The Angel Mike

I was visiting my family in South Georgia a couple weeks ago, playing with my brilliant and beautiful great-granddaughter, Reaghan, when she noticed the pin I wear every day.

“What’s this?” she asked tapping on its face.

“It’s an angel,” I said. “I wear it all the time.”

“Why?”

I knew there would come a day when I would tell her about Uncle Mike. I wasn’t sure where to start. She’s almost 4, so she understands that people die. I wasn’t sure how to tell her why he died, though.

“Well, did you know Pop-Pop had a brother? His name was Mike.”

I told her he got sick and no one would take care of him.

She looked shocked.

“Why not?”

“Because he wasn’t rich enough to pay them,” I said. “To some people, money is more important than anything else. Uncle Mike didn’t have much.”

I wanted to focus more on who he was, though, so I told her he was the silliest person any of us had ever known — a real goofball.

She wasn’t sure she believed that.

“Oh no, Grandma’s right,” my son said. “Uncle Mike was a goofball.”

I brought out my phone, where I have a bunch of photos stored. There was one of him in a flower petal bathing cap, another of him making a goofy face, one of him and me making faces …

“He was a goofball,” she said, giggling.

I told her I’d had another angel pin, but it fell off and I never found it, so a man I know who makes jewelry made this one for me.

Reaghan dubbed the pin, The Angel Mike. He watches over all of us, she said, now that he’s a real angel.

Mike and Meghan

That’s when my granddaughter, Meghan, told me she’ll have a memorial table at her wedding next month, and on it will be her favorite photo of her and Mike. It was taken a few days before his wedding, on the day I gave him the handmade quilt that I had just given her as a wedding gift.

When Mike died, Janet gave the quilt back to me because she wanted it to be handed down to another generation, and they had no children.

When I asked Meghan if she would like to have Mike’s quilt instead of me making her one, she cried.

“You’d give that to me?” she choked.

“You’re the first one to get married,” I said. “This is meant to be handed on.”

If only Mike had lived long enough to meet Reaghan. If only he had been here to see Meghan get married. If only … if only …

Nine years ago today, James and Janet went to Goodwill and bought a wheelchair, which they dubbed the Mike-around.

Mike was too weak to walk very far, so they thought the wheelchair was just the thing to get him out onto the deck and into the fresh spring air.

Nine years ago today it was a Thursday. We had 12 days left with him.

Three years

Mike had such a wicked sense of humor. Yhis was typical of how it worked.

Today was Sunday and everyone who had come to say goodbye to Mike was leaving. We had Justin and Amanda, friends from Raleigh, James and Janet, Janet’s mom, Mike’s cousin, Christina. Kristy and Kathleen stopped by to make me take a few minutes for myself, and just as I got out of the hot tub, a neighbor I’d never met before came to the door to complain about all the cars parked along the street.

“You can’t have people all over the place like that,” she said. “It’s unsafe. I have to drive on this street, you know.”

I told her the people were here to say goodbye to my son, who would die in a few days and then the street would be more convenient for her. I wanted to really lash out at her.

Who the hell was she to come to my door and complain about having to drive more carefully when my son was dying? Couldn’t she have asked whether everything was OK first? The cars had been there on and off since Mike came home to die 10 days earlier. It was obvious we weren’t partying.

Well, maybe it was a party — a goodbye party for Mike.

She asked if there was anything she could do. I figured she had done enough, so I just asked her to drive carefully.

I relive these last few days every year. Friday — April Fool’s Day — will be three years without his maniacal laugh and his practical jokes, our late-into-the-night talks, his nagging as I cooked that I was doing something wrong and his total pleasure at the result anyway.The only thing wrong with my bread was that it wasn’t at his house.

Three years since we went into Great Smokies National Park with our cameras or watched Star Trek while we nibbled dark chocolate and talked about food.

Three years since he and Danny and Rob — rabid Yankees fans all — teased me about being a Red Sox fan.

Three years since I heard him say, “Love you, Mom.”

Mike was a Mama’s boy; he would tell you that as soon as he met you. We shared a birthday and we shared a wicked sense of humor, which we both got from my father — his hero.

As Mike battled and conquered addiction and then faced cancer with courage, grace and humor, he became my hero.

Three years ago tomorrow, the night before he died, he told me he was having a good time here with me.

I figure if he could be having a good time then, I should never complain again about anything.

But I do complain because I don’t think it’s fair that he was denied health care until it was too late to save his life. I think it’s wrong that he had to nearly starve to death before anything was done to help him. Twice in less than a year, and then they failed to treat a life-threatening infection.

If Dr. Herb Hurwitz at Duke hadn’t agreed to see him, he would have died from that infection. Dr. Hurwitz gave us two more years with him.

I think it’s immoral that no one even apologized for the way he was neglected.

I hate how big the hole is my heart is since he died.

I wish I had died instead.

Three years, and we’ve made so little progress in getting affordable quality health care for everyone. People are still fighting it and opponents are still spreading lies about it. The media still covers the lies as though they were truth.

Three years and 135,000 more Americans have died just the way Mike did, and there’s still no national outrage.

Every year now, I relive those last days with him.

Today was Sunday and I had two more days with him.

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