I remember the first time I met Michael McKeown. I was newly on staff at Sanctuary where part of my role was to be developing a system of structure and accountability known as “contracts” with a small number of people. Greg Paul believed there was a certain person who would be a good first fit and so arranged for us to be introduced. That person was Michael. He shook my hand, poured out some of his story, promised to take me on a adventure and then gave me a hug. He lived up to his promise.
Michael died today. He knew that death was coming close because of cancer and Hep C, things he fought for as long as he could. I don’t know that I’ve known anyone else who embraced the process of dying the way Michael did. In many ways he died the way he lived: with honesty, passion and courage marked with deep pain and longing.
Michael was the first person to sign the guest book at our housewarming party in 2001. He was also the first person to call the hospital after Cate arrived. Michael was a deeply emotional guy most days- that day he couldn’t stop crying as he heard me describe my daughter. I have a stash of presents that he gave me over the years, all signed with his name. There are so many memories similar to these that are percolating up today.
There are difficult memories too. Michael was very open about his demons and how they impacted his life. He struggled with sobriety.I recall desperately difficult conversations with him where I felt entirely over my head and powerless. I watched him put his fists through drywall out of anger. At the end of the day Michael would routinely confess and seek forgiveness in a way that took my breath away. He would publicly wail for God to heal him. His faith was raw and real and regularly contributed to mine becoming more so.
Over the last number of years I didn’t get to see Michael as much as I once did. This was more my fault than his. Whenever we were able to visit it felt like no time had passed. Our last few conversations centred around his desire to be free from pain and full of joy. Today, while the sadness settles in, so does the belief that Michael is finally both those things. Mike- rest in beautiful peace. May all those who knew and loved him find comfort.