• Exactly 141 days after his wife and lifelong partner Lannice died, Michael Snyman suffered a massive heart attack and died at home this morning. Perhaps it seems callous to refer to some numerical measure. Yet it makes me think how fortunate we were to know him for even so long after Lannice died; with her gone Michael was adrift. But he was resolute, held calm and kept afloat among the friends and family who watched from the shoreline. But his heart lines were broken.

Michael came across as blunt on first meeting this tall, handsome man, sure and proud in his bearing, and set in his ways that ruffled my soft sensibilities. But his enthusiasm and generosity always got the better of him and his sense of humour and congenial spirit would emerge. I learnt quickly to pluck out those ruffled feathers and we quickly became good friends.

He was, among many things, a master builder and carpenter and could never walk past a piece of crafted wood without running his gnarled, strong hands – racked with arthritis in later years – without caressing the grain and curve of wood. You could see his hands absorbing the craft within, reckoning, appreciating, wondering how it could be done better or differently. He lead our Weber Braai Team to victory in two successive years, first with the DoMiJo Diners Club and second with the DeDoMi Braai Champs. As team mates, he considered us exasperating, undisciplined and certain to bring shame and ruin upon his reputation. (He was an international champion, going up against the best in the world and winning.) But he led us triumphant and we were always forgiven for our sins.

On Saturday, the fact that Michael had been admitted to hospital complaining of chest pains, came up in discussion. Some one asked me if he was a good friend. I hesitated, not because I did not consider him such, but because it was only then that the impact struck of having a good friend in an intensive care unit.

On one of the many weekends spent at their home in Infanta, Michael and I drifted apart from the group and soon found ourselves a long way down the beach. Talk turned away from rugby and fishing as we walked, and spiralled into matters of heart and bone, moments scraped from raw from memory, bruising events, niggling futilities and the insistent sense of hope. We never mentioned that conversation nor went again into that emotional maze. There was no need for it. We’d taken our measure.

Michael was a fine man, a good friend and will be missed by all.


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