Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Tragedy Strikes...The Death of a Friend
(Michael is pictured far right holding up his shirt.)
I write this post with a very heavy heart. On Sunday morning as my Alabama group was preparing to leave New Orleans for Alabama we discovered one of our members had died in the night.
Michael Paul Phillips of Millbrook, Al passed away on Sunday December 09, 2007. He was 38 years-old.
I had worked with Michael for a little over a year on the medical marijuana issue. He was born with an inoperable brain tumor that caused multiple seizures on a daily basis. He had taken every seizure medication known to humankind, and a few that were not, to no avail. Medical marijuana was the only thing on earth that reduced the number and severity of his seizures. He survived 4 different and unsuccessful brain surgeries that resulted in major injury to his brain causing him to have problems communicating, understanding and slowing his motor skills and coordination. As a result of that he was never able to be independent. He never lived on his own for more than a few months, was never able to get his drivers license, never married and never had any children. He had also been ostracized from society and had no friends other than myself and the small group of people who work with me here in Alabama.
I met Michael after he saw me on the Keith Olbermann show during the 2006 election. He called me up and told me he was a medical marijuana patient and that he wanted to be involved in passing the law so that he could stop being a criminal and living in fear of the police kicking in his parents door and seizing their property on top of his already nearly impossible life.
I began taking Michael to our Compassionate Care meetings around the state and coaching him on how to stand before the heartless fucking power structure in the Alabama State House and tell his story. His proudest moment came when he and his mother testified and he got his name and story in the Mobile Press-Register and the Montgomery Advertiser.
Michael was very excited about being able to testify again in 2008 and would call me multiple times a week to see if I knew when we were going back before the legislature. Michael, because of his disability, never had any friends to hang out with, to take him places or to make him feel like he was a part of a group who gave a fuck about him. I am so fortunate and blessed to have been able to proivide him with a circle of friends who also have some disabilities that could relate to how hard his life had been. He was always very excited when we were having a meeting because it meant that he got to get out of the house and be around people he could understand and who did not judge him or ostracize him or make him feel that he was different or burdensome in any way.
Thanks to the generous efforts of the DPA Michael was granted a scholarship to attend the International Drug Policy reform conference in NOLA. I think he called me twice a day for a month leading up to the conference. This was his first trip away from home in 20 years. His last was when he graduated high school and his parents took him to the beach...needless to say he was very excited. His child-like enthusiasim was wonderful to behold. Michael had a great time at the conference. He met other patients, struck up conversations on his own which was very rare for him, took notes during the sessions, had a ball walking down Bourbon St. watching what must have been a total freak show to him and eating raw oysters every day that he was there.
I last saw him after the closing session where he participated in a huge smoke-out in my room. He was having a blast. He had never been around so many people who asked what his story was or who were so willing to talk to him and include him. He left with four other group members and they all returned to their hotel for the evening. Everyone was tired and didn't want to go out. The plan was for everyone to meet up in the Holiday Inn lobby at 9 am for the trip back to Alabama. When I called around 830 to make sure everyone was up and almost ready I learned that no one could find Michael. They had searched high and low, been to his room and pounded on the door, called his room....and nothing. I asked the lady at the front desk to open the door so I could check on him. She said that she could not do that until after 11 am. I told her that this was a medical emergency and she called housekeeping to go by and peek in. About 25 minutes later housekeeping called back and said he was in his bed sleeping. I knew at that moment that he was probably dead.
I went to his room and banged on his door for a long time and called his name. Nothing. I asked again for the door to be opened so I could enter and was told not until 11. I then said if they didn't open the door I would kick the fucker off the hinges. They opened the door.
I walked over to his bed and laid my hand on his back. He was already long dead and cold. It appeared that he mercifully died in his sleep and he was laying on his side with one knee bent. Whatever took him did it quickly and painlessly and thankfully he never knew that the end of his life had come.
Having to call his parents and deliver that awful news ranks as one of the absolute worst moments of my life. They are devastated. His mother said, "Oh please don't leave my baby down there by hisself." I lost a child in 2000 and the strangest and most illogical things happen to your mind when that happens. You want to know if your baby is cold? Are the people with him people that can show him dignity? Is he alone? You want to hold and touch and caress them and the thought that they are alone is about more than you can bear. It does not matter that it is just a body and that the life force has departed. You want your baby.
However I had others with me who had to get back to work and to their families. We did stay until Monday and learned that it would be Tuesday before the funeral home here in Alabama could get his body back. There was some question as to whether they could get the body back at all due to Louisiana having very stringent laws regarding corpses. The funeral director told his mother this and the family got her to agree to let me come home ahead of the hearse. Leaving Michael was very hard. One of his fears before going on this trip is that he would get seperated from the group and be lost and alone. I'll always feel very badly about having to leave him. I know how his mama feels. It's an awful place to be in your mind.
I went to Michael's parents house last night to return his belongings that I was allowed to bring back and to mourn with them. I was terrified, just terrified, that they would be angry with me and blame me. I know that when my son died I certainly wanted something or someone to blame. It is a natural part of the grieving process I think. I was prepared for it...but it didn't come. Michael's parents were loving and warm. They thanked me for being one of the only friends that he ever had and for making him a part of something that had a great deal of meaning for him, for taking him places, for helping him find medicine and for taking him before the powers that be in Alabama so that his voice, which had been silenced and oppressed for the majority of his life, would be heard by important people. They thanked me for giving the last year of his life a meaning and substance that it had never had before.
Michael's body is now back in Alabama and funeral arrangements will be announced later today. While speaking with his family last night I learned that they had neither life nor burial insurance on Michael and that the added cost of transporting the body back from New Orleans was going to be enormous. Michael's father is unable to work due to having advanced COPD. His mother has worked all her life at a sewing plant. I would like to ask all of my readers to make a donation to help cover the cost for his family.
Please PayPal donations to me email@example.com or if you prefer to mail them please send a check or money order payable to Bobby or Jackie Phillips to me at
4633 Pearson Chapel Rd
Alexander City AL 35010
If any of you would like to send flowers please send them to
3360 Brookside Dr
Millbrook, AL 36054
If you are in Alabama and would like to attend Michael's funeral please email me offlist for more details. I will be delivering part of Michael's eulogy.
Please keep Michael Phillips and his family in your thoughts and prayers.
Alabamians for Compassionate Care