his Life

Eulogy for our Beloved Max

This Memorial is going to be untraditional and informal. Max’s brother Kace reminded us that Max was a no-frills kid and would want things to be relaxed and easy going.

Max was always the kid that would elbow me during a ceremony and say, I know we have to pay our respects, but when are they going to stop talking so I can get some of those cookies over on that table.

So please, consider yourself one of the family, take a deep breath and let’s just enjoy this time we have together to remember Max.

We will eulogize Max with remarks from his Uncle Rich McCann, who is Max’s Godfather and oldest brother of Max’s Mom Shannon.

Next, we’ll have Wayne Smith. A dear friend and huge influence on Max’s life through Max’s years at Blue Valley West High School.

I will finish the eulogies and then right afterward, we would ask that if you have a fond memory or story of Max, you could please share it with us by simply raising your hand to be recognized.

Then we can spend some time visiting.

At 2 years old, Max showed great intellectual capabilities as he could count forward and backward, recite the alphabet and assemble puzzles designed for kids much older. Like all new parents, we were sure we had the perfect child that was a total genius.

He was always smiling, happy and a joy for everyone that saw and knew him.

A couple of years later, after some behavior we viewed as uncharacteristic for Max, we were told the good news was that Max’s IQ was off the chart, but that he could fall into the category of autism and special needs.

We were also told that this could be a difficult journey and the odds were against us and Max to successfully navigate through these circumstances.  

Shannon and I were at a loss.

At that moment, we promised each other we would use whatever resources we had to make sure he would get the help and love he needed for a happy life.

As Max grew and we knew more, we soon realized this would be a lifelong commitment to Max and to each other. Shannon and I agreed we would never give up and stay the course together no matter what we faced.

We were very lucky. Everyone we knew gave generously to be a positive influence in Max’s life and to understand our situation.

He got plenty of loving attention from his Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins and so many family friends.

As Max grew, there were always great moments of discovery for us.

Max was an artist – In preschool, after a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium he asked his teachers to give him the entire roll of drawing paper where he drew from memory everything he’d seen it a huge mural. It adorned the wall of the entire classroom.

We also discovered one time that while moving, Max had drawn an entire Batman fight scene on the back wall of his closet. DC Comics would have been proud.

Drawing and art is where Max spent much time calming himself and sharing his imagination.

Max was an explorer – Turning the corner on our street late afternoon one day, there was a fire truck with its long ladder and boom extended to the top of one of the large trees in the park near our house.

After pulling in our driveway, I walked down to see what the commotion was about. There was Max, calling to me and waving from the top of the tree. Had climbed up on a stone wall next to the tree and then right to the top. He was so excited that the firemen were there to rescue him.

Max was courageous – On a vacation in Hawaii, Max saw many of the kids in the surf on their boogie boards. He got tired of watching and asked his brother to help him master riding the waves. He had a huge, satisfied smile as he overcame his fear of the ocean and let the waves carry him on to the beach.

Just a few years ago, he told me had just gotten hired to drive a truck – to pick up mail at several local post offices to deliver to the Sprint Campus. I was a little nervous. Here was a kid that had only driven on a highway only a few times in his life and now he was going be all over Johnson County and Kansas City. What scared me even more was that worked started at 6am. I thought getting up so early would be his greatest obstacle. Once again, as he always did, he figured it out and became a most dependable and conscientious employee.

Max was a philosopher – I tried many times in the kids’ lives to use the “When I was a kid, things were different" approach. On one occasion, Max had clearly had enough – he looked me dead in the eye and said quote “Dad, you cannot continue to try to impose your childhood on me.” He was 9 years old at the time.

Max was smart – All during school he would need additional work because he was quick to learn and eager to get his classwork and homework finished.

Max could be stubborn – He was lucky enough to be drafted on the championship little league team. The coach was fantastic working with Max, but was speechless when after being hit by a pitch, instead of going to first base, Max walked to the dugout and said “You know coach, I’ll do anything else you want me to do for the team, but I’m never going to bat again.”

That same year, he was drafted onto the championship soccer team. – again, with a great coach.

Max was never a championship caliber athlete but worked as hard as anyone to contribute. He earned the respect of his teammates and experienced what it meant to be committed to a goal as the part of a team.

Even so, Max wasn’t really a huge fan of sports, but here he was, winning a baseball and soccer championship in the same year. I was an athlete my entire life as kid and was never that fortunate.

Max was inquisitive - It was always great to see his reaction when he learned something that defied his view of the world.

When Max was about 5 years old, we began to take Max and his brother Kace to see my parents every summer in Atlanta.

Mom and Dad were so great with the kids and always did many wonderful things with them and for them every time they would visit.

Max was always pushing the limits with my Mom. He always said I was his boss because I was his Dad and he knew he pretty much had to do what I said. During one summer visit, he was trying to manipulate my mother into letting him go beyond the normal rules and trying to convince her that I would approve.

Mom had to inform Max that she was my boss, and that I, even though I was Max’s Dad, I had to do what she said. And therefore, she was the boss of both of us.

He couldn’t believe it.

After coming home, he would just look at me in disbelief and say, "Grandma is really your boss and you have to do what she says?" I would say “Yep, and it will be that way forever.” It took him a long time to get his head around that someone could tell me what to do and had ultimate power over both of us.

As he grew older and his challenges increased, it was difficult for Max to be a mainstream kid. He just didn’t feel like he fit in. Our family and friends understood Max needed to be shown extra patience and consideration, which they always gave unselfishly.

He wasn’t big on large groups, especially groups of loud kids. He would much rather find his way into a one-on-one conversation with an adult as Max saw himself as an equal to anyone and everyone, regardless of status or age.

There is an old country song that says – “You’re going to go back down the road you leave behind.” Which simply means, be kind to people in your life, especially those less fortunate, because you never know when circumstances might change and you could be the one needing help. Max embodied this lesson and always fought for the underdog.

We are seeing evidence of this in condolences sent by Max’s childhood friends. They all have a common thread. They all said, “I didn’t have many friends, but Max was my best. He stood up for me when I was bullied and I could always count on him when I felt alone or uncomfortable.” Max always reached out to those that were often overlooked or needed a hand up. He invested in people without judgement or bias. His hope was the others would reciprocate and treat him the same way.

Bonds he made with friends and family were incredibly strong and Max would always make it a point to touch base with people in his life that he trusted and that made him feel secure. You might get a phone call or visit when you least expected it. If you were an adult friend that helped him and he trusted, he would skip a handshake and go right in for a big hug. This caught many people by surprise at first. Most people got used to it and then actually looked forward to it every time they saw Max.

He would go back to his schools and visit teachers and other faculty that had helped him. He did this regularly for many years. Some may have found it awkward, but it was his way of saying thank you, I trust you and you mean a lot to me. I always felt that was very admirable of him, never forgetting those cared for him and that he admired.

Anytime we talked about Max to our friends or family or knew him, Shannon and I would always here the same thing. “Your Max, I really love that kid.”

Our younger son Kace, was an enormous help to Max throughout his life. Kace was always showing unconditional love, offering an ear and providing a calming voice. Kace provided the friendly and loving balance Max needed.

There were many times when Max showed frustration because things were just not as easy for him. Thankfully Kace would always offer guidance and direction. Not that Max always listened, but he knew he had a trusted ally and that Kace had his best interests at heart.

Kace would help Max push himself a little and take risks while leading the way so Max could be reassured and successful.

It was always wonderful to see them together as Max would always cling to his brother with hugs, laughter and a loving friendship.

Kace was always a great role model for Max. He was always patient, caring and helpful. Kace was and is still hardworking, diligent, and a success at most everything he’s attempted. We could not be prouder of him and Max could not have had a better brother in his life.  

Our dear family friends Mel and Craig Smith were Max and Kace’s second parents while we lived in California. Craig was in local Law Enforcement and Mel helped us with the kids afterschool while also raising their own kids. They got the boys involved in Boy Scouts. They helped our boys learn and grow and provided so much valuable attention to them both. They helped Max confront and overcome so many challenges. Craig has told us he refers to Max as an example when he encounters other struggling kids – telling them has a friend that he’s known since he was a boy that had difficulties - that kid never gave up. And that boy grew into and remarkable man. That’s our Max. And Craig and Mel are directly responsible for that transformation.

We all know High School can be difficult, especially as a new kid in a new school. Max and Kace were transplanted by Shannon and I as we moved to Kansas in 2006. We knew it might be tough on the kids, but we also knew they would support each other and as against it as the kids were, they would survive.

Our boys not only survived, they thrived. We got lucky when we happened to land in the Blue Valley School District and found out about a program to help kids like Max.

Shannon actually worked at the high school in the program to help other kids with Learning Disabilities and to keep an eye on Max.

It was incredibly fulfilling for our family. Max benefitted from the most incredible and dedicated teachers and the Study Skills program benefitted from Shannon’s love and support for kids with special needs.

Max flourished. He was proud, confident and maturing into a conscientious and responsible young man.

Through this program and the remarkable influence of the transition specialist Wayne Smith, Max was able to work part time at several local businesses and spend a semester part time a Johnson County Community College. This program exposed kids to the rigors of working and college life prior to becoming a full-time college students and adult citizens.

It was brilliant. At the end of the program, each of the kids was to give a Powerpoint presentation at the college on a topic of their choosing.

I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember which topic Max chose as I sat dumbfounded watching this kid, who was at times was afraid of his own shadow, deliver an extraordinary presentation - better than most I had ever seen in my professional life. It was amazing! We didn’t recognize our own son - self-assured, articulate and totally in command of the room.

This was a defining moment for Max and gave him the confidence to desire to become more independent and move into young adulthood.

After a few semesters at Junior College, Max determined that college wasn’t for him and he began job hunting. He held several part time jobs until one day, when I was while walking through the entrance in the building where I worked at Sprint, they were having a job fair.

I told Max about it. He applied and got a job with the Security Team that worked on the Sprint Campus.

He loved it. It was perfect. He could work the swing shift - a less busy and crowded time of day. And with full time employment, he could afford a small apartment and finally live on his own.

Just a side note, Max is the only person I know that was hired for very job he ever interviewed for. 8 for 8! I just think that is incredible! Most of the credit goes to the work of Wayne Smith and to Max’s Mom Shannon as she would sit and practice interviews with Max at the kitchen table so he would be comfortable and confident during the process.

So, it has been in the past few years that Max finally achieved his goal of becoming an independent young man responsible for his own life. We have always been proud of Max, but this was quite an achievement.

There was a recurring theme with Max. Every time he faced a challenge, there would be anxiety. We always believed in him, but sometimes his own self-doubt would get in his way.  And as always, Max would rise to the challenge and exceed our expectations. But more importantly, he exceeded his own expectations – proving to himself he was capable and worthy of happiness and pride.

He touched based with us regularly and we insisted on him coming over to our place to do his laundry as a way to check in with him and make sure he was doing OK. As many of you know, we can never stop being parents.  

This most recent time in his life was the best Max felt about himself and his accomplishments.

We were actually going to surprise him with a newer used car this week because he had worked so hard. I had finalized the purchase just minutes before we received the tragic news of his passing.

This coming September 1st was also a very auspicious day for Max as he had saved enough money to begin paying for his own car insurance. This was the last item on his checklist of officially getting off of Mom and Dad’s payroll and being 100% independent.

Max was in great spirits, always hilarious, happy and a total joy to spend time with. Shannon and I were so grateful he had come so far.

This recent feeling Max achieved can be traced back to the influences of so many people here today - those of you that provided him love, encouragement and never gave up on him. You saw the light in him, the reward of spending time with him and knowing he loved and cared for you.

We are lucky that Max was born into our family and that we have such incredible people in our lives.

Our deepest appreciation to our extended family and friends whose ongoing love and support for Max helped him and our family through many anxious moments. You always protected him and kept him close in your hearts. Words cannot adequately express our gratitude for the happiness you brought to Max’s life.

My Mom and Dad taught me to show honest and sincere appreciation to at least one person every day. That is a lesson Shannon and I passed on to our kids and Max always showed respect and appreciation to those around him.

I learned a tremendous amount from Max. Courage, patience, tolerance and the immense capacity one can have for love and empathy.

For those of you that knew Max outside of our family, please know that those small moments - a smile, a kind word, some recognition or acknowledgement, had a profound effect on Max. And please remember that it is the small things, things that cost us nothing, that can have the greatest positive impact and influence on those around us.

I think back about the challenges Max faced and overcame. It seems to me that he lived five lifetimes in his short 25 years.  At times it was difficult, but I wouldn’t change a thing. We knew regardless of the difficulty, the effort to overcome it was absolutely worth it.  

Max’s mom Shannon is the best person I have ever known. I would considerate it a great accomplishment just to have her as a friend. For her to be my love, partner and Max’s Mom are the greatest gifts in my life.

I am so glad that I saw Max the Sunday before he passed way. We spent some time together, had some laughs and then shared a big hug and I told Max how proud I was of him. I feel so fortunate that those were my last words to him.

A special thanks to our dear friends Mike and Angela McNeil, who have fed us and opened their home to our visiting family members.

Thanks to our Sprint Family for your ongoing support and understanding during this difficult time. 

And thanks to Kace’s firm in Chicago who organized a trip here for Kace’s managers and associates.

And of course, many thanks to all to all of you here today. We all feel helpless, not knowing what to say or do. We have been completely overwhelmed by your generosity and knowing you are here is a great comfort.

I am still spinning from the shock of losing Max.  My mom, Sharon, after having lost her mother, her father, my dad, her sister, my younger sister, a son-in-law and now a grandchild shared something that has helped me tremendously. She said she never thinks about what she has lost, but what she was given from having them in her life.  

And that’s what I will remember about Max. All he gave me and all he gave us. Max was my hero, and although our hearts are broken, we can take solace in knowing Max is finally at peace.

Now if there is anyone that would like to share and remember Max with us, please feel free to just raise your hand.