Who Was Michael?
Due to the circumstances of and the extensive media coverage surrounding Michael’s death; our fear as his family is that Michael will forever be known as “the naked man” who was shot and killed by police in Ajax, or that his character will be unfairly judged based on a 25 minute snippet of a wonderful, beautiful, honourable life.
It is quite possible that some people have already made assumptions (be they sympathetic, indifferent, or insensitive) as to the man Michael was. Some may even feel they have an idea as to the kind of person he was or was not.
Be that as it may, we have been given an opportunity - through the website - to communicate to people WHO he was - the man we all loved, protected and still grieve today. So here is a glimpse into the 47 years of his life.
His name is Michael Gerard MacIsaac & he
grew up the only boy – with 5 sisters - in a
very large, modest, Irish Catholic family in
Newfoundland; A family where love and laughter
were always prevalent. Where our appreciation
for each other was clearly and frequently
expressed …. And where Michael never missed
an opportunity to hug his family members or
tell them how much he loved them.
Michael was a small, scrawny little boy who
at the age of 8 while in grade 3 became the target for some older, delinquent boys at school. One day, the bullying became very physical and Michael ended up hitting his head as he fell to the ground causing him to be knocked on conscious. After being unresponsive for almost an hour, and now cradled in the safety of his mother’s arms on route to hospital, he finally started to come to …. Vomiting while still minutes away from the nearest doctor.
Although he would spend the night at hospital – he would be sent home the next day with no direction, caution or anything to monitor … I guess 40 year ago concussions were not taken as seriously as they are today.
Life quickly went back to normal for us; that is until Michael’s mid 20’s. This was about the time when he began to experience pins and needles down the left side of his body – over the course of the next 2 – 3 years his symptoms would change and grow to include grand mal seizures.
During this terrifying time there were many 911 calls, prayers, tears and Dr. visits across the entire island. Eventually, Michael ended up in St. Johns with his two youngest sisters by his side and was ultimately diagnosed with “epilepsy”. Epilepsy caused from scar tissue that had built up in the area of the concussion he had experienced many years before – the residual result of child hood bullies.
From the point of this diagnosis Michael’s life forever changed – he struggled - not only with the fear of what these now more and more common seizures were doing to him physically – as there were times when he would fall and injure himself or when his body would be sore for days following a grand mal seizure - but with how others would now perceive him, he was embarrassed and avoided the word “epilepsy”.
Although to us Michael was still the same person he was before being diagnosed with epilepsy - In his mind he was now somehow damaged, and his immediate coping mechanism was to swear his family to secrecy. As if NOT discussing the diagnosis would somehow make it less true. In fact, I recall one of Michael’s friends who while sitting beside him on the couch and noticing Michael shaking asked if he was alright … Michael replied, “Yea buddy I’m okay, just shakin cause I’m cold”.
Our hearts broke for him as it appeared to us that with every seizure Michael would temporarily hit rock bottom – yet he would try so hard to appear strong when he was weak, and brave when he was scared – saying too many times for us to count; “if this had to happen to someone I am glad it was me and not one of my sisters”. He was very protective of his sisters.
Obviously, Michael didn’t choose to be bullied or develop epilepsy – yet, every struggle in his life proved to shape him into the man he was. We understand that our life experiences can make us either bitter or better, and that there are times when challenges in life can harden a person or make them cynical … Not Michael - Out of his suffering emerged a strong, giving, gentle soul.
It also did nothing to change his love of life and laughter. He was a prankster and loved to tease. He had nicknames for everyone – and as our family grew with nieces and nephews and even my brother’s in law …. A pet name was always going to follow.
Michael loved to read, he always had a book with him. He was into fitness, and took care of his health … did not drink alcohol, smoke or do drugs. He was fanatical about his hair … and growing up we would tease him about spending more time in front of the bathroom mirror than any of his sisters … in fact – more time than ALL of his sisters combined!
Michael loved to eat, that is anything cooked by mom – before every family gathering and / or occasion our mother cooks …. That is what she does – she says it makes her happy - but no one enjoyed the fruits of her labours more than Michael. From her homemade bread – which he would drive from Ajax to Mississauga to get just one loaf – to his favorite, pumpkin pie – Michael never denied his gut.
Growing up faith and religion were a part of our daily lives as we would often be gathered by our mother and told to get our knees to pray the rosary together --- those lessons took with Michael and he grew to develop a very strong faith and continued as a grown man to get on his knees every night, with his rosary in hands to pray. In fact, when his wife was told that Michael had been shot – one of her first actions was to run upstairs to his night stand and grab his rosary. Which she then gave it to the Dr.s at St. Mike’s hospital so they could wrap it around his hand during his surgeries.
Simply – Michael was a good man - NOT a violent man - He loved his wife – they were happy – he called her baby but often referred to her as “my calm” …. And she loved him. They were happy – they were building their life, together. Trying for their first child – I think as the only boy himself he wanted his own little boy to carry on his family name. A name that I guess ended with Michael’s death.
Michael himself was always a big child at heart – loving the family hockey games (a little too much at times perhaps as he was very competitive), playing toys with the little ones and charades with the older ones … to playing barbies and even letting our littlest niece apply makeup to him whenever she wanted.
He (we) didn’t come from financial privilege – for all of us and for Michael – our blessing is our family. He didn’t want much in life – he didn’t have dreams of grandeur, wealth or fame – he was not always looking for more – Michael was just happy to be happy.
On December 2, 2013 – the morning of his shooting – I am sure you understand that he was NOT himself –walking around the house naked would be completely out of character for Michael. We know that he had been sick with a high fever for over 24 hours – and we can only imagine that after suffering from multiple seizures he was in the “post-ictal” phase of seizure.
We do know that on the morning of December 2, 2013, with two bullets in his body - Michael would have been cold, scared, confused - And in unbearable pain. But, Michael had learned to always get back up and this morning was no different - he fought for his life – and against insurmountable odds was able to fight – and for the next 18 hours, with his family’s continued encouragement being repeatedly whispered in his ear - Michael fought for his life.
The hardest thing we have ever had to do as a family could not even be done together as our mother and two sisters were out of the country at the time of the shooting and had not yet been able to reach Michael’s side. As the machines were turned down, and our worst nightmare started to become reality … we all – Michael’s sisters, wife, nieces, nephews and brother’s in law – stood around his bed and started to pray, with cell phones on speaker around Michael’s head so that our mother and the rest of our family could pray with us and tell Michael over and over for the 45 minutes it took for his heart to stop – just how much he was loved.
Our hearts are crushed at the loss of Michael and our family chain is eternally broken; – We are left with beautiful memories that we cannot fully enjoy as nothing seems the same – Losing a loved one in this way – it comes with a stigma – a lack of understanding – a judging – and you are forced to relive these horrible moments over and over again.
Every time you turn on the news and hear of another police involved death. The residual effect for the survivors – the family – the friends – is something that we are unable to put into words.
The pain continues still and will for as long as we all live – not only do we constantly feel the absence of Michael – who was a very present presence; but, trying to understand HOW this could happen, it is an endless, torturous cycle. It is also heartbreaking and infuriating trying to explain this to Michael’s many young nieces and nephews. In fact, while sitting together after Michael’s funeral, our youngest nephew Logan – at the vulnerable age of 11, summed it all up when he said “If Uncle Mike had been the one holding the gun, and the tables were turned – that police officer would still be alive today”.