The story that has been in the news yesterday and today about the Alaskan man missing since Monday and found after being mauled by a bear is a member of my direct family.
Michael Soltis was my first cousin, the eldest child of my Aunt and Uncle; and he was lost to us this week in tragedy. He went out for a hike in the woods near his home, as he had done countless times in his life and this time never returned. The cause was discovered amid a nearly additional tragedy, which was narrowly averted - as it is believed the bear that killed him attacked searchers trying to find Michael, and nearly claimed another life before being scared off.
Please send thoughts, emotions and if you pray, prayers for my aunt and uncle and cousins especially. This tragedy is more than any family should have to endure, but they deserve and need all the support that can be summoned to them. I will not name them all, in respect for their privacy, but each and every one of them are in my thoughts now.
Distance, age and circumstance kept Michael and I from being particularly close when we were children, as my aunt and uncles and cousins all grew up in and lived in Alaska, while my family was in the Chicagoland / Lake Michigan area...but I have very clear, fond memories of Michael as a child, when they visited us and we took a cross-country drive from Chicago to Florida; and when we visited them for a month in the summer before I started high school (and we toured what seemed to be the entire state in my aunt and uncle's Chevy Suburban (a dozen people on an unending tour of the great state of Alaska), and impressions of earlier visits for the birth of his siblings when we were both very young, other cousins of mine.
Michael was a free-spirited and adventurous soul, dedicated to exploration and outdoor living, which is how I remember him tonight and always. An easy-going, ever-present and semi-mischievous smile and a warm, caring disposition are what I recall, childhood impressions and memories that live on, that are apparent in the photos and memories being shared in light of this horrible time. Being kids from different worlds and experiencing those differences along the way. Riding motorcycles and canoes and bicycles. Throwing rocks across an ice-cold Alaskan lake shore (which did not end well) or into Lake Michigan from the beaches on its southern shores (which was truly less eventful)... Being kids exploring the area around the family home on those trips north, or trying to keep up with him around my own suburban neighborhood when they were visiting the lower 48.
To my everlasting regret and loss, we will not reunite or have a chance to ever look back on those childhood memories again in this life, but I carry them with me as my journey goes on with a loss deeply felt and sincere wishes for the pain to be eased for those in my family who were much closer and present in Michael's life day to day and are feeling his absence so keenly now.
Rest in peace Michael, you are no longer with us in body, but your spirit remains forevermore in the memories, minds and hearts of your family, friends and loved ones.
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