It’s with great sadness and heaviness of heart that I write this particular blog, following the sudden and untimely death of a very dear young man, my niece’s husband, Mike, at the age of 39.
Mike was a very special member of our family. He always had a smile. He always had something good to say. And he always was ready to lend a helping hand. He was a devoted husband and father — who loved our niece, Leanne, very much — and for that, we were always so grateful that God had brought Mike into our family and our lives.
Through Mike’s life and death there were lessons that I have learned … lessons I’d like to share with you.
The Story of a Soldier
Growing up, Mike had a dream of becoming a soldier and making the world a better place. At the age of eighteen in 1990, that dream was fulfilled, when he joined the Reserves here in Canada.
“In 1993, Mike went on a U.N Peacekeeping Tour to Croatia. He loved his time there, and developed a fierce bond with his fellow soldiers. Mike and his regiment were awarded the “Commander In Chief Commendation” by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson for their peacekeeping efforts and actions in the “Medak Pocket”. This was the first firefight directly involving the Canadian army since Korea. More than 500 rounds fell on the small town of Medak in a 24 hour period. The Canadian soldiers then experienced, first hand, the evidence and horrors of ethnic cleansing. This would haunt Michael for the rest of his life, and eventually contribute to his demise.”
(Taken from Mike’s Eulogy, written by his wife, Leanne.)
Mike went over to Croatia prepared to give his life in the service of freedom, as do all soldiers — it is an occupational hazzard that they all understand. Perhaps what Mike was not prepared for was the fact that the sacrifice of his life would come nearly eighteen years later.
After he returned, he continued service in the military for a few years, but eventually gave it up because he did not feel it was suited for family life. He married Leanne and within a few years they had two beautiful children — Isabella and Kassandra — who were obviously the light of his life.
“In 2003 Mike was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 31. He had surgery to remove it, but was left with progressive, chronic pain due to the incision and scar tissue.
“In 2008, after a family vacation to Disneyworld, Mike’s suppressed memories of Croatia and war came back to haunt him. Suffering from nightmares, anxiety, and severe depression, he sought help through Veteran’s affairs. He began counselling and medication, and worked hard to overcome his condition.
“In 2009, Mike had the opportunity to go on a very special camping and rafting trip to Kananaskis with the Canadian Veteran’s Adventure Foundation. This was a breakthrough for Mike, and Leanne felt like the “old Mike” she once knew and fell in love with, came back from that trip.
“Unfortunately, like any illness, there were good days and bad days. Mike always put on a brave face for his children and extended family and friends. But, gradually, Mike’s smile started to fade.
“Living in intense, excruciating pain, both physically and mentally, Mike could not hang on any longer. Despite encouragement and love from family, friends, and counselors, Mike passed away on January 21st, 2011.
“He will be deeply missed, forever loved, and never, EVER, forgotten…
“In memory of Mike, please….hug a soldier and let them know how much they mean to you and your freedom.”
(Taken from Mike’s Eulogy, written by his wife, Leanne.)
Lessons I Learned from Mike
As I said, there were lessons that I learned from Mike, in his life and in his death.
- One was this! We never know what burdens another is carrying … so let us be gentle with one another!
- Mike’s death was a reminder to me of just how many soldiers there are carrying scars that no one will ever see. We can see physical wounds and feel sorry for the soldier who carries them, but often the greatest devestation is unseen, found in the wounded mind, heart and spirit of a soldier who cannot escape the battleground that rages within from the horrors that were experienced and witnessed firsthand. May these men and women find a way to Christ’s peace — that peace that surpasses all understanding — in this life and in the next!
- Leanne was so right — hug a soldier and let him know just how much he means to you and your freedom! Let us increase our resolve to pray for our men and women at arms! And let us commit ourselves to pray urgently for peace in our world — peace that the world cannot give — the peace of Jesus Christ!
- Mother Teresa said, “Your smile is your first act of charity to the world: the more it costs, the more precious it is!” Mike always smiled! When he was young, it was easy … and the world smiled with him. As a soldier, serving in a war, it was necessary … because the world there had lost its smile. As a husband and father, it took family life from being good to being very good … and his wife and children smiled along with him! In the end, when his burden was so very heavy … Mike still smiled! It was then that it cost him the most … and therefore, to God, it was then that it was most precious! And to those of us who grieve his death, the memory of his smile is priceless!
Mike’s funeral was hard, but it was also an incredible celebration of the gift of life: the gift of Mike’s life, and the gift of eternal life! As we sang the closing song, “Be Not Afraid,” the entire church was filled with not just the voices raised in song but the presence of the Holy Spirit among God’s people. I dare say there was not a soul present that day who had not been touched — and changed — by the story of Mike’s life and death!
I was walking through the grocery store later that same day, still in a daze after Mike’s funeral. Suddenly tears welled up inside of me — and I had to really work to choke them back — as it occured to me, “The world is an emptier place now without Mike and his smile!”
As Christians, called to bring Christ into the world to all those we meet, let us be sure to smile … and to be gentle with others, for we do not know what burdens each other is carrying. Life is precious, handle with care!
Mike, you will indeed be missed by so many … but we look forward to the day when your smile will greet our own, when life is transformed through death into new life — eternal life — the goal of all our journeys!
As with all our loved ones, gone before us, we entrust Mike to God’s infinite love and mercy — for God alone knows our hearts and their ways. Eternal rest, grant unto Mike, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. And may his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
St. Michael the Archangel, Mike’s Patron Saint
Inside Mike’s prayer card was the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. I encourage you to pray this important prayer daily. We, the Church Militant, living in this Culture of Death, are in a raging battle. May we be strengthened in our resolve to build a Civilization of Love — something that Mike put his life on the line for, all those years ago in Croatia.
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle,
be our protection against
the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou,
O Prince of the Heavenly Host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who wander through the world
for the ruin of souls.
In Christ’s Purity,