“We’re all we have.” – Jay Mirasol

When I took my first trip to Chicago in 2010, it was to meet my hero Roger Ebert. Little did I realise that I would meet someone who would come to be someone just as dear, if not more so.

P1020962He was Jay, a cousin of mine from my father’s side whom I had never met. My uncle Noel suggested that I stay with Jay’s family during my visit, and I looked forward to discovering a side of my bloodline that had remained unknowable for such a long time.

I didn’t know what to expect. I gave him a call and not knowing what he looked like, he sounded like the whitest man on earth. It was quite jarring placing his face to that voice upon touching down at Union Station. He was lean and fit; in such terrific shape that would put men more than half his age to shame.

P1020350I gathered from my uncle’s stories that Jay was a jock. He played hockey with gusto, body checks and all. He played baseball in high school. And up to the time that I had known him, he was a passionate cyclist. He once told me of his plans to go with his biking buddies to retrace the path of the Tour de France. He was a sportsman through and through, but there was a formidable mind within that formidable body.

He graduated with degrees from Harvard and the University of Chicago. Like his old man he was a lifer at IBM, having served for more than 2 decades across New York, Tokyo and Chicago. He had an artistic eye, translating his love of cycling into photography.

P1020320Jay was a very centred individual, measured in thought and action with no wasted movement. You could always feel how he could anchor a room as structure seem to flow from his presence. Though he was full of authority, he was not humourless. He would tickle or play tag with his kids Nick and Aly in public. He once told me, “It’s not my job to be friends with them.” He could have fooled me.

Before I met his young ones, I had dreaded what kind of stereotypical American adolescents would greet me. But they were marvels of politeness and curiosity; the veritable best of youth. Their constitutions could only have been formed by the bedrock provided by Jay and his wife Kendra, whom he absolutely treasured.

P1020332He could also be quite thoughtful and eloquent, especially when talking about matters dear to him. Whenever I would ask him about doping scandals in cycling, I could easily imagine him speaking on behalf of sportsmen everywhere. Whatever it was, I would always look forward to what he had to say.

We had a lot in common. We were both firstborns, both more accustomed to Western sensibilities than our Asian roots. We shared many values. We would compare notes about our dads, and he reminded me of my own. We just hit it off really well, like a big brother I never had.

P1010591I remember talking to him about dealing with the attention I was starting to get over my film essays, and he gave me some valuable insight as to what some expectations might be of me. And surprisingly, he related to my experiences of finding a “calling.” Finally! Someone who I could talk to who knew. Family at that.

Despite his devotion to living healthily, his body kept on betraying him. In the last few years of his life he had suffered several life-threatening heart stoppages. Most of them occurring doing things he loved most. He suffered cardiac arrest after playing hockey. His son Nick once found him crawling in his lawn, nearly passing out after fixing his bike. After my first Chicago visit, his heart stopped while cycling, and was only jolted back into action after breaking his shoulder, falling into a patch of poison ivy.

If God has a sense of humour, Jay rolled with the punches and laughed along.

A few months after that setback, Jay went through therapy and testing and seemed to have isolated what was wrong with his heart. He was taking a new set of meds that as far as I knew, was working. Diagnosed with hypertension and having experienced a near fatal car crash, I sort of knew what he went through and was sad to know of these shared sufferings.

P1020971I was hesitant to stay with his family upon my second visit in 2011, afraid that my wife Claire and I would be burdensome. But they pleaded with us to come and so we did. When I saw Jay, it was like nothing happened. He was still fit as a fiddle, waking up as early as 5am to go biking as far as 50K. He once told me that it’s funny going to work later in the morning (from Glencoe to Chicago), when it dawns on you that you were there earlier using your feet.

I talked to him about his health, sharing our fears of mortality. He told me that he wasn’t going to live a fearful life full of regret. It would not be the lesson he would leave his kids. I admired him greatly for that.

This morning my wife woke me up after she got a call from my sister back in Manila. She told me that I should brace myself. Though I had woken from my slumber, Jay did not.

My day has been on one long pause since then.

He was without vice. Without waste. He loved his family deeply. He was devoted, disciplined, passionate and introspective. In him I found a role model as well as a shared and cherished bond. And if anyone deserved to live a long rewarding life, it was Jay. He did his family, his parents and the Mirasol name proud.

From now on, my trips to the Windy City, which have always been filled with excitement, will now be tinged with longing. As I remember him, I cannot help but recall an email we shared shortly after his therapy back in 2010, as I wrote:

“As we both have heart problems, I feel a bond with you apart from those that tie us in blood. I can’t help but feel for you now as you try and make plans for things that are near impossible to plan for. I know you’re looking back at your life, contemplating the gravity of it all and of those that are dearest to you. All I can say is that I’ve been through just a little of what you are going through, and that I am with you. You’re not alone.

“I hope all that babble helps somehow. Not to sound trite, but I love you cuz. I miss you all.”

He replied:

“Michael — your note helps. A lot. This is the kind of thing where I first think that I’ve had some bad luck, but that with some additional reflection, I realize that I’ve used up way more than my share of good luck just to be here today. It plays with my head, a little. But even knowing that, there’s really no way to plan. As you say, it’s unplannable. One must just do the best that he/she can, and not accept less than the best from oneself. That’s what we can control, in the end.

“I’ve recommitted myself to doing my best with my family. That includes you. I’m sure I’ll stumble since it hasn’t been what I do best, but I’ll give my best to it. We’re all we have.”

“Be good. Love, Jay”

Indeed.

Jay

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23 responses to ““We’re all we have.” – Jay Mirasol

  1. Michael, this is an incredibly fine and moving remembrance. Your cousin comes thru clear and real. I am so glad you got to know each other, if only briefly. And I’m sorry he is gone.

  2. Sorry to hear about your loss, Mike. Your cousin sounds like a wonderful man. When I hear about things such as this, I am reminded of a picture that used to hang in my parents’ house of a sailboat. The words inside read, “We cannot change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust our sails.” I believe you have done that with this entry, turning a tragedy of a loss into a celebration of a life.

  3. Love energy to Kuya Jay’s family and hugs to you my friend. Thank you for sharing a beautiful kin of yours.

  4. It is not how long we know someone, but how well they weave themselves into the threads of our life. Thanks for sharing Jay with us. Now we are all nourished by him, for the life of an honorable man has a widely positive affect that lasts as long as we remember him. My deepest sympathy for your loss, which of course is a loss for us all.

  5. Michael, I am one of Jay’s biking friends and I will miss him dearly. Your post here is really touching.

  6. Michael, I am sorry for your loss. I am one of the guys Jay biked with weekday mornings at 5:30. I will miss him a lot. Your tribute to Jay is very moving.

  7. Michael i am so sorry for your loss. I too was one of Jay’s biking firends and always enjoyed spending time with Jay both on those long indoor seesion in the winter and outdoors. Well written Michael

  8. Michael, I too am so sorry for your loss. Losing Jay will be so difficult for so many, especially his family. For the better part of the past 3.5 years, 5 days a week, I’d be out there with Jay and others from his Glencoe family of cyclists; he was always there, always willing to help, give advice and most importantly, be our friend. I can’t tell you how much he will be missed nor can express what a great person I thought he was.

    • Hi Cara. It’s a shame we have to meet under such circumstances. My wife and I read Ron’s tribute as she shared it on her FB page. I did not know that Jay was at one time a geek very much like myself. :) If only I could have compared those notes with him.

  9. Michael, I work with Jay’s wife Kendra and wanted to let you know what a wonderful writer you are. This is a lovely tribute to a man who lived life as we all should — to the fullest and with no regrets. My condolences, thoughts and prayers are with all of the Mirasol family.

  10. Words from the heart. I am sure he heard you. So very sorry for your loss, Michael. My deepest sympathies to you and yours.

  11. Beautiful and thoughtful tribute. It will be an insightful reflection Kendra, Nick and Aly will be to hold on to forever.
    - Weimer Family (Glencoe friends)

  12. Michael, I am very saddened to hear about Jay, and hurt with all of you and your family. Thank you for sharing such a moving tribute to Jay.
    I have worked with Jay for the past 3 years as a Senior Account Manager at Pactimo, a partner with Glencoe Grand Prix to supply the cycling apparel for the cycling event and team. I worked closely with Jay and had a great deal of respect for his integrity and work ethic. I considered it an honor to work with Jay, and he will be truly missed.

  13. Michael, your tribute to your cousin is superb. I was a high-school classmate of Jay’s, though I was a bit of an academic slacker and Jay was anything but. However he never let our intellectual disparity keep us from the joy of a sharing appreciation of certain rock bands of the time, or the lunacy of a bunch of us piled into his parents Jeep Wagoneer for a day-trip to the Jersey shore. We lost touch after I visited him once at Harvard in his freshmen year, he being devoted to his studies and me focused on work. To me he will always be remembered as the embodiment of grace, intellect and humor. He really was one of the good guys. Peace to you and your family.

  14. Michael, I knew Jay through one of his Harvard roomates, and a long-time friend of mine. Although I have known Jay for years, I was only able to be around him several times. However, Jay always made me feel like I was a great friend–he just had that gift. After reading your wonderful tribute, I feel like I know Jay much better. Thank you for writing. I am sorry for your loss. We will all miss Jay. I will especially miss that incredibly friendly smile and his wonderful sense of humor.

  15. Thank you, Michael, for this very loving tribute to your cousin, Jay. We’re now back in Manila but it is only this morning that I had the emotional strength to read it in its entirety and I must say, Michael, you DID, indeed, know Jay! You couldn’t have described him any better. I can now share this with you: I never could call his heart attacks as such and so used the word “episodes” instead. After one such episode I talked to him seriously about possibly changing his “lifestyle” (meaning “easy on those strenuous activities that bring on the “episodes.”) And he assured me he was doing everything possible under the circumstances. Then I later found out that he had joined a cycling race and even won in his age category. I was quite upset, so called him but his answer was (with his usual soft voice that I would, more often than not, strain to hear): “Mother, you cannot expect me to live out my life sitting around simply waiting to die.” We never spoke about it again. He’s the only one among my 3 children who called me “Mother,” but only when he was serious and had something to say that must be listened to and understood. And I usually listened and really tried to understand.

    Uncle Noel’s and my life will never ever be the same again. Life goes on and so must we. But I will now look to and depend on time to ease the pain and be forever grateful of time’s capacity to do that without diminishing his memory in our hearts. And, it is of tremendous gratitude that we have relatives such as you and great friends to give us strength, solace and comfort during these most difficult days of our lives.

    Be well, Michael. My love to your Claire and Cate, Michelle and your Mom.

    -Tita Ching

  16. I and I’m sure other fellow Harvard graduates only just heard about Jay’s tragic early death from a notice in the Harvard magazine. My friends and I all were fellow Quincy House residents at Harvard with Jay and remember him fondly. After reading your wonderful remembrance I was reminded of our time together nearly 30 years ago. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking such thoughts today – thank you for putting an updated face on him for us.

    Our thoughts are with his family — based on your description I’m sure his wonderful qualities will live on in his children.

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