Rest In Peace
Two weeks ago I received a call from the Thurston County Coroners office inquiring about a man that had been found deceased. He said that the only identifying information they could find was our address listed on his ID card and paperwork from our shelter in his belongings. He told me this information in a very matter of fact way--the Coroner was trying to locate family and was following all possible avenues in doing so. My heart sank and my eyes filled with tears. At this point I swallowed the lump and asked if he could tell me who it was...
A few weeks before this call, I showed up to work and there was a kayak near the bike rack. A KAYAK. I never quite know what to expect when I walk down into that parking lot, but I must say--A KAYAK?!?! So upon further investigation we come to find that Brady had purchased the kayak from Big 5 Sports and had dragged the kayak along the sidewalk all the way back to the shelter from Big 5 Sports because the bus driver wouldn't let him take it on the bus with him!
This was the man that Brady was. Determined, adventurous, and not one to back down from pursuing something he believed in. The weeks when he was boating each day we all noticed a shift in his spirit. He was more social, full of life and began pontificating even more so then usual about the beauty of the sea. This excerpt was a recent monologue he dictated to Ell/a one of our support staff as they transcribed it on the computer:
Anonymous Persons (Nostradamus) Thesis 1.23
“To be on the shore of the west coast, longing for the open waters of the great ocean to catch sail of a gentle breeze going towards the islands of warmth. Shangrila (peace, harmony and contentment) of being very stable and wanting to just relax like a warm bathtub of water with one’s aching existence soaking in it, while sipping upon one’s favorite beverage. it sounds like poetry. want to make this poetry a reality. which is easy to grasp after residing within this comfortable harbor that’s kind of a jest (whats a jest? like a joke? correct.) Somber thought while walking from one such side of town to the other side of town. Take a moment and look out to the far end of the harbor, which does lead to open waters and just ponder on the sailing thought.”
It is not very often that people have the opportunity to die doing something they truly love. This is especially true for people experiencing houselessness. In fact, one of the questions on our Vulnerability Assessment that we use to gauge someone's high likelihood of dying on the street is,
"Do you have planned activities, other than just surviving, that make you feel happy and fulfilled?".
I am overwhelmed with gratitude that Brady had the opportunity to find something to do other than surviving each day, that made him feel such a deep sense of belonging and peace on the water.
We held a memorial service for Brady on Tuesday last week, at the "Octagon" as it's known on the streets, near the corner of East Bay Drive and Olympia Ave. Our amazing medical and hospice partners, the Amahoro House volunteers, provided food, warm drinks and a beautiful display of flowers, rocks and ropes to help us celebrate the life of a man described by his peers as full of dignity, a pure heart and a beautiful example of a true friend.
The memorial brought out Shelter Support Staff, community members that knew him from the street, shelter volunteers and most importantly, shelter guests that have spent the past 9 months living with Brady. All but one of his dorm mates attended as did many others from the street community.
We had three dozen long stem roses that we picked as we shared a thought, memory or appreciation of Brady. We took the petals and gathered them in two vessels. Two volunteers, a shelter guest and Chris, Brady's fellow Meritime enthusiast and Support Staff member, ventured out on a dingy and a kayak to spread the petals and all of our love for Brady into the water just as he would have wanted it. The rest of us threw the petals on the shore to be taken out later by the tide.
Local Man of Mystery
We often referred to Brady as a Man of Mystery. We didn't know much about him and he would always say some coded catchphrases that were playful and might not always make linear sense. He never really mentioned family and all we ever knew for sure was that he loved the water. We learned a little bit more about Brady the day of his memorial, though.
A car happened to drive by as we were walking down to the shore and the driver asked me what we were doing. I told her, and I told her Brady's name. Her eyes filled with tears and she said, "My husband was his high school teacher at Capital". She said thank you to us for honoring his life and drove away.
This moment points to a larger narrative in our city. In this Olympian article Brady Grivel, 50 year old local man who attended Capital High School is referred to as a "transient". When will we accept that the people experiencing homelessness in Olympia aren't "home"less at all? Their home is Olympia. They are without a structure of a physical house to live in, but they are from here. Their families are here. Their jobs are here. They went to high school here.
Advocates and social service providers have tried a hundred different ways to explain the misconception that people experiencing houselessness on our streets of our city are flocking here from other cities. Overwhelmingly, through year after year after year of census information, surveying, and individual reporting we have unchanging data to show that between 80-90% of our street community has called Thurston County and specifically in many cases, Olympia, home for a very long time.
The average life expectancy of someone experiencing longterm houselessness is around 47 years old. Brady is the 4th shelter guest that has died since we opened. Two guests, Chris Fabrizio and Lisa Rath died after they had moved on from the shelter, and two (Ariel Stone and Brady Grivel) have been active guests when they died. All had been living in Thurston County for over 10 years.
May Brady, Ariel, Lisa, and Chris's lives solidify in our minds that the people you see on the streets are part of our community as much as anyone else. They deserve our care, respect and love. When we provide this for them, our community as a whole is healthier and better off.
May we have the insight as residents, city leaders, business owners, faith leaders, newspaper editors and community members to look at the many ways our community continues to push our neighbors even further to the margins by the way we describe them.
Rest in Peace, Brady. You will be missed.
Photos by Angela Lee and Meg Martin
Meg Martin, MSW, MHP, is the Shelter Program Director for The Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter.