October 12, 2011

Laurie did such an AWESOME job at the funeral yesterday I wanted to share with all of you what she had to say…THANK YOU SO MUCH LAURIE…we love you!!

He was born Michael Paul Szczepaniak – but some of you might have called him Mike, Mikey, Buzz, Szcz, or Johnny.  To me – he was my big brother Mike and I was his little buddy.
I have been praying for the right words to express my thoughts to honor Mike.  Mike lost his life far too early and we struggle to understand this.  However, I believe that we have 2 choices – we can either focus on what we’ve lost or cherish, remember and learn from the man we were privileged to have for 50 years.  I think Mike would want us to focus on what we’ve gained rather than lost – so here it goes.

Mike was remarkable in so many ways. He lived his life to the fullest and touched so many people during his time here with us.  This was especially evident by the out pouring of love so many have shown over this past month.

Mike played many roles throughout his life.

First and foremost I see him as the family man. He loved his family profoundly. He was a devoted husband / father / son/uncle / brother. Family came first to Mike- he strove to honor, support, guide and protect his family. He was happiest when he was surrounded by his family – even during the tough times of life- especially during the tough times. His devotion to his family was the foundation of his actions – the anchor that defined and shaped his life.

Next there is Mike – the friend. He was a good friend to so many! He could be counted on and depended on always. Whether you needed simple advice, an empathetic ear, a shoulder to lean on – he was your man. I heard a story from one of Mike’s coworkers about how the simple act of taking only a few moments to truly listen- touched someone’s life in a profound way.  Mike was willing to take that time to make a difference- that was something that made him different.

One thing that I just learned about Mike over the past month is how much everyone loved his smile!  I think that is because he had such a genuine smile.  A smile that showed he truly cared about you or that he was truly having fun!  
When you saw Mike smile- you knew it was real and something he wanted to do – not something forced or fake.  

As I continue to turn the pages in Mike’s life I see the coach and referee- both on and off the field.  I can hear him saying “Easy now- simmer down Johnny” as he would try to diffuse a heated situation.  He spoke out when it really counted. He worked hard and consistently in everything he did. He led by example as he mentored his children, nephews, nieces and was an inspiration in their lives.

Many saw Mike as a very quiet shy man- but aaahhhh – those who only knew that side of him never played any kind of game with Mike.  You know how people always say “it’s the quiet ones you have to look out for”  – boy was that the truth about Mike.  No one would ever expect that sweet quiet guy – to be the little cheater in a board game or the one who non-chalantly make you the target of some practical joke very swiftly and innocently before you could even blink.  But he did- and he did it well!!

My brother Mike loved God and yearned to know more about him. His quiet faith guided his actions, words and deeds. He was a Christian man who always strove to be the best family man, co-worker, and friend that he could be. He lived a life of honor.

I am so grateful and blessed that I was able to spend time with him, Sherri, Mitch and Dustin during this last month of his life. It was during this time that I was reminded of these things that I think Mike would want us all to remember –
• Never give up – even when your circumstances look impossible.  Mike fought for his family to the very end.
• Put yourself before others.  This was Mike – until the very end – always worrying about everyone else and putting their needs and concerns above himself.  A true gentleman and a true gentle man.
• Keep smiling and take time to listen to someone each day – you never know how profound a difference that can make in someone’s life.  Mike touched quite a few hearts that way.
• Life is a team sport.  Don’t go it alone.  You need a team to help you win in life.  Work together with that team.  Mike was always asking us – What do you guys think? Even when it concerned his pain
• Live each and every day to the fullest – time goes by way to fast to do it any other way!
We all know that after meeting Jesus – Mike immediately found my dad.  How appropriate that those 2 are up there together at this very minute.  Fishing, talking about the Bears –having a cold beer and catching up on things.  I know those 2 will be building a spectacular mansion in heaven.  God might have a little competition when it comes to a house being decked out Chicago Bears paraphernalia – now that Mike and Dad are a team again!!
Mike – you fought such a good fight.  We are so proud of you.  You lived a life of honor.  You lived your life with dignity and went to eternal life with dignity.  We love you so much.  My buddy, we will not say goodbye – we will just say so-long – until we meet again!
I want to leave you with one last thing.  The day before Mike’s surgery –we were watching TV and Mike asked us to be quiet for a minute.  Al Pacino’s Inch by Inch speech from the movie Any Given Sunday was one.  I think if Mike were here he’d probably like to share some of this with you.  Imagine as if Mike were speaking to you right now  –
You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That’s, that’s part of life.
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small.
I mean
one half step too late or to early
you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast
and you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in every break of the game
every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us
to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that’s going to make the difference
between WINNING and LOSING
between LIVING and DYING.

I’ll tell you this
in any fight
it is the guy who is willing to die
who is going to win that inch.
And I know
if I am going to have any life anymore
it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is.
The six inches in front of your face.

That’s a team, gentlemen
and either we heal now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals.
That’s football guys.
That’s all it is.
Now, whattaya gonna do?

For Mike – Let’s live as a team.  As Mike would prophetically say- “Let’s do it!!”

I love you Buddy!!