It's been ten years to the day that we lost our beloved Seumas (pronounced Shem-Ess) to cancer. He died a little more than a month after his 21st birthday.
In the short time that he had, Seumas touched many in the game development community and we thank the Independent Games Festival for continuing to honor his memory.
To commemorate Seumas on this 10th anniversary we have decided to post the CBC radio interview, recorded a few short days before his death. We have also decided to post the eulogy that his mother Wendy wrote a few days after Seumas' death.
The humility, candor, originality and courage that my son Seumas projected, continues to inspire and influence me to this day.
TOUCHING THE CORD
A Personal Account of the Birth; the Life; and the Death of Seumas McNally: (1979-2000)
Written by: Wendy McNally
On the morning of February 10th, 1979, our full-term, fetal babe rebelled against my contracting sphere, determined to exit the confines of its interspatial existence. Its father, a medical intern, attentively stroked and kissed my swollen abdomen to soothe our unborn child.
Following a lengthy and difficult labor in a New Zealand hospital, our son finally emerged into his father’s delivering hands, exhausted, but perfectly assembled and exquisitely beautiful.
When I held him in my arms for the first time and watched our baby's curious, sparkling eyes navigate between my voice and Jim's voice, I wondered what undisclosed secrets his future would reveal. Our newborn babe emitted a mournful, but anticipated cry then breathed softly as he recovered from his tiresome journey. I slid my fingers along the pulsating cord that still connected us, until the placental discharge established his full release.
A few days later, we introduced our neonate to the morning sun and at night we talked to him about the moon and the constellations of the southern-hemisphere while carrying and rocking him in our arms beneath earth’s great celestial veil.
After much thought and deliberation, we named our first-born son, Seumas, an ancient Gaelic name meaning James.
At Seumas’ first year of age, we relocated ourselves to the northern hemisphere. As an only child, Seumas’ next two and a half years in Canada were spent quietly observing a network of family and friends from one eventful day to the next. His language and mathematical skills developed early and with ease, as did his desire to design and construct.
When his brother Philippe was born, Seumas cared for him and loved him passionately. His pride in their companionship was immeasurable. Together, he and Philippe created and shared complex worlds made of simple things: cardboard boxes, tape, cloth, string and paper. They preoccupied themselves with their favorite books and they discovered their inner fascinations for music, art, literature, history and the sciences.
Together in sunshine, rain and snow, they explored the natural world that encompassed them: the river, the woods, the sand dunes, and the bay. They deliberately unravelled the mysteries of their universe, questioning their purposes in life and resolved to eventually discover them.
We educated our children at home instead of within the formal school system, which gave us opportunities to take them beyond their domestic walls whenever possible. Trips to Paris, France and New York City saturated them with visual realizations that would later provide the inspiration necessary to actively pursue their own personal dreams.
Seumas began to program on his first computer at the age of eight. Between the ages of nine and twelve he sustained a career in competitive swimming acquiring medals, awards, and a valuable sense of timing, concentration and execution. Meanwhile, Philippe who was prone to playful daydreaming and computer gaming, chose to observe his older brother’s activities rather than participate in them.
In their early teenage years, our sons evolved into night creatures, cultivating a shared interest in computer technology and game research. In their curiosity, they scavenged the market for every game title that captivated their attention.
As parents, we enjoyed living in harmony with our two motivated, aspiring, young entrepreneurial adolescents. They superseded our knowledge in many ways. And, they delighted in every occasion to analyze, criticize or humor any subject, academic or otherwise.
Following a respiratory illness at the age of seventeen, Seumas developed a persistent cough and experienced gradual weight loss. After months of unconfirmed blood tests, x-rays and bronchoscopes, our first-born son was finally diagnosed in June of 1997 with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma based on the results of a CAT scan and a biopsy of an enlarged lymph node at the base of his neck.
Suddenly, Death was not just a conversational or dramatically perceived concept. It was a threatening demon with a palpable, lurking presence. After consoling Seumas and reassuring Philippe, we, as parents, examined our own fear and sense of devastation. Seumas’ father Jim, was a practicing rural physician. The negative implications of our son’s illness were undeniably surreal. Optimism and hope became our only beacons.
After thoroughly discussing therapeutic options, Seumas began a three-year battle to survive, fully aware of the potential hazards and benefits of each medical treatment. The loss of his long, dark curls was a scant indication of the hardships ahead. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy interspersed with diagnostic thoracotomies extended his valuable time, but seriously compromised the emotional and physical quality of his life.
Philippe courageously offered to donate one of his lungs so that his brother could reclaim his health. But medically, it was not an option. The cancerous nodes were under Seumas' sternum, between his lungs.
Seumas’ attempts to gain a long term remission from his aggressive disease failed repeatedly. In spite of his decline, he persistently focused on his work. By this time, he was a tenacious computer programmer with his brother by his side, who was quickly becoming a computer artist.
A request to the Starlight Foundation was initiated. Upon agreement in June of 1998, a visit to Dallas, Texas to meet with John Carmack of id Software Inc. was scheduled for us all. The entire company greeted us with extraordinary warmth and kindness. It was an inspiring and memorable occasion for Seumas as John shared his ideas, wisdom and laughter with him throughout an afternoon and late into the night over drinks and a festive dinner.
Later that year, in spite of his illness, Seumas founded his own software company. He had already independently developed marketable products: Tiger’s Bane, a 2D side-scrolling helicopter game, and Particle Fire, a real time screensaver. As president and lead programmer of Longbow Digital Arts, Inc., he desperately recruited his entire immediate family to fulfill the positions required to produce his next two projects: DX-BALL 2, a breakout game and his first major project Tread Marks, a 3D tank combat and racing game, using his own in-house designed and developed editing tools and terrain rendering system.
Prior to Seumas’ diagnosis, I was an active professional artist and Jim had a private history of war gaming and model railroading. As well, the two of us worked as a team, producing large-scale ceramics. With our studio talents, our sons’ computer skills and our financial security, we comprised an unusually small but vibrant team of software game developers.
For the next two years we worked together on various projects, sharing many evenings with food, friends, favorite music and games. The celebratory days and nights were only interrupted by the routine or emergent medical sessions at local hospitals.
In Seumas’ final year at the age of twenty-one, Tread Marks was completed and secured the “Best Programming”, “Best Game Design” and “Best Game” awards at the Independent Game Festival held in San Jose, California in March, 2000. He also guest lectured that week at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Jose and celebrated his success and friendship with his comrades in the game industry.
But tragically, Seumas was dying. His lungs were steadily failing. In his talk about the Tread Marks engine he spoke so softly about the binary trees, the children, the neighbors and the infinitely wrapping terrain. He fondly hoped that one day he would share his terrestrial paradise with a loving mate and children of his own. Anyone attending his lecture at the conference would have heard the longing in his voice and the terror in each pause. He was feeling the cold brush of Death in that half hour as he struggled to maintain his composure and adequate oxygen levels in his lungs.
By the time Seumas arrived home from a wheelchair and oxygen-assisted trip, he was unable to work or maintain a conversation with us or any of his friends or colleagues online. The sound of the rapid flight of his adept fingers rushing across his keyboards ominously ceased. Seumas’ request for hospital support engaged our darkest visions. His solitary complaint was that he felt like he was drowning.
Unlike other difficult and worrisome episodes, this pulmonary situation was not responding to treatment. The Hodgkin’s lymphoma and secondary infections were finally destroying the last functional remains of Seumas’ precious breathing apparatus. An ambulance was summoned.
I hurriedly packed a few overnight things including a change of clothes for Seumas’ return home when his condition stabilized. Moments later, en route to the hospital, a chill gripped me when I realized that during the frenzy of the emergency transfer, I forgot his shoes.
The speeding ambulance ahead of us with its flashing lights and its unrelenting siren was frighteningly disconcerting.
Once at the hospital Seumas and the rest of us relaxed with the assumption that quick and successful medical intervention would be available, as it always had been in the past. We filled the room with chairs, to accommodate an inevitable night over for all of us, as appropriate measures and medical procedures ensued.
Apart from the telephone ringing at the nursing station, the voices in the hall and the nurses coming into the room to check Seumas' vital signs, adequate sleep was had by everyone. An uneventful day passed and then another night. Constant monitoring and palliative care kept Seumas soothed and comfortable.
On the third day, Seumas continued to decline in spite of attempts to relieve his breathing condition. We despairingly held him as he struggled for air. His arms thrashed back and forth as he battled against Death with phantom weapons. As quickly as he rose for combat, he drifted back onto his pillows, gasping as he tried to quickly recover from the enormous effort of each match.
Repeatedly, he lunged forward to engage in warfare, then fell back to rest.
Seumas was asked if he wanted sedation. He refused.
The sun poured in through Seumas’ bedside window. It was early spring, March 21st, 2000. He slowly leaned forward to covet the noon sky and the wood lot visible through the glass. He asked me to open the window. He wanted the fresh air on his bare skin. His upper body was uncovered on account of the intravenous tubing, monitoring equipment and oxygen supply that sustained him. He said he saw a sphinx falling from the sky. I opened the window and a cool breeze flooded the overheated room. Seumas laughed as he gazed at the wood lot and wondered out loud why there were gorillas in the trees. He excitedly asked Philippe to get the digital camera and take a picture. Beneath a cascade of tears, Philippe gave his dying brother a warm hug and compassionate smile as he promised he would comply.
Laboring to breathe and appearing increasingly toxic, Seumas looked at me with intensely frightened eyes then anxiously asked, “What is the name of the game?”
Assuming that he was confused and had forgotten the name of his own recent game title I said, “Do you mean, Tread Marks?”
He replied quickly and sternly with outstretched arms describing his oxygen-deprived desire to know the answer, “No, No! Not that game! What is the name of this game?”
With an overwhelming feeling of defeat, I reluctantly but knowingly answered, “Seumas, the name of this game is Life. And, you are fighting so hard to win!”
He slumped back onto his pillows and murmured to himself, “Life, that’s it! I’m fighting for my life.”
Jim stood close to Seumas. Holding his hand, he quietly said, “Remember, the USS Indianapolis and the shark infested waters...”
The boys and their dad had spent many hours discussing history, chivalry and honor. Seumas gave a slight indication of understanding and determination knowing that indeed, he could swim to safety.
Jim trembled as he grasped his son's optimistic interpretation. As a physician, he knew that realistically, Seumas was not going to survive. He choked back tears knowing that his son was going to drown.
Again, Seumas refused sedation.
As he rested, he turned his head toward the open window and hailed with faint enthusiasm, “I’m winning! I think I’m winning!” The words quietly echoed within his walled chamber, his tomb-like vault of a room, his temple. They were his last spoken words. His voice scattered like tiny particles of fire, vanishing into the clear afternoon air, toward the distant stars, toward the source and the ultimate extremity of the universe.
I felt impaled and unable to accept our child’s imminent retrogression. My outpouring of hopeless, audible defiance in the arms of Jim and Philippe, left me feeling unified but cratered and eroded. A vast caldera contained me.
As the three of us wept inside each other’s entangled arms, we knew that soon we would be searching for strength from omission and wisdom from injustice.
After a prolonged rest, Seumas suddenly heaved forward and for the last time, he challenged his unrelenting opponent. As his arms and intangible weapons forcibly tore and sliced through the air, his eyes were unable to betray his suffering. His slowly articulating mouth attempted to make audible sounds. But sadly, his war cries were held deep within his inner mantle. He fell back breathless, silently pleading for his life.
His grappling for air began to settle. His inspirations and expirations became short and soft. He no longer harbored vigor. Entropy was becoming him. One after another his brother, his father and I cradled Seumas' lightly blanketed body in our arms and whispered medallions of love, tokens of gratitude and promises of everlasting faithfulness in his delicately fading ears.
In one final effort, Seumas tightened his brow as he raised his hand and signaled a tormented, but heroic farewell. As his hand fell, I held it in mine and I caressed him well beyond his last breath. I gently rocked and nudged him as if to wake him but he did not succumb to my incalculable longing. I held him as his warmth escaped and until his transformation was complete.
I placed my hand on his forehead and slowly breathed into his incapacitated, fluid-filled lungs. But my maternal urging was to no avail. There was no longer a flicker of life within him.
His cool lips received a parting kiss as I released his slender, white form. He was no longer sensing the presence or charm of his twenty-one cherished years of growth and maturity. Seumas’ brother and father lovingly caressed their lifeless companion in postures of utter defenselessness and sorrow.
Our warrior’s body lay shielded by a white sheet. His head and torso were framed by the battleground of damp pillows underneath him. Across his abdomen, his smooth youthful hands rested lightly, one upon the other. A small array of colorful blossoms adorned his chest. Their green stems converged within the vacant, graceful curve of his fingers. It was his first memorial bouquet, gently placed upon him by a mournful nurse.
In the hospital room, while attempting to rationalize and accept the heaviness of Seumas’ death, we formalized arrangements for his cremation. However, we were not yet able to undertake the eternal abdication of his enigmatic corpse even though it was without pain, without warmth and without breath. In a desperately solemn moment, before the hearse arrived, Jim and I spontaneously made a decision to create a death mask of our tragically fallen Agamemnon.
Plaster was brought into the room and Jim skillfully applied a layer to Seumas’ face. Then, carefully and patiently, we removed the plaster cast and were finally able to surrender ourselves to the interminable loss. We returned to the shelter of our private residence with our one and only surviving son, an incarnate impression and an unbearable yearning.
Two days later, we retrieved Seumas’ ashes from the funeral home. Like damaged unstrung beads, we knotted ourselves closely together with the remains of our soldier held sacredly within our embrace.
At home, we ceremoniously placed the ashes in a tall, clay vessel. Its majesty was befitting the remains of any heroic figure. With shattered hearts and grief as such unknown to us before, we pledged with certainty to honor our son’s intellectual achievements, his dignity and courage, as well as his kindness to his comrades.
Today, as the procession of flowers begins to arrive, the sun creeps in through Seumas’ office window, sullenly looking for him.