'Michael demonstrated very well exactly who he was as a man'
Fellow military comrades carry the coffin bearing W.O. Michael Robert McNeil to a waiting hearse following a moving funeral service at the Truro Armory on Thursday. HARRY SULLIVAN – TRURO DAILY NEWS
TRURO – He couldn’t perform miracles and he may have had normal human flaws, but W.O. Michael Robert McNeil was remembered as a man who stood head and shoulders above many.
“I do not believe that Michael walked on water, nor that he was perfect,” Padre Randy Stanton said, during McNeil’s funeral service at the Truro Armoury on Thursday.
“I suspect he was bit of a rascal by times, thus the name of the family dog,” said Stanton, who further described McNeil as “perhaps a bit stubborn, opinionated” and as one who “certainly didn’t suffer fools lightly.”
McNeil, 39, of the 3rd Battallion, Royal Canadian Regiment, was a former Truro resident who died at the Canadian Forces Base in Petawawa, Ont. on Nov. 27, in an apparent suicide.
His service, solemn and respectful but peppered at times with humourous anecdotes from his life, was attended by several hundred people – from family and friends to military comrades in arms - who packed the armoury auditorium to standing room only.
“We are here to face death. It is our time to grieve, to struggle but not to give up hope, not to be overwhelmed,” Stanton said. “But with God’s grace, with those around us to celebrate a life well lived and to seek comfort for those of us left behind and to begin our way forward.”
Occasionally, Stanton suggested, we are given a chance to pause and reflect on the mysteries of life and death and “on who we are and how we mean to live out our lives.”
“This is one such moment,” he said.
While McNeil was remembered as a man who liked to tease and have fun, he was also one who carried a great zest for life. He was a leader, a beloved family man, son, father, brother and great friend who exhibited love and who performed “wonderful acts of kindness.”
Lt. Kendra Mellish, the widow of McNeil’s cousin Frank Mellish (who died in military service in Afghanistan in 2006) described him in glowing terms and said his death has left a “huge hole” in the hearts of those he left behind.
Born March 6 in Windsor, McNeil was the son of Michael and Carolyn McNeil of Truro and father to two daughters, a son and stepson.
“Michael demonstrated very well exactly who he was as a man,” Mellish said, speaking of his “tireless dedication” to family and the Canadian Armed Forces.
“On four separate occasions this country called on his services,” she said, of his 19-years of military service that took him on four overseas tours of action to Croatia, Kosovo and Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan.
“Michael answered that call,” she said, adding, however, that he was much more than just a soldier.
“Warrant Officer Michael McNeil was a very stoic individual. He was a solid leader who led by example,” she said.
“He would do anything for a friend and even though he was hurting on the inside and wouldn’t show it, he was also busy looking after everybody else.”
And while those who loved him will undoubtedly experience some “long nights of many questions, pain, longing, anger, confusion,” over the depths of McNeil’s silent suffering, Mellish said, he should be remembered first and foremost as one who “loved life and loved to laugh” and as one “who certainly made a difference.”
As a concluding thought, Mellish made an impassioned appeal to any other military members in the audience who might also be dealing with the demons too often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder brought about by the experiences of war.
“I am confident, without a doubt, that there is someone here today who is suffering like Michael was suffering,” she said. “You are suffering in silence. There is no need to suffer. There is help out there. Go get help!”