Michael J (Mike)
I asked Mike when we saw the Quilt in Nelson a few years ago if he would like one made. His reply was his usual way of dealing with things like this – it was up to me. The decision to finally make one followed a lot of procrastination over the years and it wasn’t until after he died that it was almost forced on me by a friend. I asked his family what they thought of the idea and there was no hesitation so I set about organising what we have before us today.
The material for the main part of the Quilt was easily selected. Mike had a piece of velvet set aside for some upholstery work and there just happened to be a piece which measured up almost precisely. We added some black backing material and set about designing the rest.
Mike’s name had to be in denim, one of his favourite materials. The name was cut from a pair of his well used and faded jeans and frayed just like most of his cut-offs which he wore constantly in the garden during summer. The gold cord under the name reflects Mike’s appreciation of some of the better things he liked to have around him.
The flowers represent his love of gardening, in particular, the orchid and hibiscus. Both that he cultivated at his home are being re-established in gardens in Northland and Auckland as memorials.
The rainbow flag is one that Mike picked up on one of his trips to San Francisco and it seemed appropriate to go with the text.
The text accompanied a piece of music that we first heard in Vancouver, Canada. We were at a brass band concert called ‘Beyond the Rainbow’ and this piece came about halfway through an excellent program. It was dedicated to those who had passed on or in effect gone beyond the rainbow. It had been composed just a few years before in Texas and this was one of the few public performances. It was a very moving piece of music and as we all stood to acknowledge the performance, Mike jabbed me in the ribs and said, “You can play that at my funeral.” We did play it at his funeral but only after I’d spent months tracking down a recording in the United States and obtaining what is possibly the only copy in New Zealand.
The Quilt for Mike is handed over in acknowledgement of his struggle with HIV, his courage in the face of the pain and the courage of his family and friends to stand by him. He left us some undeniable lessons in life and some surprises in the broad spectrum of people whose lives he touched. He was basically just an ordinary person who never achieved anything earth shattering but he left us all with something. I will never forget my time with him and what he gave me. The writings that accompany the Quilt for Mike are lessons to us all. We as close family and friends have learnt from him, we would also like you to learn from him.
OTHER THOUGHTS ABOUT MIKE
He had a simple philosophy for dealing with the virus – keep everything simple. He ate what he felt like when he felt like it; slept when he wanted; worked when he wanted
He had a positive, relaxed attitude to it all and often discussed details of what he wanted should the inevitable happen
He was a middle-distance runner at school and later took on marathons
In his teens, Mike had been an avid horse rider and competed in show jumping. He was also a bit of a tearaway and several times because of his antics, fell off his horse. One such occasion broke some bones in the lower back and pelvis area and it was this that would come back to annoy him as the HIV progressed
Despite the pain, he had a great understanding of life and often debated at length on any subject with whoever would take up the challenge. Often it would be his mother and when he started to go down she noticed by his shortened conversations on the phone and the lack of debate over the latest political or social upheaval
It was not easy for his parents to watch him as the virus took more of a hold. They helped to nurse him during his last months and keep him at his home where he wanted to be. Their understanding and compassion helped a great deal
Mike was a parent himself and became a grandfather just over a month before he died
It was not usual for Mike to ask for help but this he did of an old friend when he found out what he had. They sat in a bar and over rum and cokes they made a commitment to either beat it or see it through till the end. They didn’t beat it but the friend became the lover and Mike died in his arms after almost nine years together.
from Sally, his sister-in-law:
He had a dry sense of humour and was a caring soul. I watched as he bounced my little children on his knee singing them little ditties I had never heard of.
Some things, I guess, are the same the world over – like dying
I remember how his eyes would light up and crinkle at the edges when he smiled. I remember the sound of his laughter whether he was laughing at the world or at himself
When I was pregnant with my first child I was on the phone with him one day and was struck suddenly by an urge and just blurted it out, “Boy or girl, this baby’s middle name will be yours”. And it is. My daughter’s middle name is Michael. Why I don’t know
Maybe I hoped it would instil a bit of his spirit in my child, a bit of his ability not to take life too seriously
If I have learned anything from his life it is to be yourself, speak your mind and live with the consequences. He was an interesting, wonderful, caring, unique individual
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