The Embrace of Dying

Mike, driver, London Black Cab

They say you should never question fate.  I am always fascinated on how, through random circumstances, you find yourself right in the middle of what you have been looking for.

On the final day of the four days of filming and with only hours left until our flight to Provence, Chaz, my associate producer, and I set out to see if we could capture some of the elements and historical landmarks in London.  Within those hours, we filmed with a street performer, an incredibly talented group of violinists as well as a bag piper performer. It was my intention to ask random people about their thoughts on death and dying for the film we were working on in London (“The Embrace of Dying”). 

I tried this with a few Londoners over the course of the week and really had no luck.  People generally were not interested in talking about death and dying, especially on camera with a stranger from America! 

We decided to jump into a cab and head back to our hotel.  I figured let’s take a shot and ask this cabby. As he drove in the direction of the hotel, I explained who I was and what we were doing.  He listened and simply said, “No, not interested.”  I kindly said ‘thank you,’ and he continued driving. 

As we were coming around one of the many busy squares, I could see people watching a street performer who was perched high in the air.  I said to Chaz, “Let’s jump out and get this shot.”  We were now pushing the clock on time, but I just felt I needed this shot.  So often on these road trips, my need to capture as much as I can, pushing the envelope like this is pretty common.

Our time clearly was up and we had to go.  It’s big traffic in London and trying to catch another cab was going to take real work and effort.  Chaz and I hit the streets waving our hands in the air.  As I saw a cab turn in the direction of our hotel, I yelled, trying to position myself on the street where he could see me in his window.  In a quick moment, I knew he saw me.  He stopped and Chaz and I ran and jumped in.

Once in the cab, I asked about him seeing me; he joked about my arms in the air.  As I told him where we were headed, my camera was still in my hand, not wanting to shut it off.  I wanted to film from the cab on what it felt like being in a London Black Cab.

I was filming out the window, and Chaz was taking production photos.  I just felt the need to ask our cabby his thoughts on death and dying, even though I was done for the day.  So I said, “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”  I explained why we were in London.  I told him about The Embrace of Dying film, the filming about hospice, and the documenting of Highgate Cemetery.  He listened but didn’t say anything.  I passed him my page question about death and dying.  He read it as he sat at the light.  He then said in an emotional, crackling voice with a deep British accent, “Oh, well this hits a deep emotion for me.  See, I lost my daughter and life has not moved on since.”

I looked at Chaz like, ‘you’ve got to be kidding?’  Our last cab ride on the way to the hotel to leave.  How could this happen?  I asked Mike, who is a bald, round-faced 60-year old with dark brown eyes and an easy to like personality, “Can you talk about this?”  He said he would like to.  I asked if we could do it once we arrive at the hotel.

We pulled in front of the hotel and Mike began to talk from the seat of his black cab, which he has driven for thirty-some years.  He explained his daughter, Eve, was twenty-nine. Eve was his only child between him and his wife of forty years.

With tears rolling down his face and a lump in his throat making it difficult for him to speak, he told the story of how Eve was submitted into a local London hospital for complications from bariatric surgery.  What was supposed to be a simple procedure turned gravely tragic resulting in Eve’s death.

The filming with Mike was tough to do. Here is a man I have never met, talking about something every parent fears - losing a child.  I really felt close to Mike, especially seeing the pain he still holds now after some six years later.  Mike talked about how life just moves on but it’s not the same. 

In the context of our discussions, Mike shared so many personal thoughts that will clearly become one of these moments that will touch anyone who sees this film.

Grief is an emotion we cannot escape and often it may haunt us to the end of our days.  But this is part of being human.  We very much want to thank Mike for sharing this deeply personal story.