Michael White taught us how to retell our life stories
By Stephen Madigan
You're the one who trained me to write letters to clients to underline what you called their "know-how's"—their usually taken-for-granted ability to survive all manner of abuse, ridicule, and trauma, and display remarkable qualities of heroism and capability. Since 1990, I've probably written thousands of post-session letters to people, celebrating their unnoticed strengths and overlooked accomplishments. So I've had lots of practice at trying to say things that usually remain unsaid. But writing this—now that you're gone from us with such shocking suddenness—is by far the most difficult thing I've ever undertaken.
When I received the phone call saying that you'd had a heart attack in San Diego and died a few days later, I was at first almost breathless with surprise and grief, like so many others who knew you, whose lives had been changed by you and your work. It was April 5, 2008, and you were 59 years old.
As serendipity would have it, when I got the news that you'd died, I'd just finished giving a narrative therapy workshop in Dublin, Ireland, and was having a pint of Guinness with our good pal Ian Law. After hearing the sad news, the two of us recounted our first meetings with you and remembered how your wild and brilliant therapeutic skills inspired so many of us to remain in the field. Later on, our colleague Richard Boyle sang the beautiful Irish song "Carrickfergus" and dedicated it to you. We cried and ordered a few more pints of Guinness in your honor.
Over the next few days, I received hundreds of e-mails about your death. Thousands of people from around the world were in mourning and planning memorials for you in cities like Moscow, Jerusalem, Mexico City, Gothenburg, São Paulo, Hong Kong, San Francisco, New York, and Vancouver.