I have been having a lot of feelings and emotions, in fact I guess you could call it the supreme emotional roller coaster of life since my husband’s illness and death and I guess we will see how long the feelings will allow me to speak.
Today, as Mike’s friends and loved ones poured into this church, I was struck by how many distinct sets of friends he had. Family, bikers, businessmen, high school friends whom he had managed to stay in touch with all these years, attorneys, doctors, professors, colleagues, cyberspace friends who’d never met him “in the flesh” whom I’ve gotten to know over the last few months, combat grapplers, sheriff’s, ….well the list just goes on and on because Mike didn’t care what you did for a living, what your background was he just liked anyone for who they were. In fact, sometimes on some motorcycle runs in the past trying to walk down the street with Mike was an exercise in frustration, as Mike’s fans flocked to him like the Pied Piper. He was so much, to so many. One of his greatest gifts to us is each other. I remember the first time I saw Mike a little more than 20 years ago. You couldn’t miss him, of course because he was so large in size and personality. It was at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City and I walked into his office. He was sitting on the side of his desk with one foot lazily swinging and the other foot planted on the floor. He looked at me and I looked at him. Immediately I said to myself, “boy this guy sure looks arrogant. He told me some years later that when he first laid eyes on me that he thought I was gorgeous and he fell instantly in love. It took a while longer for me. Maybe a week or so.
Early on despite his and my occasional best efforts to the contrary, eventually we did become friends. He simply refused to let me go, or to let me push him away… I knew in my core that if being Mike’s friend required change, well then I’d change. He was worth it…
And so it began. Mike, in those days especially, had an approach to some people and even to me that was at best interestingly challenging, and at worst frustrating or highly exasperating. Those who didn’t “get” Mike brushed him off as an arrogant know-it-all or because of his quiet way coupled with his large size some folks where just simply scared of him. This bothered Mike greatly as he didn’t want to scare anyone. Occasionally people would tell Mike that he was intimidating but he always wondered to me how and in what way. I didn’t really understand either as I was never intimidated by him. Because I knew as many of you do that he was just one huge teddy bear. And to those who watched, and listened, it would become clear there was something extremely special about Mike. Mike had the ability to see into people, to look through you, to reflect your own insecurities and hang ups back at you, until you had no choice left but to drop them… and dance with him. Mike also had a sharp wit and great sense of humor.
Being around Mike was a feast for the mind, the senses and the heart.
With Mike, what you saw — was what you got. He lived without pretense and gave of his pure heart completely. He had more friends than I can count, and making new ones every day. This was I believe simply because he treated everyone he came across with respect, kindness and patience.
Today we celebrate the life of my dear husband Mike He was my champion, my protector, my teacher, mentor and my best friend. He shared his joyous smile and laugh. He shared his zest for life and the passion for all those things that were important to him. He was kind, he was gentle and he was stern when he felt he needed to be and he was humble.
I had the tremendous privilege, honor and blessing of being married to Mike.
Mike was not stingy with his love. He told me and our children daily that he loved us, and he showed us that he loved us. He gave and gave and gave. I think I can speak for myself as well as our children when I say that we always knew that Mike loved us. Each of us knows how blessed we were to share a few moments on this earth with him.
By far the biggest feeling I have had because of Mike has been gratefulness. Gratefulness to have found such a great man to share my life with – to stand in his shadow–to have stood in the shade of Mike’s tree. To me, Mike was like a tree in many ways. In fact others must have seen him this way also as I remember one summer day when a bunch of us had ridden our motorcycles somewhere and it was extremely hot. Mike’s good friend Buda saw that I was getting overheated and jokingly ordered Mike to “go be shade.” Which Mike did. A big massive, sturdy oak tree. An oak who’s taproot was anchored in faith and in the Divine, and with branches and leaves that where as comforting as cool dark shade on a hot summer afternoon. Mike’s tree was stable, reliable, you couldn’t push it, and it was strong.
Lives flow with strong undercurrents, much like the open sea; they undulate through well-timed waves, such as the preschool period, adolescence, middle age and the so-called golden years. Unfortunately Mike didn’t get to those golden years in life.
When Mike was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he and I together began to grieve the end of our lives together. We also began deeply regretting the time that we had squandered. We talked of the days over the years that we could have done “it” better. We spoke about how the things we thought important suddenly since the moment of diagnosis were utterly insignificant and in fact never were anything more. So many things are really so unimportant in the face of looming death. We had squandered time because we thought that we would have more. We got the messages loud and clear, live each day like it’s your last day on earth, don’t use harsh words because they can hurt and don’t sweat the small stuff because it’s all small stuff. We hoped for more but worried and acknowledged that we did not have the luxury of many years to “get over” something so we learned from our mistakes quickly and we did try to live our remaining time together to the fullest.
It was a long hard battle that although it only lasted a little more than four months, it sure seems in many ways as each day lasted a year.
But Mike and I approached this cancer battle as a new phase in life that brings its special challenges and opportunities, along with its unique stresses and pressures. We talked about our worry of not being equipped to ride this next wave, to manage the requirements — obvious or unknown. But we knew God was with us every step of the way and He would carry us when we couldn’t carry ourselves.
Whenever I had trouble dealing with any turbulence and yes fear of loosing Mike to this cancer, I could always count on Mike – my captain – to right the ship if it began to list. I will miss the way he could always put things into perspective for me. If there was something that really upset me, and I couldn’t do anything about it, Mike would often say, “Don’t burden your mind with something you have no control over. Don’t worry about and just let it go”.
He was as calm as the deepest ocean and kindness remained his creed. Mike believed in God Almighty and he also believed in honesty, honour, loyalty and integrity.
People talk about these values. But Mike lived them. He embraced them. The many awards and accolades that he received during his career for his dedication and hard work, amongst other things, and the respect people had for him are a testimony to this.
He was a man of few words, but he could disarm any tenuous situation and have people laughing with his many one-liners or his facial expressions.
For four long hard months, together Mike and I, our beautiful daughter Gabrielle, along with his “little angel” Teresa and his “sister in Christ” Alina battled the doctors, we fought the insurance company, we warred with our emotions, our fatigue and yes, we battled our anger. And we worried that our son Austin who was serving in Iraq would not be able to get back in time to see his dad. But God is merciful and Austin got to spend almost two weeks with his dad. They were able to talk about golf, play cards and spend some time together while Mike was still strong enough.
Even during the last stages of his battle with pancreatic cancer, Mike soldiered on bravely, as he had done throughout his life he was more concerned about the people that he loved than any discomfort that he was feeling. He told me and several other people that he’s got the easy job. He only has to die and go to heaven. Mike knew that we would all be left behind with his memory and with the huge hole in our lives and hearts that his absence would create. To be honest, Mike experienced days of extreme pain and discomfort, but his concerns remained me and his children, not himself.
Toward the end of his illness Mike did not want for much; in fact he repeatedly said that all he wanted was to not die in pain and not die alone. I told him that the doctors would manage the pain and I promised him that he would not die alone. That if I could not do anything else for him with God’s grace I would certainly do that. Because I would be there for him as he had been there for me over all the years we shared together.
Mike wanted to live, he wanted to see his grandchildren grow up, and he wanted to spend more time with me so he fought to the end to live each day to the fullest. But last Friday it became abundantly clear that Mike had grown weary of the battle with this harsh aggressive cancer and God looked around His garden and found an empty place. He then looked down to the earth and saw Mike’s tired face. So God put his arms around Mike and lifted him up to rest. God’s garden must be beautiful because He always takes the best. He closed Mike’s weary eyelids and whispered “Peace be thine”. God took Mike to be a mighty heavenly soldier for him.
The last words Mike said to me was “I adore you.” As Mike accepted God’s invitation to join Him in heaven, I spoke to him to let him know that I was there as I had promised and I hummed the song O Holy Night for him. I don’t really know why but that song had been playing in my head all through out this experience. We held each other’s hand while Mike quietly slipped away. Though I wanted to crawl into his body and go with him, obviously I couldn’t. So, instead I slipped into a space that can be described only as a permeating sadness. Sadness that hangs still, and that surely is shared by all those who knew and loved him. As usual, Mike was right…he had the easy job.
Mike, you provided all of us with your counsel and wisdom. You shared your joyous smile and laugh. You shared your zest for life and the passion for all those things that were important to you. Although he will forever be part of my heart and soul, it is with heart retching sadness and reluctantly I will try to heed his wise counsel and say farewell today to my best friend, a wonderful father, husband, and human being.
To those who knew him, no explanation is necessary… To those who didn’t, no explanation is possible…
Although what we’ve lost is tremendous, what he gave us is immeasurable and we are all better people for having had Mike in our lives.
Mike, I hope to see you soon but in the meantime please save a seat for me in heaven.
You were the love of my life and I miss you madly.