I. There was nothing left to be said and nothing that needed to be said.

The memorial service in San Francisco. Gluten free cookies were served, of course.

Her hand felt so warm and soft in mine, the warmth radiated through me like drinking a mug of Mexican Coffee on a Missouri winter morning.

In that comfortable silence, I held her hand and I didn’t want to let go.

I still don’t want to.

It’s strange to remember a tactile sensation, a lingering touch. However, I find that sometimes as I drift off to sleep, I still can feel her hand in my mine and the memory fills me with a sense of peace and compassion and something effusive that I can’t quite name.

Love wouldn’t be the word but it would come close.

She was one of the most, if not the most, considerate, caring and kind people I have ever had the honor of knowing.

What Mimi learned in her lifetime. She brought great happiness into the lives of many.

I don’t think I’ve met many people in life who I would consider to be saints. She came very close–she also had a charming wild streak as well.

The words below are attributed Shantideva, a Buddhist saint and philosopher. I don’t think Michiel knew who he was or had read his works. But in her short life, she lived those vows as if they were her own. I only hope that when the time comes that I can cross over as gracefully as she did. She was 12 years younger than me and wiser than I think I will ever be.

 

As long as diseases afflict living beings

May I be the doctor, the medicine

And also the nurse

Who restores them to health.

May I be a protector to the helpless,

A guide to those travelling the path,

A boat to those wishing to cross over;

Or a bridge or a raft.

Shantideva

 

 

I hope to see her on the other side. But on my best days, I still feel she’s here with me—gently nudging me towards being a better person, a guardian devil, a reluctant protector, and sometimes a decent guide. I could always count on her to tell me to do the right thing–not always the easy thing, but the right one. I should end by saying, Michiel Brandt, rest in peace but I can’t say that. I’m a neo-Buddhist. I’m a staunch near believer in reincarnation.

There’s a danger in loving a ghost. They can never disappoint you. They always stay the same. They always love you. Their heart stays where it was. It’s hard for anyone to compete with that. It’s hard to let them go. There are some people we love that haunt us for the rest of our lives. Maybe “haunt” isn’t the right word. They stay with us, they look over us, and they inspire us.

Michiel made me a CD–the modern equivalent of a mix-tape (okay, sort of old-school in the iPod age) and I listen to it now and then. It was the last thing she ever gave me. There’s one song, My Love by Sia, at the end that makes me feel like it was her way of saying goodbye.  I’ll never know. I won’t mourn her after this day. I will remember her.

Like I said at the beginning, In some schools of Japanese buddhism, the soul is believed to reincarnate after forty-nine days. So I won’t say “rest in peace”. All I can say is Michiel-chan, I hope you’ve found a good place to return. Maybe we’ll meet again but if we don’t, I hope you find the happiness you deserve this time around. The world needs you.

I need you.  You are missed.

Afterword

 

Thanks to her Professor Tsuneo Akaha, Michiel was able to posthumously graduate from the Monterey Institute of International Studies on December 8th, 2012. Professor Akaha and Maria Pacana also helped set up a memorial fund in her honor. The first recipient was chosen this year.

Details are at the bottom of the post.

The Michiel Brandt Memorial Prize Fund — Please help us keep Michiel’s dream alive:

Here is how to give to this Fund:
1) Go to:http://www.miis.edu/giving<http://lists.middlebury.edu/t/684068/711859/1372/0/>;
2) Click on “Giving Now”; and,
3) Complete the giving form: under “2. Gift Information” “Direct Your Gift”, please select “Michiel Brandt Memorial Prize Fund.”

 

 

 

 

 

Comments
59 Responses to “Your red dress is waiting. love and leukemia and coming home”
  1. Roger says:

    Wonderful post, and a beautiful story. I hope everyone will be as lucky as you and Mimi, to find friendship in the way that you both apparently have. As long as her life becomes a catalyst for future change, and the inspiration to make at least one person become better, then all is never lost.

    Thank you Mimi for making this website happen, and for obviously helping many others on their journey.

  2. Thanks for sharing Michiel’s love and her courage.

  3. Lara says:

    Jake,
    Thank you for writing this, for sharing these fragments of Michiel: her grace and fortitude shine through, as does your love and friendship for one another. As an outsider that I am able to revel in and reflect on a bit of that beauty is a gracious and unexpected gift to me.
    Lx

    • Thank you for reading it. In life, we have many friends. It’s rare to find a true friend: one who shares your joy and sadness, who keeps your secrets and trusts you with theirs, who helps you without you having to ask, and who appreciates every thing you do and returns the favor. She was more than a pal, sometimes she was my conscience as well.

  4. Graham says:

    Jake,

    Just wanted to let you know that I read the post and that it was very touching. Thank you for sharing.

    Graha

  5. Lel says:

    My deepest condolences, she seemed to be a woman with an amazing fighting spirit and true kindness. This was a wonderful tribute.

  6. Leo says:

    I read it through and found both your words and hers to be greatly inspirational and touching. Thank you for sharing this with us, for sharing her memory with us. I regret not saying anything on Twitter the week she passed, but I couldn’t find the words, not knowing either of you it felt empty.
    I still don’t know what to say. You already said everything yourself.
    Stay strong.

  7. Timothy says:

    I read it to the end and want to thank you for bringing Michiel into my life-your friendship and words are awe inspiring and truly inspirational. The sweet sadness of parting is a beautiful thing.

    • Her facebook page is decorated with an outpouring of love and affection that is awe inspiring as well. I find parting to be very bittersweet and much more bitter than sweet. Maybe with time just the sweetness remains.

  8. Thank you Jake for sharing this. Please take care of yourself.

    I don’t know you well, we have only exchanged some emails, but if you need to contact me about anything please do so.

  9. Molly says:

    Thank you for sharing her story. I’m sad to see people like her leave this world all too soon.

  10. Ryan says:

    Just wanted to let you know that I did read the whole thing, and was very touched. Death always sucks–we are impressed with a burning desire to make their life is as meaningful as it possibly could have been. Mimi’s life have been made meaningful to me. Hang in there.

  11. Elaine says:

    I read every word and can only say “thank you” for sharing her (and your) story. What am amazing friendship. No wonder your grief is so deep right now (I like how you described it, by the way: “I feel like gravity has been turned up and I’m sinking into the earth”). Your pain is palpable, but so is her beautiful, strong, vivacious, deep spirit. I didn’t know her and I don’t know you (except for brief exchanges on Twitter — I’m “professorgal”). But after reading this, it almost feels as if I could claim otherwise.

    Hope these comments left here help *a little* with the grief.

    Elaine

    • They do indeed. Thanks Elaine.
      I try to charge myself up with her spirit because i know she’d want me to be happy, to enjoy life more rather than lament the loss of hers. But my heart doesn’t always do what my heads wants it to.

  12. Nick Vasey says:

    That is an exceptionally touching tribute Jake.
    Good on you.
    To lose such a special one – far too early – is about as hard as it gets.
    We can all only ever be utterly grateful to have folks of Michiel’s quality, grace our lives.
    And to know this truth, balls to bones, and express it as openly as you each have done, is the best we can do.
    I am very sorry for your loss.
    Take care.

    • Nick, thank you very much for reading it. I’ve never heard the phrase “balls to bones” but it’s well-put.
      I’m going to take a day this week and read three novels that I promised to blurb down the road. Yours is on the list. I just hope my credit card has enough money left on it to make a Kindle purchase.
      I’m glad that I can say that I didn’t realize too late how blessed I was to have a friend like Michiel in my life. I would have liked to have kept that one promise to her and caught some jazz one last time.

      • Nick Vasey says:

        Hi Jake,
        I’m glad I was able to introduce a new expression! I stole it from the Matrix. :)
        Re the book, whenever is fine … I’m just happy you’re going to read it at some point.
        Forget the credit card.
        I don’t know where you are at the moment, but I would really like you to have a hard copy.
        If you’re in Japan, I can send you to a bar/club in Roppongi to pick up a complimentary copy.
        If you’re Stateside or elsewhere, I can have one sent to you?
        So email me, let me know where you are, and how I can organise that.
        Best wishes for now, and I hope to hear from you shortly.

  13. Marie Galonski says:

    Jake – Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your “heart” friend. It sounds like she was a lovely woman with an open giving spirit. Not everyone finds that kind of friend in their lifetime. You are very lucky to have had her in your life. so sorry for your loss.I hope your heart heals knowing that she wants you to be smiling at your memories of her.

  14. Jake– It’s not the crime beat, but it’s real reportage. And d*mn, but it’s dusty in here all of a sudden.
    Take care of yourself while you find a new centre to balance from.

  15. Matthew Smith says:

    Having not known Michiel I feel that there isn’t very much that I can say. But what I can say that this is one of the most touching tributes that I have ever read.

    Just remember, when somebody close to you passes away the best thing you can do is keep going on as best as you can. I’m sure you’ll make her proud.

  16. Matthew says:

    I’ve had a lifelong difficulty creating and maintaining solid relationships w/ folks so I’m always in awe of the great relationships I see and read about. This, clearly, falls into that category. I hope a lot of folks see this. It’s good to be reminded that bonds like the one you two shared is even possible anymore. Extremely well done and I’m really sorry for yours, her family and friends’ loss.

    • Matthew, it’s very hard to maintain a friendship with anyone. Sometimes, we have to think what it means to be a friend and what a true friend really is all about. Sometimes, the best we can do is unilaterrally honorable and do our best. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Mark Buckton says:

    hats off.

  18. Louise says:

    I know neither of you, just follow you for Japanese news on twitter, but your story brought tears in my eyes. Well written. Through your story Mimi became even more inspirational and an example to many.

  19. Johan Liebert says:

    I read the entire thing. Jake, I feel tremendously for you. I personally want to express my sincere wish that you keep touching other lives around you and fighting the good fight, and interacting with people, because you can’t give up and Michiel wouldn’t want you to. I can’t compare with the loss you’ve been going through, but do know you have supporters all over the world.

  20. Mike says:

    Wow. Thank you for sharing Mimi’s story. It is very clear that she was an amazing human being, and will continue to be a very amazing soul.

  21. emi love says:

    Hi Jake. I heard about you. All good things, I promise :)

    Thanks for this. Mimi was always so strong for me, and everyone, really. Always worried about everyone else, she never let on about how scared she was. Itsudemo egao de, told us not to worry. that every thing would be ok, even at the end. It was good to hear her voice again through you. I can see her smile again.

    Thanks again, Jake.

    I miss her too.

    ~emi

    • Hi Emi,
      :D. Michiel had a wonderful way of saying nice things about me behind my back. I didn’t know until now. It makes me miss her even more.
      She was really compassionate to the point of being almost saintly. I admired that.
      I’m glad this helped you hear her voice and I hoped it help you understand that she was ready to pass on.
      Someday soon I think me and some of her friends will all get together. If you’re in Japan, let me know.
      We should have a glass of red wine in her honor and a toast.

      best wishes
      jake

  22. Michael says:

    Dear Jake,

    It’s a beautiful sunny morning here in London and I went out onto the veranda to read your tribute to Michiel. I haven’t cried for a long time but your words released something inside me and the tears came easily. What you have written is such a beautiful testimony to a person you describe as a ‘substantial’ human being, who makes me feel like a Muppet in comparison. As a fellow cynic and one who sees a world filled with lightweights, it is uplifting to learn about your dear friend.

    Reading your words, I fell a little in love with Michiel myself and sense if the three of us had ever gone out, I would have been competitive with you, trying to win her attentions, especially if she wore that sexy red dress! The exchange between you brings home the sadness of the human condition, in that eventually we all will have to say goodbye – to parents, to children and to friends, but as you so eloquently convey, it is the finite nature of everything which makes it all so precious.

    With your description of your BFF, I thought of the first world war poet, Rupert Brooke who said ” A book may be compared to your neighbor: if it be good, it cannot last too long; if bad, you cannot get rid of it too early.” Michiel was a good book. Brooke’s writing brings home the tragic loss of talented youth from this earth. He himself died at the age of 28 on the way to Gallipoli. Michiel’s passing proves once more, only the good die young.

    When we meet again in November, let’s go out to that jazz club and celebrate Michiel’s glorious life.

    So from one tortured soul (who can also frequently be an asshole) to another, thinking of you and I hope in the weeks ahead you will regain a sense of equilibrium and eventually peace. It hurts so much now but that’s the price you pay for loving someone. Jake, you already know what a lucky man you are, as most people live their life never, experiencing the intimacy of a friendship like you had with Michiel.

    Its a beautiful thing you’ve done.

    Michael

  23. Emily says:

    Jake,

    You are a very talented writer – this post brought me to tears. I haven’t seen Michiel since 4th grade, but I can assure you, she has always been the wonderful soul you described. I will always remember her!

  24. Robert E. Brandt says:

    Thanks again, Jake, for this. It really expresses a great deal of truth and heartfelt sincerity toward Mimi and how she felt about you and others.

    BTW–In the beginning of the fourth paragraph, you wrote, “The first bout of leukemia was very bad. The doctors gave her less than a 5% chance of survival.” I thought that was actually less than a 50% chance of survival.

    And with each of the three relapses, the percentage became lower. But her will to survive became higher. She fought on and clung to her life. She developed her brain. She believed, Mind over Disease. She was reading “EVOLVE your BRAIN” by Joe Dispenza up to her last two weeks. Of the four pink highlights she had made in that book, the last one says it all. “The way out, inorder to escape our genetic propensities, is to continually learn new information and have new experiences. This is how we upgrade our brain.”

    • Mr.Brandt, I never understood what the odds were. Maybe, I didn’t really want to know. But every time she survived she became more alive, more graceful, wiser. She lived many lives. And she always cared about her friends.
      I’d like to come over and say hello this week. I’m happy that Professor Akeha is setting up a memorial fund in her name. She should be remembered in a way that would mean a lot to her. She loved you and her mother and Daniel very much.

    • Mr.Brandt, it was in an essay Michiel wrote for UCLA where she wrote 3% but that was probably referring to another bout of leukemia not the first. I think that’s where I got confused.

  25. Alex says:

    Thank you for sharing this Jake.
    Nothing and no one can save you from your pain Jake but carried along by all the people reading this it will surely have a different meaning for both you and her memory.
    Through your words I think we all have a privilege insight of your friendship with Mimi and her fighting spirit is a real inspiration to keep moving forward no matter what.
    I can only say to you and her family to never stop moving forward and evolving, like she did…
    My condolences…

    To have the token of true friendship is one of the real treasures of life and those who actually find it are wealthy in spirit.

    • subcultureist says:

      Alex,
      Thank you. I felt extremely blessed to have been friends with her. A true friend is one of rarest things in the world. I’m working with others to create a memorial fund in her honor. I’ll keep you posted.

  26. Will says:

    Stumbled across this by mistake although it was obviously fate. Beautiful eulogy and I fell like I know you both just through reading this. Thank you

  27. Cyrus says:

    I have only just started visiting your website, but I feel compelled to tell you that you truly are Michiel’s BFF. You have very powerful words that are inspirational and I thank you for sharing this. I am so sorry for your loss and I hope that Michiel’s spirit lives on.

    After reading what you wrote for her, I am happy to know that there are people like you out there.

  28. azloon says:

    BFF is an emoticon I haven’t understood when I ran across it.

    Now I know what it means, and what it can look like when it is painfully heartfelt.

    Souls are joined and eternal.

    Holding hands is the best.

  29. FUCK YOU ASSHOLE says:

    I wish that I was a kind and forgiving person like Michiel. I understand why she was loved. Hatred never makes hatred go away.

  30. Jeffery L. Johnson says:

    Read every word. You have again acquainted your readers with a beautiful person in your life and ripped our hearts out in the process. I hope you realize that as Michiel bravely faced death you did more for her than any priest or prayer ever could.

    Enjoyed the Chief Seattle speech. So, from an Enlightenment Deist wannabe married to a Shinto or Buddhist depending on the situation (the former would be me) to a neo-Buddhist (that would be you), here’s one of my favorite quotes on death:

    “I trouble not myself about the manner of future existence. I content myself with believing, even to positive conviction, that the Power that gave me existence is able to continue it, in any form and manner he pleases, either with or without this body; and it appears more probable to me that I shall continue to exist hereafter, than that I should have had existence, as I now have, before that existence began.” – Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason.

    Tom is a little long-winded and talking in circles, but he was a late 18th Century kind of guy. I think he’d support reincarnation. I think he’s saying that Michiel is still around somewhere, someplace. Where? Where she’s needed most.

  31. sn95gt says:

    Wonderfully beautiful tribute. One of the most heartfelt things I have ever read. Thank you for your posting and sharing.

  32. What’s Taking place i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I have discovered It absolutely helpful and it has helped me
    out loads. I am hoping to give a contribution & aid different customers
    like its helped me. Good job.

  33. Hello to all, how is the whole thing, I think every one is getting
    more from this site, and your views are good for new people.

Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. All Leukemia Bone Marrow Transplant…

    [...] it, will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more powerful and hope [...]…



Leave A Comment