Fodder for the Fire: A Homeless Man Dies, A Church Grows, and We are Proud?

By Daniel Slack | Mar 14, 2017
Michael Rainey "The good man is the man who, no matter how morally unworthy he has been, is moving to become better."-John Dewey

Skowhegan — Today, an overwhelming sadness passed through me as I realized for the first time my hand in death of a Guitar Player, Cook, Homeless Man, and a Friend. His name was Michael Rainey and I was a member of the staff at the Homeless shelter that was responsible for his life, and death.

I first met Michael when I was a Staff Member at the “Skowhegan Homeless Shelter.” At that time, I was doing front desk work and in charge of the Kitchen Crew. This wonderful man volunteered to help with food preparation for the daily meals that fed 70+ men 3 times a day.

As the time passed, we grew rather close, and our kitchen became a sanctuary from the homeless lifestyle, shelter politics, and even from the required church sermons. If you visited our kitchen, you would see a group of guitar playing singers who also knew how to serve gourmet meals.

It was not out of the ordinary for us to serve Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin stuffed with SpinachBeef Bourguignonor Lasagna Bolognese. This was due to quite a miracle. The Kitchen Staff, though living in a homeless shelter, pooling their limited resources and purchasing ingredients that any kitchen manager would be proud of.

We did not rely on the donations from our wonderful sponsor, Hannaford. My Crew collected an additional $600 a month in food stamps and cash to supplement our larders with finer cuts of meats, tasty cheeses, and foreign delicacies. We were proud of our kitchen and the culture it spawned. We wanted to share this freedom and joy with the rest of the shelter.

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We had truly found joy in the midst of uncertainty and homelessness. It was not out of the ordinary to find the group of us, after a successful day of serving food to our homeless brethren, playing guitar to wind down at the end of the night. You would hear all sorts of music, from country, bluegrass, blues and rock, to classic hymns and modern worship music.

During these music festivals, you would find that Michael had taken off his apron and put on his guitar. If you were fortunate enough to hear him play, you would be taken by the skill he was able to make his guitar sing. He had the unique ability to not only showcase his abilities, but his skill also made those around him sound even better.

This amazing man blessed us with his kitchen skills, with his music, and with his presence.

It was Thursday, August 18, 2011. This day still fills my heart with sadness and remorse. Not only did I have to deal with the death of a close friend, but the later realization that I had a hand in his passing.

When I first seen him, he had just returned from a Dentist appointment having his teeth pulled. His skin was pale, and I remember taking his pulse for some reason. He seemed semi-coherent, and insisted that this was due to the anesthesia that he had been administered during the procedure. His speech was slurred and he had trouble walking into the office to check back in.

I remember walking him down to his top bunk in one of the downstairs rooms. I made sure that he was comfortable, and secure. I asked if he needed anything, or if there was anything I could to do alleviate his suffering.

He laughed, and mumbled about how I just needed to give him a few days.

"We all get swept up in the hype machine. Nobody is immune to that."- Steven Cojocaru

I first told the Shelter Manager, Mark Laverdiere, that Michael is not well. His breathing was becoming shallow and his awareness was problematic.

Mark told me I was just over-reacting and I needed to not worry about it. Due to his indifferent attitude, I decided to call upon the higher authority.

The problem is that I saw the color dwindle from his face as I watched him fall asleep. I was truly concerned about his health and I talked to Pastor Berry about his condition.

I told the Pastor Berry about how I had Medic First Aid training and all of my observations told me that Michael needed medical attention. I mentioned that he showed signs of an opioid overdose, and he needed to be seen immediately.

Pastor Berry laughed at me and told me that he was going to be okay, he had also come from the “Clinic” and I do not need to be concerned. “GOD” was in this place and I had no right or need to be worried.

I pressed him on this matter, but he was either too distracted hear me, or there were other matters that were of more importance. I was told to go back to the kitchen and get dinner ready.

"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?"-1 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV

A few hours had past and I was still worried about Michael, so I went to check on him. What I found was that he was not moving, his body was cold, there was no respiration, and his limbs were stiff. All of his normal color was gone and only the pallor of death remained.

Immediately, I called for assistance. I tried CPR and Mouth-to-Mouth Resuscitation, but I already knew the outcome.

When assistance finally arrived it was a group of people that included the Shelter Manager. Immediately, I started assigning roles. I told one man to call 911. I told another to wait outside for the ambulance. I told someone else to make sure the hallway stays clear.

At that point, Mark told me that I am not in charge of anyone, only he has the authority to tell people what to do. This man ranted about how I overstepped my boundaries for a good 5 minutes.

The whole time, a crowd was forming in the outside of the room. People were going in and out, and the situation became chaotic. Apparently, my manager had never had such an experience before.

A few weeks later, there were services conducted for the family and friends of Michael Rainey in shelter. I was working the sound booth and had taken recordings of the proceedings. At that time, I met one of his sisters, and we began to talk.

I offered my condolences, and told her how I was going to miss this wonderful man who had blessed my kitchen and my life. We talked for a few minutes and she told me she would like a copy of the recording and any pictures I might have of Michael while he was with us. She said I could get her contact information from the pastor, and she could not thank me enough.

I felt it was my solemn duty to give anything and everything to her. Unfortunately, I never got the chance.

For some reason, the office staff never gave me her contact information. On top of that issue, out of the front office, my laptop that contained all of the recordings, pictures, and documents went missing. I found it an odd coincidence and often wonder if maybe there was a reason why someone did not want me to make contact.

To this day, I feel guilty because I did not push the issue of Michael’s health and welfare. I believed the hype that the pastor had portrayed about his Authority in his Shelter, GOD’s Will in the Day to Day choices we make in life, and the Divine Instruction to follow leadership, even if we know they have no clue, all in the name of Christ.

I will feel partially to blame for this good man’s death, for the rest of my life.

“One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself.” - Shannon L. Alder

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