A long time before the ice bucket challenge, there was a very lovely man named Mike.


So I’m off Facebook for 99 days in a vain attempt to stop wasting time looking at Buzzfeed links for 2 hours a day, but while i’ve been off it a very lovely and positive trend has taken hold: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I’m still on Twitter, so I’m fully aware of how many videos are circulating of people chucking buckets, bowls and pots of freezing water over their heads, and while in some ways I understand the criticism of water wastage or calls of attention seeking, I am also deeply heartened to see the empathy that is being displayed by those who partake.
For me, the whole thing recalls a very lovely and equally sad memory of a wonderful man called Mike whom I’d like to tell you about.
When I was growing up in Cork, I wanted to be three things: The Little Mermaid, Indiana Jones, and a glamorous Hollywood lady. None of these roles had any immediate connection to Cork. The closest you’d get to the Little Mermaid was probably a good fish supper from Jackie Lennox’s chip shop.
But when I was about 6, I became aware of friends of my parents who were exceptionally glamorous and charming and just very exciting. They had a beautiful house decorated to perfection with trinkets from places they had travelled to all over the world. The wife of the couple had beautiful blonde hair and a wit so sharp you could have carved ice with it. Mike, the husband, was handsome and and kind and both of them represented an ideal of a loving and adventurous couple that was rare in those parts. They were like the Bogey and Bacall of Ballyphehane.
They lived around the corner from our house, near the park, and Mum and I would drop in on occasion on the way back from school. They always had Fanta or an equally thrilling fizzy drink. To a child in Cork in the ’80s, this was the equivalent of somebody opening their back door to show you a magical path that led to Disneyland.
I remember when all of a sudden things changed and our visits to the house were only with Mike’s wife. I didn’t understand, and was very upset as I couldn’t imagine that he would have gone on an adventure without his lady. Months in to this confusion, my Mum sat me down and explained that Mike had Motor Neurone Disease, or ALS as it’s now more commonly known. Everyone was floored by this. It wasn’t cancer or heart disease or anything that we could curse with familiarity. It was unknown and terrifying.
Mum brought me to say goodbye to Mike a few months before he got properly sick, but he had already lost his speech and many motor functions and was wrapped in a foil sheet to keep his temperature up. We spoke to him and sensed that he was very happy to see us, and as always he was joyful in the company of his wife.
Mike passed away some months later. At the time it was awful; a mystery disease that stealthily robbed people of their voice and autonomy. We know much more now, and although that does not lessen the effects of the disease, I would imagine it makes it a hell of a lot easier for the families of those suffering it.
So to Mike and his wonderful wife and family, to the families of those affected currently and to all of my wonderful friends who have doused themselves in icy water, I raise a toast and offer a donation to the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association: http://imnda.ie


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