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Deep Sorrow

Posted by
Stephen Phillips (San Francisco, United States) on 16 June 2009 in People & Portrait and Portfolio.

Many of you will remember that back in March of this year - I mentioned that a dear friend - Mike Schildknecht - was opening a restaurant about 120 kilometers (78 miles) from San Francisco. He called the place 'Berryessa Corners'. He was kind enough to invite me to hang my photography in his new dining room. Ten black & white prints are on display there.

Last Tuesday - a week ago today - I received a call from a mutual friend saying that Mike's body had been discovered that morning. Evidence suggested he'd had a heart attack in the middle of the night.

Mike was one of the most amazing people I've known in this life. He was a bulldog from New Jersey - with the accent and attitude to let you know it. Yet , he was one of the most accepting, loving, tolerant, and steadfast people I've ever had the pleasure to know.

He had made medical history several times over as a double-heart-transplant recipient from UCSF Hospital in San Francisco. Transplanted hearts have a maximum life span of about twelve years. Mike had gotten all of that time and a little more from his first heart before they cleared him for and then went ahead with a second heart transplant in 2002.

Between Transplants...

Two major automobile accidents tried to claim him. Both red-light runners - neither his fault. In the first one - it took rescue workers more than an hour to free him from the wreckage. They had to disassemble the front seats and remove him through the right rear door of the car. There was no room to use the 'jaws-of-life'. The emergency room doctor at San Francisco General Hospital wrote on Mike's admittance form; "unlikely to survive".

Mike's life contained so many adventures - one could fill a book. Many of them could not be printed in a family newspaper. Mike could be wild.

But when he learned that he would not be permitted a third heart - he knew he was against a loudly ticking clock. He had always wanted to run his own bar and restaurant - and when he saw this beat-up old building, rotting by the wayside near his beloved Lake Berryessa - he knew it was his mission to bring it back to life. And he did.

There were three businesses under one roof. A market, a restaurant, and a bar. He managed to open the first two and had almost completed the bar. Oh how I wish he'd been given the time to see it all finished. He had everything plotted out on paper. He was so proud that the market kept exceeding his projections.

The time bell rang. Now, the book is closed.

Silver Linings...

Before taking on the store - Mike was a taxi cab dispatcher on a grave-yard shift - part time. The company was in decline and Mike was increasingly unhappy with his time there. In January of this year - Mike quit his job and moved to 'Berryessa Corners' to build his dream.

All of us who knew Mike and who would visit him 'up at the lake' agreed that he'd never looked or seemed better than during these past few months. He was relaxed, happy, challenged by the unending demands of opening three businesses in a beat-up building that had to be brought up to code. Mike seemed to thrive on all of this.

And, there was Mike's fear that he would slowly get sick and wind up in the hospital with doctors and tubes defining his decline.

My good friend, Bill, was with Mike on Monday night. They talked business until late and parted company. Bill was likely the last person to see Mike alive. Bill reported that Mike seemed fine that night. His color was good and his spirits upbeat. So Mike was healthy to the end and went fast. He couldn't have scripted a better departure.

Fifty years is way too short a life in these accelerated times. However, Michael Schildknecht was an inspiration. His original heart disease cheated death for more than two decades and he knew it.

Time after time - I was in awe as Mike would go out of his way to befriend a person who was suffering or was down and out. He seemed drawn to the downtrodden and gave them plenty of his time and attention. Everyone was an equal to Mike - unless it was someone who would bully or take advantage of another. Those folks found themselves instantly on Mike's (bleep) list. And he pulled no punches in letting them know just what he thought about their misguided ways.

This then is a day of closure...

Thank you Mike, for sharing time with me along this life's path. I am grateful for every moment. My life will be substantially less full without your beautiful presence.

The visitation at the funeral home is set for Noon. The service is at 3.

There will be many, many people there. Lots of these folks I'll have not seen in a long, long time. There will be those I've not yet met. Mike formed many circles and made friends easily. The fact of Mike's life will be at the center of this pilgrimage. I look forward to being with all of these people. I readily find comfort in our common love, admiration, and friendship with this remarkable man.

We will all join to celebrate a man's full life.

And we will cry.

© copyright 2018 by Stephen Phillips Photography / Oakland, California /
please respect these rights - do not copy or use these images without permission.

Liang from San Francisco, United States

I'm very sorry to hear this about your friend Stephen. This is devastating from reading your commentary regarding this great man's history, he will forever be remembered.

16 Jun 2009 5:50am

Mirko Herzner from Germany

Without the right words to answer your post...
We can feel your pain, Stephen and we try to be with you as best as we can. In the end Am3 is not a community of anonymity - most of us have never met each other but still we feel strongly connected. Thanks for sharing your friend's story and giving us the opportunity to think about life... Keep your head up.

16 Jun 2009 6:14am

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

Phew - this really hurts! My thoughts are truly with you, Stephen, and I can only echo the thoughts from Liang and Mirko above.

16 Jun 2009 7:35am

Eric Fry from Houston, TX, United States

My deepest condolences to you on the passing of your friend, Stephen.

16 Jun 2009 7:36am

yz from Budapest, Hungary

i'm so sorry for your friend

16 Jun 2009 10:08am

Anthony Morgan Lambert from Bielefeld(old Pembroke Dock boy,Wales), Germany

I´m sorry that you have to share this sad news with us Stephen,my thoughts are with you !!

16 Jun 2009 2:13pm

Viewfinder from Bradenton, FL, United States

People like your friend Mike are rare, standing out among the rest of us like jewels in a bowl of ordinary rocks. I know you and many others will miss this guy, but your photo and verbal tribute to him is a work of great friendship and love. His story is inspiring. My sympathy to you, Stephen.

16 Jun 2009 2:26pm

Marie LC from Voiron, France

Intéressante composition

16 Jun 2009 2:44pm

Betty from New Jersey, United States

That's a beautiful tribute to your friend Mike's life. I am so sorry for your loss of such a dear friend. You can take comfort in the fact that he was doing what he loved and did not suffer a lingering end. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

16 Jun 2009 3:02pm

Evelyne Dubos from Le Mans, France

I can understand your sorrow... lost of a very good friend is a hard time... My thought is with you today Stephen... And it's a great dedication.

16 Jun 2009 4:25pm

Rui from Leiria, Portugal

That's a beautiful dedication. Wherever he is, he will appreciate that.
My deepest condolences to you.

16 Jun 2009 4:36pm

Paco Díaz from Palma de Mallorca, Spain

I remember, of course. I fell sorry about the death of your friend and appreciate your words. Beieve me, I'm with you.

16 Jun 2009 5:25pm

dj.tigersprout from New York City, United States

a beautiful tribute Stephen -- so sorry for your loss -- may he rest in peace and may his wonderful memory remain with you!!

16 Jun 2009 6:59pm

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Your tribute to your friend is loving and meaningful, even to those of us who don't know either of you. Your loss, and that of Mike's other friends, is palpable. Thank you for telling us of a man we would have been proud to call friend. My sympathies to you, Judy.

16 Jun 2009 7:08pm

Calusarus from St Sorlin en Valloire, France

A nice tribute

16 Jun 2009 7:12pm

Alun from cheshire, United Kingdom

my thoughts are with you, stay strong

16 Jun 2009 7:50pm

Susan from Fort Lauderdale, FL, United States

I remember well when you told us of the wonderful place where your photos would hang. And I also remember stating that on the next trip to California......I'd love to visit the place. Now, such a visit just won't be the've made a beautiful tribute to your friend, and in Mirko's words....know that your friends here are thinking about you, in your loss.

16 Jun 2009 11:12pm

@Susan: Thanks Susan - I really appreciate your kindness.

Robert from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada

I'm sad to hear of your loss. You have described an exceptional person who not only brought joy into the lives of those he knew, but he made it a better place for all.

17 Jun 2009 2:28am

grant from kansas city, United States

i'm very sorry.

17 Jun 2009 2:40am

Karthik from Chennai, India

My deepest condolences, Stephen.

17 Jun 2009 4:02am

laura from san francisco, United States

Stephen-I met Mike back in 1995, he was a regular patron at a bar i worked for, and continued to work for for the fallowing 10 did patron of course. Not right away, but eventually, Mike and I became friends, good friends, and i hold him in my heart to this day as family.
I wanted to tell you that what you wrote, was amazing and so very true. It was so nice to read, knowing everything you spoke of, and it was beautiful. Mike would have loved that. Mike had this vision of when he passed on what would be the perfect service... this involved a baseball field, a game in progress, an airplane, and the Rolling Stones...but on the serious side, he just really wanted someone to be able to stand up and say something nice about him. This was actually a concern of his. That there wouldn't be? Well, i did not learn of Mikes sudden passing until Thursday 6/18...why, i cannot answer and dont care to open that investigation. With this late knowledge, I obviously and regretfully was unable to attend the services in his honor, pay my respects, or stand up and say something nice about this incredible man, as i had promised him i would, in the event of his death. Im sure there were several, many even, whom rose to the occasion, for it is not a hard task to find something nice to speak of about Mike, the man he was, and his life. This, making him proud, and worries subsided, as he heard the voices and hearts speaking of him, and to him. But, still not to be a part of leaves me feeling rather blue, and that i let him down in some way, or maybe just myself? So, when i came to the link and it led me to your page, i cried at first view. when i saw the photos of Mike, it was a direct shot-hit home...when i was still stung and not processing completely what just happened...and i started to know, and I started to feel, this loss is larger than life... and then, I read your words, and thought, "yes, i know this man he speaks of"...and i felt sad but i also felt proud. Sounds corny? That i was proud? I am far from being anything close to perfect, but I know that i am a better person today, for having known Mike.
Im sorry for taking so much room in your comment area...i know i could fill the page, and go on for pages and pages...and fallow...but i wont. In short, and in end...THANK YOU.


21 Jun 2009 8:24am

@laura: Dear Laura,

I am sorry there is no email address where I can respond to your wonderful and thoughtful post. There is nothing corny about grief - and we all share it in Mike's passing. I am grateful to hear from yet another person who knew this remarkable man. Bless you, Laura. Write anytime.

Cassie from Caldwell,TX, United States

Thank you so much for your beautiful photographs and portrate of my Dad. Mike was my wonderful, amazing, strong hearted and willed Dad. You're poster in the resteraunt will always be there as a memorial and reminder to everyone. Again, I thank you so much. In deep sorrow~ Cassie

23 Jun 2009 8:15pm

@Cassie: Cassie - I don't know how you managed to find this photo blog page of mine - but thank you and bless you. Please know you are welcome to call me anytime. Your dad's life was a blessing to us both. Please, please stay in touch. ~ Stephen

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

What a beautiful and touching story..... Thank you for sharing. My deepest condolences.

8 Jul 2009 1:05am

Eileen from United States

Thank you for the beautiful tribute that you created for my brother Michael. I visit it often and find it to be a special place to go when I am missing him.

21 Sep 2009 1:17am

Cassie from College Station,TX, United States

Thank you again for this memorial. Occasionally I google my Dad's name and your website is the first to pop up. It is very inspiring to read this story and share it with friends and family. Thank you so much again.

27 Jun 2012 9:06pm

Cassie Schildknecht from College Station, United States

Hey again. I just wanted to thank you again for making this page and for your sweet words. Today Dad would have been 54. I can't believe it's been 3 1/2 years since he passed. I thank God everyday for this photo and the kind words you have written about him. You have no idea how much comfort it brings me on days like today.

26 Oct 2012 1:26am