Michael Donnelly died in the summer of 2022 after an epic fight with cancer. This wasn’t a fight he could have ever won in the end, but he endured such an incredible pounding, struck out with such energetic vigor for such a long time, that he had completely convinced our hearts that there would always be another round, that he might get knocked down, but he would just stand back up again and commence swinging. After all, while Death rigged this game from the beginning, our father’s moves have become bigger than legend. Dying wasn’t even new to him.
Last November, Dad’s heart stopped for multiple minutes while he was on an operating table in Michigan. He was left in a coma, lying in a bed with a ventilator, cruelly kept isolated from absolutely everyone who loves him–everyone except his wife who is also no shrinking violet and thus simply refused to be denied his bedside–because of some bureaucrat’s fears about Covid. However, Ohio State was set to play the Wolverines in the Big House in Ann Arbor, so our inert father decided to wake up that morning, pull the ventilator out of his own throat, as if these actions were normal, and watch the television as Jim Harbaugh delivered what we call “the miracle game.”
Now if you google “Michael Donnelly”, you will find the profiles of all sorts of people pop up. There are scientists, professors, Navy Seals, an ultimate frisbee enthusiast, statisticians, soldiers, writers, a rear admiral, men in sales, a politician, doctors, athletes, a priest, people from every walk of life. And this is strangely suiting because our Michael Donnelly was the type of man who did so many things in his very full decades on this planet that any description of his various endeavors would seem to belong to more than one person.
In true Irish fashion, he was a master at capitalizing on the smallest seeds of real experience to grow whole dreamscapes that were not bounded by mortal concerns like time or space. The thing is that this was a giant gift of his: an ability to see the endless possibilities and make everyone believe in the pots of gold at the end of those beautiful rainbows that stretched across the realities he created with his own mind. He was the eternal optimist.
While he did not want a specific obituary published about him, the short and skinny summary is that he was born and raised with older brothers and sisters by parents who loved him dearly.
He ultimately married a woman he met in a summer college class and with whom he would remain forever smitten. They had many, many grand adventures together during which he kept her on her toes with his endless antics. Even when he took a wrong turn, he was easily forgiven because he could always make her laugh.
He graduated from schools where he studied what he fancied most to thrive in multiple careers that were varied, rich, and included serving his country in uniform.
He helped raise two children for whom he hung the moon. He grew to love their spouses, and then he had grandchildren who hung the moon for him.
He made many friends along the way as he never met a stranger. In fact, he was what one might call “a character,” which means even though he wasn’t perfect, he was never, ever boring. He would sometimes wake his house with his bugle!
He was generous of both spirit and pocket, and he was quick to offer others his staunch opinions, whether or not they were actually wanted. The good of this is that one always knew where this Donnelly stood.
He was calmest when in a boat on even a turbulent ocean. He relished good food and good cigars, which often went together on a back porch where he searched the woods for deer that he had lost the desire to hunt.
He was constantly singing to himself and to others, creating a soft soundtrack that followed him along golf courses.
He was most happy when in a box seat watching his beloved University of Michigan football team or with a dog at his feet as he told stories to company in his living room.
He was like a kid at Christmastime creating scavenger hunts for Santa’s gifts.
He appreciated all things of great beauty like art and literature and sunsets, though he would say none of these could ever eclipse the exquisiteness of his wife.
We cannot express how much smaller the world has become in these last days in which we’ve had to start to come to terms with the fact that he has left us.
However, we were taught by him to keep the faith, so we also know despite the deep absence we feel in the here and now, our Michael Donnelly actually does defeat Death in the true end of this story, which is really—as he knew–just another beginning. God is bigger than cancer, after all. And it was His voice that really called His son home to rest. Otherwise, he simply would not have gone.
Until it is time for us to join him again, we promise we will strive to live our own lives with as much zest and appreciation and sheer Moxy as the man so many different people called husband, father, father-in-law, brother, uncle, cousin, son, and friend. You know who you are.