Hug your dog. Cook a beautiful meal. Talk about life with family and friends. Embrace what you love — that’s what Michael Sween tried to do during the most fulfilling and meaningful moments of his tumultuous, 28-year life, family members say.
Life was not always easy for Sween, or for those close to him. But when the Minneapolis man died in a car crash this month, he was busy laying the groundwork for what he thought would be a much longer life in which he aimed to help people affected by mental illness like he was.
A world traveler and outdoors enthusiast, Sween died Nov. 8 in his beloved Toyota Land Cruiser. Headed south on Hwy. 169 just south of Princeton, his vehicle left the road and flipped several times after Sween swerved right to avoid hitting a vehicle that had just struck a deer. Seat belt fastened, no alcohol involved. His new hunting dog, a pudelpointer puppy named Murray that Sween was picking up that day from a trainer in northern Minnesota, also died in the crash.
Sween’s death stunned family members who’d been encouraged by recent signs of progress. Sween was doing well at his job, and was forming relationships with co-workers at affordable-housing developer Dominium.
“Michael suffered a psychiatric crisis about a year and a half ago. And that is something no one should ever have to go through,” said his father, Dominium managing partner Paul Sween of Wayzata. In recent months, “he was doing everything he needed to do to be successful, and he was successful. What I would hope people can remember about Michael was that he was on the ascendancy.”
Born in 1991, Michael Sween entered the world with great advantages and great challenges.
His family had material comforts not afforded to many families. His privilege allowed him to graduate from college at his own pace, and he came to appreciate how his familial and financial safety nets spared him much.
He was born with a bright mind but significant dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder — “like a Ferrari engine in a Chevy,” said his mother, Margaret Simmons of Minneapolis.
Though Sween was a longtime reader of the Economist, book learning was never easy. And his behavior in class troubled teachers throughout his life. Sween had a large physical presence and boundless energy, which could be channeled into athletics or rambunctiousness. He loved cooking elaborate meals, and hunting duck and pheasant.
In addition to learning disabilities, Sween had a mental-health disorder that affected his personality. Never definitively diagnosed as bipolar, his declining mental health reached a nadir last year while Sween was off-roading in Oman. He wound up in restraints in an Omani hospital before returning to the U.S., where he spent weeks in a psychiatric hospital.
Later, he would note that no matter how tough things got, they could never be worse than “being chained to a bed in Oman,” family members recalled him saying.
In the year he spent recovering, Sween spoke daily with his brother Terry of Minneapolis, who said he probably learned more from Michael than the other way around. “He really was able to show me what’s important in life,” Terry said.
In recent months Sween found personal growth managing apartments. He saw being a successful manager as a step toward his goal of opening housing for people with mental health problems. And he’d begun building a life stable enough to take on a puppy.
Instead, on Nov. 8, he swerved to avoid slamming into other people, probably saving their lives though it cost him his own, Sween’s therapist said at the memorial service.
In addition to his mother, father and brother, Sween is survived by grandmother Glenyce Sween of Wayzata, and sister Carolyn Sween of Marsing, Idaho.
Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779