Lisa Sturt's speech from celebration

Max with Lisa, his teacher, at our home on Christmas morning 2007

By Lisa Sturt
September 6, 2008 -- 11 months and 1 day ago, I stood before an audience about this size on behalf of Max. We were thanking and celebrating the school community for their amazing generosity and support for Max and Magic Water. It was truly my proudest moment.

And now I find myself in a very similar situation, except it is my hardest moment. And that dichotomy is what I learned from Max. On one hand, you have all the pain and grief of cancer. And on the other Max’s vibrancy, joy, his smile, and zest for life. Max taught me you cannot know the fullness of love without knowing the depths of sorrow.

From the very first, it was like that. After Max and the other kids came to meet me at Mini Open House before the school year started, I cried all the way home bemoaning that he was stricken with such a horrible disease. I tried to pull myself together before I went into the house. My husband greeted me with what was to become our new greeting -- did Max come to school today? I immediately burst into tears and said, “Yes, and I already love him.” However, I said one other thing that I never shared with Andy and Melissa: that Max was going to break my heart. But as it broke, it somehow was also made fuller by Max.

I think most people had a similar reaction to Max. Everyone immediately fell in love with him. And how could one not? He was light and goodness and joy… an angel in our midst.

My favorite Angel Max story occurred during lunch in the nurse’s office. Max was there hooked up to his g-tube when a little girl limped in, crying, with two skinned knees. Max, the one with cancer undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, went over to her, put his arms around her and hugged her tears away. Of course the stickers he shared with her helped, too.

But that was Max. He was friends with everyone whether he knew their name or not. He never differentiated between children, he welcomed them all and shared his smiles and kindness.

Max’s friend, Luke, once said Max makes school “funner.” And he did. His enthusiasm and smile were infectious. And of course Max had his own special way of doing things. If asked to do something, he’d respond, “Aye, aye Captain!” And when done, he’d blurt out, “Whew!” in his little high pitched voice. Then say, “III’mmm finished!” He never read the word fish as fish; it was always fishy. The word big wouldn’t be written like other words… it was written BIG and bold. And he was always drawing, usually fishy scenes, or battles, or airplanes or Star Wars.
I will miss so many things about Max: how he never just said no or yes, but instead no, no, no or yes, yes, yes. How he would hold my hands when he was upset, how he’d steal my chair in reading groups but then make up for it by snuggling up against me. And then I’d pray for him…imagining the cancer leaving his body and coming to mine.

I will miss being wrapped like a mummy with paper towels in the nurse’s office during lunch. I will miss pushing him down the halls making fighter jet noises and pointing out enemy aircraft only to be told that we’re a race car and not a plane. And I will miss being asked, “Whad you say?” and being pushed from behind and told to be the “teacher duck.” I will miss watching Max and Hannah running up to each other on the playground and hugging tight. I will miss his strength, his resiliency, his courage. The qualities of a hero.

Many have said Max was a hero. But I think he learned that by example. Andy and Melissa, by your example. Every day, every hour, every moment, you made heroic efforts to not only save Max but perhaps, more importantly, to give him a life full of wonder and adventures. A rich life apart from cancer. You never failed, you never overprotected, you never coddled. You let Max be Max. You allowed him all the joys of childhood in the midst of your pain. Your strength, your spirit, your courage fueled Max’s own. YOU are my heroes. I am forever indebted to you for sharing your precious son with me and your lives -- allowing me to be a part of so many of Max’s lasts. And Max gave me a last, too.

On our second to last day of school, I was out at recess with him in case he needed help. I had gone and sat a little distance away while he played with friends. He came over to me, sat down, and then snuggled up.

I knew in my heart that it would probably be the last snuggle with him, and I thanked God for it then and there. Then I struggled with do I tell Max I love him? After all, he was just a six year old boy and professions of love from your teacher are not necessarily a routine part of the school day. But I decided to do it! And just as I started to speak, he got up and went back to play with his friends.

Just as it should have been. For Max at his heart was just a regular albeit special and angelic boy. He was not cancer. Cancer was not him.

And as he broke my heart, he also made it stronger and more capable of loving. And while I have one foot in the depths of sorrow, the other foot is planted on the peaks of joy for when I think of Max, I will imagine him as Val, Andy’s friend, described:
A light saber in one hand and a blue popsicle in the other.


Anonymous said...

I am trying to type as the tears pour down my face...what a beautiful speech. All I can say is that I believe you were all brought together for a reason. Max was surrounded by incredibly amazing, strong, courageous, brave, heroic and special people...his family, his teacher, his friends...you are all heroes. Max was your hero and you were all his heroes. Thank God, that out of all the people and places in the world that you were all brought together to be a part of each other's lives and share Max's life. Everytime I read the updates here, I am inspired and amazed by all of you, and I continue to pray that somehow and some way, that you are able to find peace and happiness in your lives again. I just wish I could "make it all better." It must be so hard to live without Max there everyday, but fortunately, for all of you, you had some very special years and moments with Max that you will truly treasure forever...he was such a blessing. Those of us who didn't know him are the ones who really missed out.

Anonymous said...

Max was sure blessed with an amazing teacher. It sounds like Max's life was a real life tale of super-heros. Will we ever truly know how many people are living life to the Max as a result of your willingness to share your story. Go Max!!

Shannon B. said...

I loved hearing Lisa read this at Max's celebration. She captured Max so well because she knew and loved him so much. Max was so lucky to have her as a teacher and friend. I will include this speech (more like a wonderful story) in his 'celebration scrapbook.' love you all, Shannon

Anonymous said...

So touching to read this....it's awesome you forged such a close relationship with Max's teacher, mostly out of cirumstances at first, but I could tell the bond is very real and deep. It makes me happy to know that Max's days at school were filled with such a loving presence.


Anonymous said...

Your words touch me once again, Lisa. I'm still missing Max, too, and Luke still thinks the world would be a lot "funner" with his buddy around. He has left us all with a hole in our hearts, but as you said those hearts, while changed, are the better for knowing such an amazing little guy.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to an amazing kid (and his parents). Thank you for sharing with everyone. - Carrie & Jeff Palmer

Anonymous said...

Andy and Melissa,

I am so glad that you have decided to post Lisa's speech on the blog.

Lisa, as I sat and listened to you speak at Max's Celebration of Life, I was so moved. Now, when I am called to feel that closeness once again to Max and the Mikulak family (which is still daily, and often hourly for me), I will be able to read your gentle words.

Max has brought us all closer together. That's a pretty awesome task for such a little man.

With love,

Hans Weberling said...

I'm not having mashed potatoes but tears in my breakfast. That was so beautiful!


Post a Comment