Today I am taking a break from the concerns of the political world, and the trajectory of our nation, as I celebrate my big brother, Mike. Today, February 26, 2017 is my big brother’s 66th birthday. This is a personal celebration of what Mike has meant to me in my own life as I reflect on his memory. Mike, or Tike, as I and others often called him,has passed on from life on earth. He became yet another victim of cancer in 2012. His passing was devastating to me and all my brothers and sisters, his wife Patrice as well as my Mom, who survived him for a year. Mom lost both her youngest and eldest sons in her lifetime, extending the pain of loss even more. (Tike third from left with the white shirt)
Despite the loss, which every one of us on earth have or will experience, this post today is to celebrate the fun and happiness and love I gained throughout my entire life with Tike as my big brother and best friend.The four amigos..Den, Tike, Joe and John.
His nickname Tike was given to him by a teenage friend who recognized the little kid in him (a little tyke!) in his jokes and antics while growing up. Mike never lost those peculiar qualities about him, even as a senior citizen when he faced the most serious circumstances one can face in life. Mike suffered from a malignant glioblastoma which is a cancerous brain tumor. He had surgery to remove the tumor which was extraordinarily successful to the extent that it removed over 90% of the cancer. On the day of his surgery, I was with him as well as his wife Patrice all day at the hospital, awaiting word of how things had gone and what his prognosis was. (Mike and Patrice)
After hours of waiting and wondering and worrying, the surgeon finally came out and told us we could actually go see him and talk to him in the recovery room. When we entered the room, we were almost overwhelmed to see about a dozen patients in the room all recently out of major surgery for one reason or another. And we could not find Mike! We began to walk up to each person to see if we were at the right bedside. Then we saw him and we literally did NOT recognize him. He was a ghost of himself, a face drained by enormous trauma. Or so we thought. As we approached him, his eyes fluttered open and, when he saw Patrice, a slow, big and broad smile grew on his face. Then he turned and saw me. He extended both of his arms out to us. We sat down on either side of him and put our heads on his shoulders as he embraced both of us. It was incredibly moving and no words were spoken for a moment. Then Tike appeared…his first words to us were.. “I finally had my head examined and they found nothing”. Patrice and I, and a couple of the staff members, burst out in an uproarious laugh. THAT was Tike. (Den and Tike)
All during my time growing up, especially as we became teenagers, Mike was the guy I looked up to, wanted to be like, wanted to hang out with. As often happens with brothers, and I have two younger brothers as well, we did not always get along. Sometimes he was annoyed that his kid brother was around because I wasn’t really all that cool, or I wasn’t old enough to hang out with his buddies even though we were born only 16 months apart.
In high school Mike was a year ahead of me. As we got to be in our junior and senior years Mike started giving me some tips about particular teachers or classes to look out for or prepare better for. When he went to college, and I told him I wasn’t going to go to college the following year, he convinced me that I should because I might meet some really awesome chic that I could study with…I didn’t want to miss out on that, did I ?? Well, no.
When ever I had life troubles, Mike was the guy I always turned to. Even though he wasn’t that much older than me, he always seemed to have a confidence and wisdom about him that was hard to define, but far more often than not, his ideas and suggestions were good ones. He was a bit of a trailblazer for me, particularly when it came to dealing with Dad. Our Dad was strict and sometimes pretty tough on us, particularly Mike. He was the oldest son. He had a responsibility. He should know better. But Mike being Tike, he often clashed with Dad and they were at odds all throughout those formative years before turning 21. My turn came for dealing with Dad too and Mike’s suggestions (and warnings!) really helped ease that path for me.
As we grew into adults, Mike and I really and truly became friends….best friends really. We went on vacations together with our spouses. We went to rock concerts together, baseball games, family picnics. Mike became the Godfather of my daughter Kate. Years later I was Mike’s best man as he married Patrice. Then he was my best man as I married Denise. He was the commissioner of our yearly fantasy football leagues, and obtained an official NFL football that served as the trophy for the winner. I was the first one to win it and he had me sign it and pass it on the the next years’ winner. That tradition continued for several years. There are so many good memories I fall back on whenever I feel that sadness come over me.
Even at the end, Mike was an astonishingly courageous and re-assuring presence for me and my family. I have never known anyone with such courage and determination, as he faced the extremely difficult reality of what he knew was going to happen.
I think for me, the thing that is really missing, even stolen, from my life is what you might call a ‘state of mind’. It is that knowledge in the back of my mind that no matter what problem or question or mystery or solution I have or need, I just have to call up Tike and see what he thinks. I know he’ll have something I can use. I experienced this feeling and the loss of that state of mind on the day that Mike passed away. I was on my way to his house, travelling a route I knew by heart from continually driving back and forth to his house during his two-plus years of life after surgery. I made a wrong turn by mistake and promptly got lost and not sure how to get back on the main road. After some initial panic, I thought..don’t worry…just call up Tike…he knows this area up and down and back and forth. But Mike could no longer help me. So I remembered something he told me and just calmed down and found my way. (Tike and Mom)
So today, I CELEBRATE you Tike. Happy Birthday in heaven. I love and miss you. We all do.
Rest in peace Big Brother, Best Friend