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Wednesday 18 September 2019

Michael was 'the centre of our world' say grieving foster parents of 'Room to Improve' star

Michael pictured with his loving foster parents Ann Higgins and Barry McCabe
Michael pictured with his loving foster parents Ann Higgins and Barry McCabe

Alan O'Keeffe

The foster parents of Michael Stokes, the charming "tiny but tough" teenager who died on May 5, have expressed gratitude for the special love he brought into their lives.

"Michael was the centre of our world," said Ann Higgins and Barry McCabe.

The couple had transformed their home in Malahide in Dublin to ensure it was suitable for Michael and his wheelchair.

His mischievous and witty personality made a huge impression on viewers of RTE's Room to Improve programme in 2015, when architect Dermot Bannon re-designed sections of the house.

Michael famously told the celebrity architect to "go back to the drawing board" with his plans.

Michael died, aged 15, at Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin, several weeks after a tragic accident.

Foster dad Barry told the Sunday Independent: "Michael was the centre of our world and everything made sense when he was in it - without him nothing makes sense. We've never known a love like the love he had for us.

"We are brokenhearted but feel humbled and privileged to have had him in our lives," he said.

Michael's disability resulted in him being very small in stature and he needed to use a wheelchair.

Michael was back on television three months ago when Ryan Tubridy and The Late Late Show viewers heard how Michael met Ann and Barry.

Ann was his teacher and he first met Barry at his First Holy Communion.

He began to stay weekends with the couple, and they became his foster parents. The couple redesigned their home to accommodate Michael.

Michael said he loved everything about his new home. Barry told The Late Late Show audience: "It's brilliant, we couldn't be happier."

After news broke of his death, Ryan Tubridy wrote on Instagram that Michael was a "magic whirlwind" and "an unforgettable soul".

The St Michael's House organisation in Dublin, which provides services for people with disabilities, tweeted that Michael was "a treasure to all who knew him".

His funeral Mass in Malahide had a large attendance, and included his foster parents and his birth parents, Siobhan and John Paul.

Parish priest Fr Martin Noone said the teenager had achieved a lot more in his short life than others achieved in a long, long life.

Eimir McGrath, who knew him all his life, told the congregation of Michael's hilarious turns of phrase, such as "I'm sweating like a dolphin".

Eimir said Michael's life "blossomed" when he met his foster parents, how he "bathed in constant and every day love" and began to see a very different future for himself.

Days after the funeral, Barry said the words in a booklet at the Requiem Mass helped to express how he and Ann and all who loved Michael were feeling.

Those words included the following: "Michael shared his love and positivity far and wide. How lucky are we to have had such a bright shining star in our lives.

"We will each forever have a Michael-shaped piece of love in our hearts.

"Tiny but tough, our sweet worrier and warrior."

It concluded: "Our lives and his life have all been enriched with the love we shared together.

"Michael is one star whose light will never go out."

Sunday Independent

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