None of us gets away unscathed. At some point, we all deal with the death of a loved one whether suddenly or after a long, protracted illness. A wise friend said to me not too long ago, the Buddha says the challenge is to keep your heart open, open to life’s 10, 000 joys AND 10,000 sorrows. Yes.
So, The Mike deGruy movie. How did I get here?
I’ve tried hard to keep my heart open. Four years ago, my life changed irrevocably, when I got a phone call late on a Friday night in February 2012. I was alone when the phone rang. My husband Mike deGruy was filming in Australia, my daughter was spending the night at a friend’s, and my son was away at college. I heard the voice of Mike’s Australian colleague saying there had been an accident. Assuming it had been a diving accident, mentally I began packing for Australia so I could help him recover. But then I heard the words ‘helicopter crash’ and ‘no survivors’. I remember little else other than heading outside, looking up at the stars and wandering in circles after throwing up in the bushes.
Grief is as unique as a thumbprint, and there is surely no map telling us how to read it. I’ve tried, as best as I could, to follow my heart, and my children have been my guides. They are my heroes because they’ve stood tall and are kind and authentic. Sure, they’ve had excruciating days and nights, the descriptions of which I have no desire to share. But along the way we’ve all been met with many moments of grace, of kindness, of true sweetness and love. Love. The most important of all. As always, love carries the day.
Some days, the sun shimmers so brilliantly it feels cruel. And there are days when I look out the window and see large, leafy trees looking as sentient as the humans standing next to them. Life feels like one complicated, magnificent mirage so precious and fragile I hold my breath lest it all disappear with the next exhale.
After Mike died I found myself trying to understand the inexplicable. Trying to comprehend so many things that I can’t articulate but foremost among them is wondering how best to honor Mike. Mike, who was taken too soon, unexpectedly and just as he was becoming a more outspoken advocate for the natural world, specifically, the ocean.
Mike and I first met on a film, 30 years ago, and a few years later we married and went on to make a number of movies together. I reached a point, when our children were small, where I felt I needed to step back a bit from filmmaking. But whether or not I was actively involved in the production he was working on, I was always at least tangentially involved. And as the kids got older, Mike and I began to work together again. At the time of his death he and I had three projects in development. Not surprisingly, many people asked me ‘Which will you choose? What will you do?’ I deferred because I knew I needed to let the process unfold organically, at a pace unique to my own grieving.
I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have a truly supportive team: family, friends, business and legal advisors. I have been blessed to have support in every facet of my life. When so many people are struggling these days I definitely don’t take that support for granted.
Many days have been spent in contemplation, quiet meditation, walking on the beach, looking to the ocean for answers, reading lots of poetry, the words of those artists who take us to the thin layer between the here and there. Listening to music that awakens the spirit in me. All led me forward to where I am now.
In the months before he died, Mike and I had been sifting through the wealth of material he’d shot and hosted over the years and realized his career reflected a fascinating, not to mention entertaining, trajectory. He had begun to pull his favorite sequences and put them on a timeline. I remember one night he came to bed late after working in the edit room and said with quiet amazement “You know, I am pretty good.” It is one of my sweeter memories.
After he died I realized he’d put together a very rough assembly. It seemed almost prescient, and I felt compelled to take that as a foundation and build on it. I also found myself drawn again and again to one particular piece of footage of Mike. He was pacing back and forth in Bayou La Batre, Louisiana, not long after the 2010 BP Macondo Oil Spill. He turned to the cameraman and said “Just roll. This is a stream of consciousness so just go with me.”
When the oil spewed relentlessly into the Gulf of Mexico, Mike was devastated. Not only was it our country’s worst environmental disaster but in a cruel and personal irony, it occurred where Mike grew up, where he first learned to SCUBA dive and where he fell in love with the ocean. He took it personally, and he was angry in a way I’d never seen before.
The oceans cover over 70% of our earth’s surface and yet we’ve explored only 5%.
And we are a critical moment in the race to protect our oceans. We’ve become disconnected and not only is this unsustainable but there is absolutely no reciprocity. We give nothing back to the ocean.
I’ve watched Mike’s soliloquy, I call it, probably a hundred times. And I’ve decided the way I can honor Mike best is to draw attention to the deep ocean, to all of the oceans, and to the need to continue putting resources towards exploring, understanding and finally, most important, towards protecting the ocean, our life support system. What Mike might not like is that I am also celebrating him. Mike, the crazy, lovable, passionate, relentlessly determined, funny, stubborn character. And that is the operative word: character.
I’ve pulled many of the sequences he shot and also presented to camera. I’ve been fortunate to have extraordinary conversations on camera with some of those Mike admired most: Dr. Sylvia Earle, Sir David Attenborough, among many others. I’ve assembled a very assembly of a feature length documentary. In my moments of deepest sadness it has been tremendously healing to focus on something larger than myself: the ocean.
So where I go from here is this: in the next few months I will begin post production. I have a wonderful team and together we will complete this film.
Mike believed fervently in the power of community and so do I. Mike loved his community and those who cared about the ocean. He loved the ocean and he was an incredibly effective communicator on its behalf.
It’s my hope that together we can honor Mike and in the process inspire future ocean protectors. Together we can bring attention to the importance of exploring and caring for the ocean, the place he loved more than any other.