July 23 – “Pat, Mike is Dead”

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

I heard these words uttered by Michael’s father, May 3, 2009. My chest imploded as though someone had just thrown a brick at it. His Dad found him sitting in his lounge chair, remote in hand and “Leah”, his cat on his lap. Mike had not shown up for breakfast that morning with his father and stepmother since a recent move to South Carolina.

Chronic pain had plagued him for years. Surgery was unsuccessful in relieving this pain. Workmen’s Compensation became a nightmare to obtain which only increased emotional pain and angst. He became addicted to his pain medications.

The move to South Carolina was one last effort to begin anew. His marriage had ended in a mutual divorce as the never-ending pain was more than the marriage could endure. He withdrew from all medications and any other substances that he may have been using.

Christmas 2008 he spent a week with me and his friends. Michael was “back” again. Vibrant, energetic and hopeful about a new beginning in spite of chronic pain that was being managed with less addictive medications.

Michael came into the world 2 months before he was due. Weighing in at 4 lbs. 4 oz. Amazingly, he not only survived, but he thrived. His second grade teacher told me he was college material. On his 6th birthday he came to the breakfast table with a book crying, “Mommy, I can’t read yet.” I suppose I had told him that he would learn to read when he was age 6.

Michael excelled at any task he chose to pursue. But…drums became his passion. However, the dream of “making it” never materialized. Enlistment in the army where he became an MP eventually led to police work in civilian life. The murder of a close friend contributed to this career choice.

He tried to make sense of life in the midst of senselessness that abounded in the world around him. Zen Buddhism brought him the peace he was seeking. He asked me to spread his ashes at a Zendo he attended in the Catskills of New York if he ever died before I did. This wish was carried out August 8, 2009 when the O BON is held annually for deceased loved ones.

A week prior to Michael’s death I spotted an owl on a wooded lot where I lived at the time. An owl had never appeared in the front of the house prior or did it after his death. I learned that in the Native American tradition the owl is the “angel of death.” In Michael’s personal effects I discovered his astrological chart from Native American tradition. His totem was an owl. I knew at the time the sighting was significant. Was it ever!

I miss him! I am relieved that he is free of pain. I miss him! Mike, I want to hear you say, “Hi, Mom!”

Patricia Roop Hollinger is a retired Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor/Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor after practicing 23 years in an inpatient and outpatient hospital setting. She is becoming a freelance writer. She married her high school heart-throb October 2010. They enjoy life in a Retirement community setting.

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2 responses to “July 23 – “Pat, Mike is Dead”

  1. This is a beautiful tribute to your son. I share that same loss…how wonderful the owl came. My son came on the breath of a song in my head…

  2. I’m so sorry you lost your son. What a moving tribute!
    I wish you and your family peace.

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