Sunday, April 26, 2015

Remembering Mikael Part 2

April 26, 2015, Sunday

To honour the memory of Mikael, at his funeral, we requested our friends that, in lieu of flowers, they might consider donating money to the Artspace on the third floor of the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church.

The Artspace would be dedicated to the memory of our son. We were pleased that close to $9000 was received to transform the Artspace into a multipurpose art gallery that hosts performances, visual art exhibits, language arts, and also serves as an intimate place of worship.

The dedication evening on June 24, 2011 was well attended by friends. A metallic plague with Mikael's own words embossed on it was affixed on one of the pillars of the room.

Nathan opened the dedication with his band. Mons played a song on the keyboard, I read two poems I wrote about our loss, and Debbie spoke.  The rest of the evening was a cordial visit among friends.

I put together a collection of Mikael's photography and two of my paintings on Mikael's home-going at a corner for visitors to see. It was a great evening that celebrated Mikael's robust and productive life on this side of eternity.

In December 2010, a few short weeks after
Mikael's passing, we planted a 12-year-old
oak tree at Assiniboine Park at a spot at an elbow of the river where Mikael frequented with his kayaking and biking.

An oak is a slow growing tree. Being a 12-year-old, it looked small and scrawny, though the Park really
took great care of it by tubing the bottom of the tree
and placing a protective fence around it.

The tree thrived for four springs and summers until an absolutely senseless act of vandalism killed it. It broke my heart. It was a memorial of our son, and it's gone.

The Park Forester is a very nice young man. He appreciates the significance of the tree in our hearts. He promises to replant another tree, may not be an oak,  in its place.

On Mikael's headstone where his ashes are buried, at Mons' creative suggestion, the latitude and longitude of the tree at the park was engraved so
one may easily find the tree with the use of these
coordinates:       49.873960 - 97.244460


The words on the plague at Artspace read as follows:

Funds Donated in Loving Memory of 

Mikael Vincent Tien-Doe Chan
 1984 - 2009

Composer, singer, oboist, photographer,
writer, adventurer, lover of the down-and-out
and a faithful servant of God.

"A life full of friendships and close relations
 a life full of love, a life full of music,
a life full of adventure and activity, 
a life full of contemplation and spirituality."
                                                   Mikael Chan

Another "coincidence" happened when a teacher of ours, Tara Brown, was carrying twins last fall. Unfortunately, there was serious biological complications with regards to to the embryonic development of the twins. After an emergency procedure in a Toronto hospital, the concern lingered.

Premature birth contractions necessitated a C-section delivery of the twin boys at St. Boniface Hospital. Breaking the parents' hearts, one twin, Lukas, did not make it. The second twin boy, though not out of the woods yet due to a severe intestinal infection, is hanging on for dear life like a warrior. He is named Makale, and I suspect that Tara might have name him after our Mikael.

I do not know.  But, I shall inquire in due course when Makale grow sup to be a healthy, strong, and intelligent boy.

Bless Tara's heart, to honour me and our grandson about whom I bragged abundantly, she and her class of Grade 3 students created a picture book based on the lovely lyrics of Louis Armstrong's famous "What a Wonderful World". The students painted the pictures, and Tara sent it to a printer in the U.S.A. to be printed and bound as an early childhood board book dedicated to Atticus, our grandson.

Tara, I am so moved and grateful!!!



Saturday, April 25, 2015

Remembering Mikael

April 25, 2015, Saturday

It has been practically over five years when I last posted on this blog since Mikael passed away on November 10, 2009.

I have not been able to do anything that reminds me of life with my son. Almost six years have gone by, I find that time does not heal any wounds; it simply provides me with different perspective with which to live.

There have been many significant life events that memorialize Mikael in the past near-six years.

A new baby boy was born to Mikael's good friends, Matt and Rebecca Van Otterloo, who attended the same home church as Kael. It was Matt and Rebecca who urged Mikael to go to the hospital for a check-up after an accident on his bike with a city bus. Mikael played his oboe to a hauntingly beautiful tune, "Gabriel's Oboe"  from the movie, "The Mission".

I did not know the Otterloos at that time. But, God, as usual, works in mysterious ways.

As I was leaving the hospital after having visited a friend, a young nurse came out of her nurse station and stopped me, "Are you Mikael's Dad?" I remembered the joy that swelled in my heart when I replied, "Yes. I am... You knew Mikael?" The rest is history. Matt and Rebecca came to visit us several times, the last of which, they brought along with them their new-born son whose middle name is selected to honour Mikael, Isaiah Mikael Van Otterloo.

Our Father God is a loving God to all of us, including an undeserving sinner like me, particularly and specifically to an undeserving sinner like me. He knows how broken I am at my deep loss. He gave us another boy to lift me up in my misery.

On February 16, 2014, our youngest son, Konrad, his wife and we celebrated the birth of our first grandchild, Atticus Leif Tsz Lim Chan. I know this graceful gift from God is not to fill the huge hole in my heart, but to lift me out of it to receive other gifts of grace God has provided for me in my life.

Debbie and I were over-joyed to have our first grandson. I was successful in making a special request of my employer to allow an extension to my Spring Break. Debbie and I flew to Hong Kong to welcome this new-born grandChan into our family. Atty, by which he is known, is a joyous blessing in our lives.

Though we are oceans apart, Konrad, Bena, and Atty came home for Christmas, along with Mons, Ming, and Erik. This past Christmas was a jubilant family reunion since Konrad and Bena's wedding five-and-a-half years ago in Vancouver.

I decided to retire at Christmas, 2014. Thus, the past Christmas we celebrated our family reunion, Atty's birth, Debbie and my 41st Anniversary, and my retirement from a fruitful and wonderful career for the past 41 years as an educator.

Both the students and staff gave me two heart-warming farewells. I felt that God has called me to take care of the young, and I left at the highest note in my calling.

Mikael would be proud to be at my retirement parties!

Now that I have learned to couch-potato for the past 4 months, I figure I must take care of my most unfit self festered by an inexcusable and sedentary lifestyle. I decided to dust off Mikael's awesome bike in the basement and take on a new activity.

Having spent nearly $200 to have the bike tuned up, I was ready to take it for a test-ride. Lo and behold! I fell down each of the three times, the last one hurt my left shoulder and bruised my ribs. I am still limping after a visit to my doctor's office, an X-Ray at a lab, and a sound chiding from my physiotherapist.

Oh well! I live to tell more stories. This is just a sequel to the "Misadventures of Mikael Chan", Mikael's own blog that lightheartedly story-tell his misadventures in life... and he had many, being the extreme adventurer that he was.

A Father's Grief Observed

A Father’s Grief Observed
Thomas V. Chan

Today is a particularly dreary and windy Sunday in April.

Listening to the hauntingly beautiful music our eldest son composed while driving home from an awesome worship service in which our God is exhorted as the risen Lord who wants to come in and reconstruct our broken lives - mine, in particular - I felt led to reconnect in a tangible way with our 25-year-old son, Mikael, who took his life two-and-a-half years ago. I drove to the park where an oak tree was planted in honour of his memory and then the plot where his ashes are buried.

The oak tree still looks bare, scrawny, and dead as if it has not grown an inch since we planted it soon after Mikael died. I immediately drew a parallel between that young, slow-growing oak and the enormity of my grief which continues to be raw, fresh, young-in-age, and hopelessly pitifully.

Since our tragic loss, there has not been a day when I stopped thinking about our son and lamenting his untimely death. Since the day Mikael left this world, the sun hasn’t shone for me. I have lost my joy and passion in most things I once enjoyed. I merely exist in a monochromatic sepia world drained of all living colour. I find the present difficult to bear and fear what other pain the future might bring. I am changed. I am no longer who I was. This persistent self-diagnosis frightens me.

I had a close relationship with Mikael, as I do with our other three sons, but, Mikael tugged at my heart in a special way. Debbie, my wife, and I became shockingly aware of the severity of Mikael’s mental illness after his first failed attempt at his own life a year before. He was admitted into a psych ward for several weeks while we made arrangements to move him back home with us upon release from hospital.

During the months before his death, Mikael and I did many things together. We went on a canoe and hiking trip in Whiteshell Provincial Park. On school days, I offered him rides to the university before going to work. We talked. He confided in me about his spiritual struggle as he walked through “the dark night of his soul”. I encouraged him to take life’s struggle one day at a time. On hot summer days, our neighbours would see the pair of us sitting on the front lawn, reading and enjoying a cold drink between us.

The slide shows in my mind remain as precious memories of my son, whom I miss so desperately each day. These happy remembrances, ironically, grieve me deeply, but not as deeply as a life-time of regret that I chose to pour my time, attention, and energy, during the children’s formative years, into my work, instead of into my family.

Yes. Many regrets! Yet many happy memories!

I wonder if my life, at its conclusion, will be reduced to unzipped mental images, many of which are fading fast in fidelity, colour, and pixels.

My wrestle with God as to why Mikael died continues daily. My wrestling and hoarse-sounding laments are, ultimately, my own deep-seated struggle with my own faith in a loving Father-Creator-Redeemer-God.

One day shortly after Mikael’s passing, I persisted with my daily questioning of God: “Lord, where is my son?”  To which both God and Mikael responded in unequivocal black-and-white as I read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 where Paul shares his belief about those who die in the Lord. I was reading from Mikael’s Bible, and in his inimitable tiny hand-writing, Mikael wrote beside the verses in the margin: “The dead will precede the living in getting to heaven.”

Cool!  Very cool!

As I read and re-read the laments I have written about our son, I noticed the tentative rising of a  resounding hope out of the ashes in a particular one.

                                    In the midst of my loss
                                    Unimaginable pain
                                    Unfathomable grief
                                    I behold your radiant countenance
                                    Smiling broadly into His.

                                    I smile and shudder
To ever doubt that
                                    His grace is more than enough
For here, now, and eternity.

Is that not sufficient for me for now in this pilgrim’s progress?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dirge of the Heart

As my self-prescribed therapy, I write to my son, Mikael, a letter every other day or so... sometimes, daily, "telling" him what's up in my life and how I feel from day to day. So far, I have quite a fat folder of "Dear Mikael" letters. Besides writing to Mikael, I also, when led, spill out my wailing heart on paper in the form of, sort of, poetry, at which a true poet may grimace.

This post entry, entitled "Dirge of the Heart" is a collection of my visceral expressions through my silent voice coming directly from the rawness of my broken heart. The sentiments expressed in my poetry is essentially an important part of me. All I am asking you, the readers, is to pray for me, Debbie, Mons, Erik, and Konrad, for our healing and a brighter future in our lives gifted to us by our Heavenly Papa. Thank you.

The Remains of Our Lives

Elongated shadows cast by the trees
Against the late-afternoon sun
Always tug at my heart in
Non-descript terms, merciless ways.

In this melancholic twilight of life,
I am neither joyous, fulfilled,
Downcast, nor sorrowful.
I just am… falling, grieving, restlessly pining.

Treasuring memories of hearty living
At the remains of our lives
Where he chose one fork of the road leading to the other side,
And I, mine, remaining here to reminisce and cry.

Tom Chan
November 19, 2009
Mourning Mikael’s passing

Christmas Crafts Show

Folks milling about
Shopping for
Pieces of their lives
In this jubilant Yuletide
Artisans' carnival,
Wishing surrealistically
You were here and
Be part of the show
As you always were,
While, in fact, I sit here
Among the throng
Hurting from
Your untimely passing.

Tom Chan
At the loss of his son, Mikael
November 28, 2009

Season of Discontent

Nine o’clock on a Sunday morning
When the sun battles in vain
To dissipate the shroud of gloom
Vacuum-packed tightly around my heart.

Thick amputated limbs of the widow’s tree next door,
Laden with over-night snow, reach over my window,
Beckoning me to consider our common fate
In this season of discontent.

I am neither living nor dying.
I go through restless living-like motions
In dying-like lonely hollowness,
Too fearful to hear the occasional echoes
Of my weakened tell-tale heart.

Tom Chan
Missing Mikael
December 06, 2009

Tears are not Enough

Tears are not enough
Comforting words sound hollow
Promises of tomorrow fall short
Restless anguish fails to
Bring back a lifetime of
Relationship between father and son.

In the midst of my loss
Unimaginable pain
Unfathomable grief
I behold your radiant countenance
Smiling broadly into His.

I smile and shudder
To ever doubt that
His grace is more than enough
For here, now, and eternity.

Tom Chan
Missing Mikael
December 11, 2009


With dark yarn our life is cross-stitched
At the loss of our precious son
Who valiantly fought his demons
In a never-ending tunnel of darkness.

The Great Sadness descended
Freeze-wrapping my life from
Any hint of living and joy
In my solitary stumble through the dark night.

Zooming across the miles, we, the survivors,
Make desperate attempts to catch rays of the sun
Beams of the moon, sparkles of the stars
To weave our tapestry with heavenly colours
In celebrating the nuptial of one son
And sorrow’s end of another.

Tom Chan
December 23, 2009

Past Tense

Life lived in past tense
With was, did, and had been
Since you left.
Never-again haunts me
Since the Great Sadness descended.

My life on earth
Is in sepia black-and-white
Bled of living colours
Hollow of simple joy;
A dirge poorly sung
Out of tune and out of time.

Tom Chan
Mourning my son’s death
January 03, 2010

The Presence of Your Absence

Like a galloping nightmare
The presence of your absence
Haunts me
With muffled screams
Of pain and despair.

I cry out
Each waking moment of living
Wishing to be carried away
By the slumber of not-living
To where you are
In the presence of Eternal Goodness
In the absence of earthly sorrow.

Tom Chan
March 01, 2010
In missing my son

Spring Thaw

April is the cruellest month
When the red-and-white kayak
Crafted to glide fluidly on
The Assiniboine and the Red
Sits land-mired, tarped and held down
On a pair of saw-horses
In our side-yard.

Spring thaws
My broken-winged flight
Frozen in mid-life
As I prepare for my landing.
Will there be somebody
To catch me when I crash?

Tom Chan
Mourning my son, Mikael
March 22, 2010

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dark Night of the Soul

It was a year or so ago when I and Mikael spoke about the "Dark Night of the Soul", a wintry season in life that St. John of the Cross phrased. I encouraged my son to keep trudging through the deep snow and march on with the strength and courage God provides.

Now that Mikael is gone, I find myself wandering sightlessly, aimlessly, and restlessly through the anguish of my dark night.

I am overcome by the "Great Sadness" as so aptly described in William P. Young's acclaimed fiction of redemption, healing, and forgiveness, The Shack.

God, when will I be whole again? Or, will I ever?

Jesus, You are the Light of the world. Come and provide me with a glimpse of your hope, please.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Continuing Misadventures of Mikael Chan's Family

The day before Remembrance Day, our third son, Mikael, 25, took his own life. He had been suffering from deep depression for at least over two years.

Now, Mikael is safely in the arms of his Heavenly Father, free from pain and unhappiness.

We have been surrounded by so many people who love us and mourn along with us for the past week.

Mikael had a blog that documented his life's many adventures, most of which were misadventures, as he put it.

Read Mikael's "misadventure" blog at

Now that Mikael is gone, his family seems to carry on his misadventurous tradition.

The upstairs toilet conduit sprang a leak. Water fell from the ceiling of the living room where family members and guests sit, visit, and mourn.

I called my friend, Chris, to come and help. Bless his brotherly heart and mechanical savvy, he was able to diagnosed and treat the problem for the time being. Now we have a gaping hole in the living room ceilng above where Debbie usually sits.

Yesterday, the entire family went to see Dr. Gordon, Mikael's psychiatrist for a de-briefing session.

When we emerged from Dr. Gordon's downtown office on St. Mary Avenue at 4:15 p.m., we discovered, much to my great distress, that our van and Mons' car were ticketed and towed.

We called Mom and Barbie for help immediately. Mons has an evening class to attend, he called his friend for assistance as well.

In the end, we retrieved our vehicles to the tune of $134 each.

Debbie tried to help me see the hillarity of the misadventures, but failed miserably. I feel miserable.

Lord, you are telling me something. Please make it clear to a less than intelligent man as I.

I'll see what today may bring.

Letter to My Son, Mikael

November 11, 2009

Dear Mikael, my precious, dearly beloved and missed son,

I miss you so much already! My heart is broken without your earthly presence.

When I tried to resuscitate you yesterday morning, it was my last embrace and kiss for you, Mikael.

You lived a Godly life, a colourful life, a life that is full of adventures that was beyond human comprehension. What I just said is not a hyperbole; nor is it a metaphor. No one has the will power, imagination, and gumption to do the things you did so daringly well, like riding solo on your bike all the way to Sioux Ste. Marie in 12 days, jumping over tall buildings, kayaking in the Assiniboine in April just after ice-break-up, driving all the way to Kananaskas, Alberta to climb the foothills with your brother, Konrad, and so much more.

Quoting directly from your will, you gave me an exceptional advice on how to live when you wrote, ”A life full of friendships and close relations; a life full of love; a life full of music; a life full of adventure and activity; a life full of contemplation and spirituality. If I can achieve this, and I think I'm living life to the fullest right now, by those definitions, death is welcome at any time.”

I am so happy that you knew you had lived your life to its fullness. You certainly had attained all your goals within a brief life time. I am particularly humbled that at such a young age, you had the wisdom to discern that the things that can be counted may not count, but the things that cannot be counted, count. None of your goals in life had anything to do with fame, fortune, and success as measured by the world.

Kael, you were indeed a superman! Not a metaphor either.

Now, you’re safe and sound, happy and painless in Heaven with God, the three Guys whom you read about and we had talks on after you had finished reading The Shack.

How does God look, sound, feel, and be like? He must be so glorious and an essence of warm tingling love!

Mikael, say “hi” to God for me, and tell Him I am so sorry for all my sins that nailed Him on the cross. I want to be with God, too. But, now, I want to be with you.

Mikael, it must have been a very trying life which you lived. You must have to fight off valiantly, as you did on Saturday night, the lies of the enemy and your heavy self-doubt.

From what I see and where I stand, there IS NO DOUBT who you were and what you did. You were a young man of honour, noble spirit, gentle heart, and deep faith in a loving Triune God. All you did in your life and all you were attested to that fact.

I wish I had written this letter two days before and told you what I think you are… a masterpiece of God, His poema.

Mikael, in the past two years, we had talked and done so much together, including moving you out, and moving you back home. I will always treasure the canoe trip we had together this past August at Caddy Lake, and the trails we walked. You lived your keenest when you were in the outdoors, climbing a hill or canoeing in swift currents.

This afternoon, the Carneys came over to grieve our collective loss with us. We all agreed, one after another, about your zest for life, living to the hilt.

Heather and Sean shared with me your last good-bye e-mails to them. God! Why was I not attentive to catch you before you fell?

Kael, you were a great son, a faithful servant of God, and an inspiration to all!

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24. Your life has been positively impactful, and your death, though tragic, is a call-to-arms to follow God no matter what, as you had so faithfully done.

I love you, son, and I shall always cherish memories of you as long as I live on this earth before I join you on the other side of the Great Divide.

Much love and affection,

Your Dad on earth

Monday, September 28, 2009

Purcussive Art

I am so privileged and honoured last spring to be taught, coached, tutored, and mentored by a top-notched North American taiko drum group, indigenous to Winnipeg, Hinode Taiko, for my Annual Principal's Reading Challenge stunt-performance (alias, Tomfoolery).

For six solid weeks, twice a week, six energetic and talented young ladies coached me how to taiko-drum, the traditional Japanese way. The pupil-teacher ratio was 1:6. Who can fail to learn with that kind of learning intensity?

I had a jolly good time learning to do two songs on stage with this august group of artists in June, 2009.

I was so particularly privileged and honoured once more when they invited me this past weekend to take part in their two-day intensive taiko workshop which looked more like taiko boot camp. This time, the pupil-teacher ratio for this two-day workshop was 1:1, with six talented teachers to six "newbies".

Taiko drumming is at once aerobic and intelligently poetic. It works on all parts of one's body, particularly those non-moving parts for those who are sedentary, like me. However, it does not stop there. Taiko, as an art form, requires focus, discipline, and a big portion of intelligence to pull through. Thus, we worked, and we worked hard for eleven hours over the two-day boot camp!

I noticed a special quality about Hinode members. They are exceptionally talented, intelligent, physically fit, rhythmically magical, and oh so caring!

Not only did the group map out the weekend's lessons, they delivered them methodically, incrementally, and most caringly with tons of personal encouragement for every participant. I wish all teachers are like that, exuding the joy of teaching with unlimited stretchability in
patience and wisdom.

I am a better person by being associated with this group of artists, teachers, taiko masters, and, wonderful human beings who see gifts and talents in every person.

Thank you very much, Karleen, Margaret, Peggy, Sandi, Dana, and Zoey.

I am so honoured to dance in your shadows and drum in your echoes!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Leadership or Servanthood?

Is a true leader a servant?

Do those two concepts share identical roles and functions?

Are they synonymous?

Well, conceptually I know the answers to those questions. Practically, I yet have to prove it in my life.

When one thinks of a leader, what comes naturally to one's mind would be Sir Thomas More, Lee Iaccoca of Chrysler, John F. Kennedy, Mohandas Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, General MacArthur, John A. McDonald, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa, to name just a few.

As leaders, what they had in common were their transcendent vision, their uncommon valour, their personal charisma, and their ability to influence and mobilize the hearts and minds of people around them.

There is a marked difference between secular leadership and spiritual leadership. The latter does not lead as a landslide result of a popular vote. Rather, they lead by offering themselves sacrificially to meet a dire need, having been the first to identify that need.

Mother Theresa certainly met that criterion. So did Thomas More, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. The charisma that exuded from them was nothing more than the uncanny willingness and impeccable personal integrity with which they abandon themselves for the good of others whom they had come to love, be they friends, strangers, or foes.

A true leader leads by personal example by charging headlong into the discomfort zone first.

As one leadership credo declares:

"True leaders are not those who strive to be first; they are the ones who are first to strive.

True leaders are those who give their all for the success of the team (A leader is not a Lone Ranger!).

True leaders are first to see the need, envision the plan, and empower the team to take action in meeting those needs.

By the strength of the leader's commitment to success for all, the power of the team is thereby unleashed.

Therefore, leadership is not a trumpet call to self-importance; rather, it is an opportunity to quietly serve."

What a quaint credo sharply juxtaposing the "Me, Me, Me!" culture of the world!

But, that's what makes a person stand out head-and-shoulder above all others as a leader, not a wind-tossed follower.

Another one of those paradoxes that makes one re-think what truly counts in life.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Saying goodbyes

I do not like saying goodbyes. Not at all!

I said goodbye to my Dad at age 21, and I never saw him again.

Just last week, we said goodbye to Willow, an "adopted" daughter of the Chan Clan, who was heading out on an indeterminable journey to find herself. It was hard for me, thinking I won't likely see her again. It must have been hard for the boys.

Konrad has been home for two-days-short-of-a-week already. He took time off work to come by Greyhound bus and attend his good friend, Jeremy Kroeker's wedding.

On Sunday, Konrad will be leaving for Vancouver again. Another goodbye to say. The next time we'll see Konrad will be at his wedding in Vancouver on January 2, 2010. We will likely drive through the States to his wedding. And, I'll be flying back the day after the wedding as school will start the day-after.

Bill is not doing well. His cancer has invaded all parts of his body. His vital organs are beginning to shut down. He has been incoherent for two weeks now at palliative care at St. Boniface Hospital. I visit him almost everyday. I read him appropriate passages from the Scriptures, hold his had, and pray for him.

Pat is in a state of surreal being fed by pure adrenaline. She is exhausted and is just be.

It would be a matter of days before saying goodbye to Bill. Except, this is more than an earthly goodbye. This is a farewell... a bon voyage on his way home where his Heavenly Father is eagerly waiting to embrace Bill with His open arms.

The glory of God said to His apostle John about life after death about this "New Reality":

"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:3b-4

God promises to be with Bill as spoken by His Word.

Amen and Amen again.

Oh! What comfort, and what joy!

Yes, "goodbye" in earthly terms, but, "welcome home" in heavenly chorus.

Still, I do not like saying goodbyes.