SOUTHWEST HARBOR — High school graduation this year was one Ed Michaud decided not to attend. It would have been too difficult.
Michaud’s late son, Simeon, was supposed to accept his diploma and head off into the world with the graduating class of 2018. Instead, the collective memory of those who knew Simeon, nicknamed “Sim,” before he died in March 2014, is what Michaud mourns going out into the world.
“We’re going through this lifetime moment,” said Michaud, 47, about one of the major milestones parents share with their children. “Everyone is disbursing and letting that go.”
One event, a 5K Fun Run that first took place three weeks after Simeon passed, was put together to help Michaud, his former wife, Leslie, and their daughter, Camille, with medical expenses. That first year, it was sponsored by the Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor and had over 200 participants.
“The whole event started because of him,” said Michaud about the race in Simeon’s honor, where he works the registration table. “I like this because it keeps that going and in part keeps SFOA going … . It was huge the first year; people from the community were rallying.”
The race, now named the “Summer Festival of the Arts 5K and Fun Run,” in celebration of Simeon Michaud, will take place on Father’s Day, June 17. Participants will start from Pemetic Elementary School, where Ed Michaud has been a teacher for 27 years (See related story in Section 2).
Simeon attended Summer Festival of the Arts for years and loved it, said Michaud. A three-week summer camp, in its 40th year, SFOA offers what he called interesting and quirky arts-based subjects for kids.
It was during Simeon’s time at the camp in 2013 when he first showed signs of failing health, Michaud said. That year, students of SFOA were performing Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and Simeon had earned the role of Puck. Simeon practiced one day with the cast before exhaustion kept him home for the remainder of camp except the final performance.
“He was in bed for two weeks straight, gets up, goes and performs and goes home and goes back to bed,” Michaud said, noting that Simeon had memorized all of his lines. “Simeon was an old soul and had wisdom beyond his years, surprisingly so.”
During his time in treatment for lymphoma, Simeon’s wisdom was something his caregivers picked up on quickly.
“He would do wordplay, little jokes with the doctors,” Michaud said.
An active child who played multiple sports and several musical instruments, Simeon was easily able to follow conversations regarding his health care and told his parents he wanted to become a doctor.
Initially diagnosed with strep throat, several visits with specialists brought a diagnosis of lymphoma just two months later, according to Michaud. He explained that lymphoma is not usually a terminal diagnosis, with a 90 percent survival rate.
“He was one of the 10 percent.”
Five years after losing his 13-year-old son, Michaud said talking about it is still difficult.
“No one can have any idea,” he said about the pain he shares only with other parents who have lost a child. “No one would want to know.”
When you become a parent, Michaud said, it is as though you put a wall around that reality because it is the worst thing one could imagine happening. “You can’t go there because it is so unfathomable.”
Once that experience becomes your truth, Michaud said from his classroom at Pemetic, it is as if you have PTSD and the feelings can come back at any time.
“The little tiny reminders that come out of the blue,” he said, can hit the hardest. “Right now it’s happening because it’s high school graduation, because he would have been graduating this year.”
In the 2017-18 Mount Desert Island High School yearbook, there is a page of photos and a memorial to Simeon Michaud. When the book was released to students earlier this year, Camille, who is finishing her sophomore year, brought it to Michaud for a moment of sharing.
“She just wanted to sit with me and look at that page,” he said, pointing to a yellow bracelet on his wrist that says ‘Smiles for Sim.’ Graduates wore them for the ceremony in memory of their missing classmate.
“Everyone just loved him,” said Michaud. “He didn’t have a clique of friends, he liked everybody … . It was interesting to see the affect he had on people, how he touched people. Everyone was equal.”
Michaud was the primary parental figure when Camille and Simeon were young. Their mother worked long hours in Bangor, and the children spent a lot of time with their dad.
“We just did stuff together all the time, and I loved it, I looked forward to it,” Michaud said about being a father. “They were with me all the time. I would take them food shopping on weekends. We did gardening.”
One special memory of Simeon shared by Michaud and highlighted in photos around his room is their connection around Tuvan throat singer, Kongar-ol Ondor.
When Simeon was nearly 2-years-old, Michaud, who had throat singing recordings playing often, noticed the toddler sitting in the back seat holding a vocal note for an exceptionally long time. This happened several times before Michaud realized Simeon was attempting his own version of throat singing.
Ondor made a local appearance in Massachusetts around the time Simeon was in kindergarten, and Michaud asked if he wanted to go. With the promise of being able to jump on the beds of their hotel room, Simeon agreed to the trip.
Being a father is something Michaud, who has worked with kids for nearly three decades, always treasured. Well before Simeon became ill, Michaud remembers relishing milestones and daily doings with his children.
“I would say, ‘I will never get this moment back with them,’” he said of time with Camille and Simeon as youngsters. “It was a rich and beautiful relationship with them every day.”