ESPN sportswriter Ivan Maisel delivered a heart-wrenching eulogy this past weekend at his son Max's memorial service, after the missing college student had presumably drowned last month in Rochester, New York.
Max, a photography student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, went missing on Feb. 22, and was last seen at his family's lake house on Lake Ontario. While his body has not yet been found, the family held a memorial service last Friday, Mar. 27, after strong evidence showed that Max may have died from a suspected suicide.
The sportswriter posted his touching tribute on Medium, adding that 900 friends and family members attended the service in Bridgeport, Conn. "Max’s death has shone a light on the innate goodness in people, a quality that I am sure I didn’t appreciate until now," Ivan told attendees. "Eight years ago, Meg and I stood here and talked about Max, who on that day became a Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish threshold of adulthood. Today we are here again to talk about Max, who we presumed drowned on Feb. 22, shortly after he turned 21, the legal threshold of adulthood."
Ivan explained how his son "hated" being the center of attention. "In public, Max didn’t enter a room as much as he slid quietly along the wall. I should tell you that at home, he never entered the room quietly,” he reflected. "When Max came down our stairs, he hit each step in a way that sounded somewhere between a gallop and a rockslide."
"Max always marched to his own beat," he continued. "As a toddler, he didn’t like loud noises, new foods or itchy tags. He was on his own planet and happy to be there. By age two, though, we realized he was different in ways that were stunting him and we intervened with every available resource… With his differences, he gained an early understanding of who he was. He would not do anything because everyone else did it. To put it another way, he would not do anything because everyone else did it. Sometimes I think it was plain old stubbornness. But it always came from a place of self-preservation."
He also shared where his son thrived most. "Max was a rule follower, rarely varying from routine. He loved structure. He did well when told what to do," Ivan continued. "That may be due to birth order, or it may just have been his personality. He feared getting into trouble. He feared a lot of things. If something proved difficult, he got anxious. Rather than work harder, he tended to shut down. But when Max decided to do something — once he moved past the anxiety — he did it very well."
Ivan confessed how he and his [wife Meg Murray] had no idea their son was in so much pain. "No parent knows how a child lives at college. Clearly, the disaster we have on our hands is an indication of that," he told the crowd. "We didn’t recognize the downward spiral Max was in, and that is the burden that psychologists tell us we can’t carry. As much as we tried, as great a job as our friends and family tell us we did, it wasn’t enough."
The writer and his wife both noticed behavioral changes in their son, who didn't pick up phone calls as frequently — but they assumed it was pressure from school. "Suicide can be an impulsive act; or, as my fellow Mobilian Jimmy Buffett sang about tattoos, a permanent solution to a temporary problem," his father noted. "Really, what difference does it make? Accidental or intentional, he’s gone. Either path leads to the result that we don’t have him anymore."
With Max's body still missing, the family has been grappling with unanswered questions. "In the end, we may never know what happened," he shared. "All we do know is that Max tried to leave the room — quietly."
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