While putting my laundry in the washer this morning, I thought back to the beautiful memorial service I attended yesterday for Augie Simonaitis. Clients and staff and friends came together to fill the MultiPurpose Room on the 6th floor; staff I've worked with, some who have moved on to new ventures, and others I only know by name. There were clients whom I have watched as they've ridden roller-coasters of success and failure, a client who has found contentment with the slow road of building on small triumphs rather than chasing after the dramatic life changes that have eluded him, a client whom I've watched waste away, and another who just keeps plodding along, seemingly in his own little world most of the time. We were all there to pay our respect to Augie, and it felt very much like a family.
I knew Augie for the six years I've worked at the Drop-In. For three of those years I was one of the front line workers greeting clients, donators, EMS and CPS at the main doors, while he was in "the fishbowl", the Security office behind us. I can remember one night when Augie was being a bit bossy for my liking, calling out his
opinion of every little thing we were doing as we tried to keep the peace out in the lobby. I finally went to his window and said to him, "Augie, we just got a phone call from Environment Canada. They say that the hot air from your mouth is affecting weather systems all across the Prairies, and they say they'll give you a silver-framed barometer to hang on your wall if you'll shut up." To my surprise, he did. For a little while.
When I was first offered a supervisor's position, my response was "Who, me? a supervisor? Are you kidding?" And it took me about a year before I felt comfortable and competent in that role. But Augie had confidence in me; he would tell me that he believed I was good at my job and I could handle whatever came up. I needed those words, especially from people who knew where I had come from, what I was good at, and what I wasn't.
Due to the foresight and care of my own supervisor Linda, who had heard from nurse James that Augie might not make it through the night, my work was done by others last Tuesday, while it came to me to be with him when he died. I phoned Dr. Hurley just after 1:00 a.m., so she could come to the apartment, phone the funeral home, and sit with Augie and I while we waited for them to come pick him up. But until the service yesterday, I never knew that Augie had been a client. I had known nothing of his life of hard struggle with self-destructive habits. And I never guessed at the many lives that he had touched so deeply. The memorial gave us a chance to briefly sketch out for each other a few outlines of who this man was and how we had each been touched. Appropriately, we were met a the door with a beautiful pencil drawing of Augie done by Jeff, one of our new Security staff, who had the chance to meet Augie before he left us.
I am grateful towards Andrew Joo, John Rowland, Dermot Baldwin, and whoever else organized this memorial for Augie so that we may have a chance to gather together and tell each other stories about our friend. Is this not a fine, fine way for us to accept death as part of life? to process our loss and to give thanks for the flawed,
imperfect, fully human lifegiver who has passed on?
For us, life goes on; in our booming city there are a thousand ways to get the short end of the stick and various addictions to shorten the stick further still, so there are still clients to feed and house at the Drop-In. There are mouths to feed at home. I'm on my days off, and my laundry is now ready to go out on the clothesline.
Roger G. continues to work nights for the Drop-In, as he always has.