“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

My friend Michael

My friend Michael passed away last night. He was one of those people in your life that you immediately make a connection with. I wouldn't see him much more than once a week at church or at special gatherings but we were great friends nonetheless.
I have often said that he is the type of person everyone should have in their life. Whenever I would see him, independent of where we were, he would shout out "Hey Jeff!" I would shout back in response, "Hey Michael!" I will miss that aspect of our relationship.  Total abandonment of social rules when we would see each other for the first time in any setting. Our recognition of each other was the MOST important thing. It was as if he was saying,
"I don't care if I disrupt you, my friend Jeff is here and I want to acknowledge him!"

Michael would always remember to ask for prayer for his bus driver and teacher each week, if prayer requests were sought. Others would roll their eyes at his repeated request, but I am confident that when Michael arrived in Heaven, the fruit of his faithful request for prayer was made known to him.
He was not a perfect man, at times his temper would get the best of him and when we were together I would talk through actions of his with him to help him to grow in his faith. He loved to wear a tie and jacket to church each week sometimes in the most random combinations. I loved seeing him dressed up but would help him to straighten up his tie and jacket. I don't know if he liked the attention, but he would allow me to make him look "perfect" as I would tell him.
Every week he would ask me for a dollar which I would give to him so he could buy a soda at his work the following day. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, it also caused me at first to pause, before I knew him.  But then, we would sit together and talk about whatever happened to be on his mind. 
He loved sweets, particularly chocolate.  I remember the last time I saw him, Sunday, he had just eaten a chocolate iced donut. As a result he had chocolate all over his hands which I showed him he could lick off of his fingers. He also always wanted to take something home from church each week. Whether it was some bread donated by Panera, or a flyer about a church activity or whatever. He was VERY adamant about receiving something that he could take home with him.

This morning I was at the director's meeting at Joni and Friends when I received the message about his passing last night. I thought that I would be able to share his passing in a controlled manner, but once I began with "A dear friend of mine died last night..." I lost it. I thought about stopping my presentation (we describe our activities for the previous week at those meetings) but thought what better place than to share my grief over my dear friend with disabilities then at the director's meeting.
I cried through my description of Michael and then apologized for my emotion. But they were touched and said no apology was necessary.

In the few minutes since that meeting, I wondered how many men, living in a group home, working in an adult day care setting have someone who weeps over their passing: someone who was just a friend in their life, who knew them, and will miss them. My faith tells me Michael is with the Lord. I have great confidence in that. But I will miss him because he was my friend.  His calling out to me to greet me is unlike any other friend I have ever had, or will probably ever have again. His friendship was a tremendous gift to me! As a friend at Joni and Friends told me, his friendship probably meant more to you than to him! I like that thought although I hope he delighted in my friendship as well. It is my prayer that more and more, persons with disabilities, particularly those with severe disabilities, with intellectual disabilities will have real friends in their lives who will mourn their loss. Not just family members or people who have become accustomed to them because of the paid services they provided to them, both of those are great. But people who were really their friends and were with them because they enjoyed the human interaction that any friend enjoys.

I will miss you Michael!


Unknown said...

Jeff a beautiful tribute to a true friend. Thank you.

Unknown said...

This was absolutely awesome Jeff, thanks for sharing it...

Kari said...

I've been friends with a lot of disabled adults over the years. One of my BFF's was Rudy. He had a heart attack in 6th grade and didn't get quick CPR. They saved his life at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital but he became severely handicapped and was in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I learned early on that if I talked to Rudy, adult to adult he would respond to me. Most people didn't talk to Rudy, that talked about him or down to him. Most people just provided him with physical cares and then moved on to the next client. I sang to Rudy (he laughed at my horrible voice), I told him jokes, and talked about my family. I learned he was great at blinking once for yes and twice for no and we could talk for hours about his family. When we met I was 19 and he was 12. I learned he adored jokes that were just a tad naughty!! He would just laugh so hard. Rudy would love it when I whispered in his ear about an employees inappropriate behavior because he knew which employees were bad way before any supervisors did. Rudy was brilliant and no-one knew it. But my greatest gift from Rudy was to learn that even people with no real communication skills have relationship skills and can communicate given extra time or tools. It is up to us to figure out what they need and how they communicate. I loved Rudy with my whole heart and soul. People didn't understand it. But Rudy and I did. I prayed with him. He wanted me to pray that God took him so that he could be with his dad in heaven. Rudy was such a character and I too cried my eyes out when he died. And it sounds like you Jeff had this kind of amazing real relationship with Michael.

Joan said...

Thanks for sharing Jeff. I think I remember meeting Michael last month.

Taylor said...

I am sorry for the passing of your friend Michael. Thank you for sharing about your friend and how you guys became close over the years. I really enjoyed the part where you had mentioned that he would always wear a jacket and tie every Sunday to church; I’m sure he was an amazing person and will truly be missed. Sometimes we can take a passing of a friend and turn it into a negative time in our life, but I’m glad you were able to cherish all the memories that you made with Michael and reflect on your friendship. I also really like the part where you mentioned everyone should a friend like Michael, it is really sad to see care-takers or even family members take care of a person with a disability just because they know that at the end of the tunnel they will be getting paid for it. Nobody should think that it’s okay to only be with them because they get a check in return. I have recently reached out to organizations to see what I could possibly do to help a person in need whether it is with a person with a disability or even just a person who needs a friend.