We lost a big player last week when our dear pal Michael Orbany lost his battle to cancer at only nine years old. I'm still having a difficult time with his passing.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to share a few words at his funeral. I have to be honest, I've been hesitant to share them. I do not want this at all to become about me and something I said. But the response I received from the few minute speech that I shared has blown me away. It's only validation that the words must have come out right. So after a few days of fighting with myself, I decided to share because for whatever reason, these words hit people. Someone else may need to hear them.
I want to also take this time to say to all of Big Mike's fans that this wasn't just a cause that we got behind. This was an incredible kid with an incredible family. The journey is only going to get tougher now in his absence. Let us continue to wrap our faith and love around this family, maybe even more so. They're going to need it.
Coach Theo's Funeral Tribute to Michael Orbany
May 6, 2014
Good morning, I’m Coach Theo and I’ve had the distinct pleasure to get to know Michael over the last few years. I’ve had some really cool moments with him and like many of you will agree, any moment hanging out with this little guy was a BIG moment.
A little boy asked me one time, “Coach Theo, if there is a God, why would He let bad things happen to people?”
I understand his frustration and have to be honest, I share it right now. I have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that I’m standing at a 9 year old boy’s funeral. It’s not fair. I don’t get it. My mind can’t wrap around it. No parent should ever have to outlive their child. So I stand up here resentful towards cancer---the destruction it causes, the pain it brings, and the innocent childhood it just stole.
But if I keep my heart there, I’ll miss the opportunity to enjoy this service, and celebrate the life of an amazing boy---the vitality he brought to so many, and the impact that he created in just 9 short years on this earth---way more than I will ever create in an entire lifetime.
So I prayed all weekend. I changed my perspective. And it’s so bittersweet. I ache that he physically left us on this earth, but rejoice in the fact he now sits at the right hand of Jesus. My faith tells me he is in a better place, and I firmly believe that.
N.E.G.U. When I first saw this acronym I had no clue what it meant. I actually thought it just was another brand of LEGOS that I know Michael loved so much, considering that it was a caption to a picture of him at Lego land, playing with Legos. When I learned the words were NEVER EVER GIVE UP, they resonated so hard with me b/c that’s what Michael embodied. He had such endurance.
I thought I had some endurance when I ran with Michael for 4 miles in a race last spring. I pushed him in a stroller that was by no means meant for running by the way! I cringed because I knew I was giving the poor kid motion sickness, but you know he would never tell me that. Every time I stopped and said “Michael are you ok?” With his sweet little voice he answered, “yes I am.” I thought it would be my endurance that would pull us through the finish but I quickly learned that it may have been my legs that moved us through the course, but it was his spirit that pulled us. Close to the end I said, “Michael, do you want to run rocket style?” And again with that gentle soft voice---“let’s do it!”
What an incredible moment that truly changed my life. I always said I didn’t take life for granted but when I left that race, I really meant it.
How could this boy create so much impact? Thousands of people followed him and his story on Facebook and his blog. He mobilized a community. My kids from other schools knew him. I was at a speech in Akron and some guys knew who he was. He broke the walls down of a high school rivalry! St. Ignatius and St Edwards’ basketball teams came together at his head-shaving St. Baldrick’s event a few weeks ago and dropped the colors they were wearing, to join forces for the cause.
What made this kid so special was his HEART, his unending FAITH, his RELENTLESS SMILE, that he would shine brightly even at the numerous events with a mob of people who wanted his attention, he handled the draining celebrity status so well. And even when you would go up to him and put your arm around him and say “Hi Michael, how are you,” in that sweet little voice he would always respond graciously. That’s what made this boy so special. Thank you Michael for infusing your energy into all of us.
Thank you to this community for rising up when called to action. It doesn’t stop here though. Let us not leave here the same people. We have to continue to fight, and support this family and every other family out there affected by this disease. We must never ever give up, like Michael never did.
Thank you to the Orbany family for letting us into your lives and on this journey with you, and for showing us what it means to be a FAMILY. For showing us how to be strong through such adversity. For being an example to all of us.
And I want to especially say thank you to Matt. At a young age when you need attention and support through tough teenage years you were the BEST BIG BROTHER. I watched you at events and at the carnival in the backyard, anytime I saw you, you were with Michael, arm around him, holding his hand, being there for him. You lived the ITS NOT ABOUT ME attitude and never doubt the influence your character has had on this 31 year old man, and I guarantee so many others.
I end with words that my 4yr old Giovanni said this past week when we found out about Michael. We were at my kids group at the gym and I said “Hey Gio, will you tell these guys what happened to our buddy Michael today?” And with nothing but joy and certainty and pure confidence, he said this:
“Michael was sick and had cancer.
He was at home with his mom Georgianne.
He couldn’t see, he couldn’t hear, and he couldn’t play no more.
But now he is in heaven.
And he can see again. He can hear again. And he’s playing with God.”
The faith of a child.
So to that little boy who asked me “if there is a god, then why does he let bad things happen”…..
My answer is this….
God doesn’t let bad things happen to people. He wept for Michael. He weeps for this family right now.
BECAUSE there is a God, he took Michael back. So he can play again. Because that’s what every little boy deserves to do.
I have 10,000 reasons to thank you Michael…
And my prayer is that I could be even half of the game-changer that you were, are, and always will be.