Earlier in the church, I talked about how our shared purpose was to remember Michael, and to find solace and wisdom and peace from the tragedy of his passing.
As I've reflected on Michael's life, his attitudes, his tastes, what we can learn from him, and how best we can keep him in our hearts, I kept coming back to phrases like, ‘he was dealt a bad hand’ and 'he played the cards he was dealt'.
Oddly, it made me smile.
For me, there is a bittersweet poignancy to the symbolism of Michael’s life as a card game. Let me explain why.
Not long after his diagnosis, it soon became clear that Michael was going to be spending a lot of time in hospitals. In an effort to find something that might entertain him, I bought a card game that became central to our times we spent together, at first to break up those long, dreary periods of hospitalisation, but then just for fun at home when I came to visit. It certainly brought us closer together.
The game was called Magic: The Gathering. Don't worry, I’m not going to bore you trying to explain how it works. All you need to know is that, like life, it has a simple premise and a ridiculously complex execution. It involves dozens of unique rules printed individually on these amazingly artistic cards and each game told a unique story.
Despite it being aimed at kids aged 13 and over, Michael picked it up pretty quickly even though he was a few years younger than that at the time. I think he had the kind of mind which appreciated the logic the game used. Each new card that was introduced to the game created a new problem to solve. And that’s how Michael worked. He always dealt with the problem he could see in front of him. Both in the card game and in life.
I think a lot of his strength of character came from that outlook. He wasn’t one for speculation or worrying about things he couldn’t predict. So much of what he’s been through over these last few years has been horrible to watch, let alone endure. Yet endure it he did, with surprising grace and maturity, all things considered.
He had developed a wisdom beyond his years, and used it like a cast iron bear-trap.
I’ve seen him refuse a medical intervention, then lay out (albeit angrily) his reasons why and setting out an entirely credible alternative management plan which the gathered medical professionals begrudgingly agreed made sense. I’d witnessed him receive news of setback after setback, yet still carry on.
I think Michael learned some of the wisdom in the words written on Nanny’s wall which advises acceptance of the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Then I realised, in life, he hadn’t been dealt a bad hand at all. It was the hand he was playing against that couldn’t be beaten. But that didn’t stop him trying. He brought to bear all the strengths he had and played them to his best advantage.
Some of the cards life had dealt him were good cards. In his hand he had incredible strength of mind, an emotional resilience that was nothing short of superhuman, he had compassion, love, and patience from all who walked with him on his long journey. He had a close family and friends who stuck by him and who he cared about deeply.
None more so than his dad, Karl, who's patience and kindness calmed an agitated Michael so many times and his Mum, Laura, who has suffered the anger and the tears and has stood, slept, cooked and cried by his side through it all.
There is so much about Michael that I came to admire. Over the years I’ve watched the boy become a suggestion of the man he might have been. I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with him. He was my playing partner, my co-pilot, my nephew and my friend. I’ll carry him with me forever.
Well played, little buddy, well played.