Saturday, September 10, 2011

Leaving Michael

I left the hospital, around noon, on Friday, 7/29, shortly after hearing from Michael's step-father that the neurologist had told them my friend no longer had brain activity.

Before leaving, I went into Michael's room to be with him & his mother. She stood on one side of his bed, talking with him & lovingly stroking his forehead. She talked about how there were so many things they were supposed to do together, how they were supposed to have decades ahead.

I stood on his right side & held his hand. I talked with him a bit too but not as much or as aggressively as I had the other day, when we still hoped he might wake up & start answering us. When we still hoped he was with us & hadn't gone, wasn't lost. So many people wanted so badly for that to be so. If only wanting it could have made it so...

Michael's brother arrived. I decided I was ready to step out, let him have time with his mom, with his brother. While I greatly appreciated all of the loving-kindness & comradery I had shared with Michael's friends & loved-ones in the waiting room of that ICU, I needed space & time to sort it all out.

I've said it before & I will say it again, "Losing Michael is a horrible tragedy. The world needs more of him, not less."

So, I left. I didn't even really say goodbye to most people. I told a couple, then, practically snuck out, down the stairwell, like maybe I was just going to move my car to a new two-hour parking spot, but, my two hours were up. My days of waiting with baited breath, of hoping & wishing & wondering were up. My friend was gone. I decided I was getting out of there too.

It felt somewhat cowardly & even shameful to leave the people I left behind, to face what I knew they would have to face, in the coming hours & days, but I had done all I could do & I was thankful that I was one of the ones who was able to leave, had the luxury of being able to flee. I believed Michael would understand. I hoped those who love him would too.

So, I got in my car & drove home, back, across the Golden Gate Bridge & started pulling things out of our apartment's tiny storage closet. I sorted & organized & packed our camping gear. We hadn't been camping in over a year, since Yosemite in April of 2010. We'd been wanting to go, hoping to go, planning to go, I was going. (Y1, Y2, Y3) Although, I wasn't sure where....

I went back inside & got out a map & tried to find a place another CASA volunteer turned friend had told me about, a place she'd visited, south of here, where there were all these really cool caves with bats. I decided that I thought she was talking about Pinnacles National Monument & started thinking that's where we should go.

Cameron had just finished his work week & was going to be able to get away for four days. (Sam was traveling with the family of one of his friends.) When Cameron pointed out that because it is about 60 miles inland, Pinnacles was going to be in the 90s that weekend, I started to think his idea of sticking to the coast was a better one.

But, I didn't want what I had, what I already knew.
I wanted new & different, startling, breath-taking beauty. I wanted a place to get away, to escape, to sit & think & process & grieve & mourn & reflect & remember & to just be.

Cam said, if we left before the traffic got bad & just drove, that
we could pretty much make it to Oregon that night. Oregon was a place neither of us had been, a place we both think we might want to live someday. They say, "Oregon is for dreamers." Maybe it was the place for us?

I took a look at some photos another CASA volunteer turned friend had shared with me of her bike ride down the Oregon & California coast. I flagged places she'd been I wanted to go, googled directions to see how far away these places were, to see what was reasonable & realistic. Then, we just got in the car & were gone.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Michael the Child Advocate

I had the privilege of meeting my dear friend, Michael Scribner, in the fall of 2007. Michael had just graduated from an extensive 40 hour training program, and taken an oath before a judge who swore him in as a court appointed advocate for children in the foster care system, a CASA. I was a new case supervisor at San Francisco CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).

As a CASA, Michael voluntarily committed to step into the life of a child, who has faced abuse or neglect, and to be there on a regular basis. Michael agreed to pay attention to how things were going, be in regular communication with those who are important in the child’s life, listen to their perspectives, then provide his own. Michael was asked to provide fact-based observations & recommendations and put them into a written report for the court.

CASA is a national organization, started in the 70s, by a judge who realized that while most of the professionals who are charged with caring for a child who is a dependent of the court have the child’s best interest at heart, they are asked to look out for so many children that they aren’t able to know each child personally.

The idea behind CASA is, “Each one, reach one.” That way, when judges, attorneys, and social workers are in court, making decisions about what is right for a child, there would be at least one person there, in the courtroom who could say, “I know this child.” “Here is what I have seen, heard and what I recommend.”

Michael agreed to do these things for at least 18 months (the organization’s minimum commitment), which, of course, he exceed. It was my job to help him select which case, which child’s set of circumstances would be the best match, then, offer supervision and support.

Michael had gone through training with a woman who was his friend. They hoped to work on a case together. We had a set of siblings on our waiting list, an eight-year-old girl, and a ten-year-old boy who were new to the foster care system.

We thought their case would be a good match. Michael and his friend agreed to become their court-appointed advocates. At almost the same time, a major change happened in the life of Michael’s friend. She wasn’t able to be there in the way she had hoped. Michael and I partnered to pick-up the slack until she would be more free. He met the kids on his own in a foster home that was conveniently located blocks from where he was working. (At the time he was employed as the director of the Haight Ashbury Food Program, supporting the principle that freedom from hunger is a right.)

The kids warmed to Michael immediately. However, a short time into their stay in this home, it came out that some of the kids’ basic needs weren’t being met. Suddenly, they were yanked out of this home and put into a new foster home. Almost before we could get the address of the new home, we heard about alarming, concerning things that may have happened in that new home and found out the kids were being moved again. This time, they were moved to Vallejo, a community over 30 miles north of San Francisco, in the East Bay. With traffic, it could easily take an hour to reach by car. Michael didn’t have a car. He didn’t need a car to navigate the city but this community was beyond the reach of BART, our Bay Area Transit System.

Michael’s friend, who had a car and was supposed to be making this commitment with him, realized she was not going to be able to uphold her end of the agreement. She decided to come off the case. Despite these challenges and obstacles, Michael was committed. He already cared and said he would be happy to become the advocate for both kids.

These kids did not embrace everyone. The little girl would climb a tree at school and refuse to come down until the fire department came but they would RUN to Michael.

He brought donated presents to them that first holiday season. He offered support to this foster family who was providing the kids with things like swimming lessons, a bike, a yard, and loving-kindness. Michael spoke with the kids’ therapist, attended meetings at their school, got the court to order tutoring, applied for a grant and received funds to help buy new school clothes for them the following fall. The list goes on.

And this, his volun-

teering as an advocate for those in need, is just a glimpse, a tiny tip of the iceberg into the wonderful person who was my friend, Michael Scribner.