Nothing about my baby brother was ever small. He was born big– literally. Mike wasn’t just a physically large man, his presence, his thoughts, and his feelings were larger than life too.
That bigness defined his life and the things most here would cite as examples of what they loved about him. Michael’s immense size made him the premier purveyor of hugs in his world. His legendary appetite was surpassed by an intense need to bring people joy through good food. His overwhelming consumption of pop culture and literature fed his gift for storytelling and entertaining. The bigness could be crushing too. His deep feelings created lasting sadness. His anxieties– specifically over the health and well-being of others– could be crippling. Those deep feelings consumed him as he consumed around them. He carried unbelievable physical pain around with him for the last several years, with no rest and little respite. The good, the bad, and the big of my brother were inexorably linked.
When someone dies as young as Michael did it is hard to avoid the crushing sense of what could have been. Milestones not hit, roads not taken. “If only…” seems to be the phrase of the moment. I understand the impulse, but I refuse to indulge it. Those what if’s require Michael to have been a different person. Something other than who he was. I want people to love the life Michael lived– as it was, the good and bad– because his life was inherently worth living (as all our lives are). He took his body and the essence of who he was as far as he could.
Mike was convinced that his world (the people who knew and loved him) saw him as lacking– he was very sensitive to the questions and comments that betray our social focus on certain statuses. You can judge whether he was right or wrong about your sensibilities, but I can say with confidence he was wrong to believe that about himself. Michael lived a life full of love and people. He spent more time with the people he loved in his 33 years with us than most of us will enjoy if we are fortunate enough to live 100 years. The time I spent in archives and reading rooms Mike spent enjoying the company of the most important people in his life. The time you put in working overtime, Mike spent out socializing with friends and family. The time you spent obsessing over a bigger house, a flashy car, or some expensive toy, Mike spent looking into something his brother or sister were dealing with so he could offer advice or just understand it well enough to be supportive. Michael’s life was about people and stories. Much of his world is sitting out here today.
Rarely in my adult life did more than a day or two go by that I didn’t talk to Michael. This is how all his family relationships were. I really don’t know anyone who spends that much time with their sibling or parents. How fortunate were we that his world was so centered on us? I already miss our meandering conversations about politics, some show he gamely tried to get me to watch, and his latest sports hot takes. I’ll miss carrying on about our elaborate, absurd inside jokes. He’d get a kick out of me suggesting his demise came at the hands of the Grimanati.
I love my brother. In my greed, I wish I could have more. But I so cherished him as he was that I wouldn’t trade any of it for more of some hypothetical version he could have been. Remembering his bigness in its totality makes me smile larger, laugh louder, and cry harder. Expressing our depth of love for Michael in the biggest ways possible feels like the best way to honor him. And through that love, we will find the resilience and healing I know he wants for us.
I love you, Michael. Rest in peace.