A bright light, Michelle cared deeply for the clients she served at St. Vincent's, June 2012
We were truly saddened to learn that our colleague and friend Michelle Dray Falvey died suddenly on September 14, 2013, after a courageous six-week battle with aggressive cancer.
A licensed social worker with twenty years of mental health experience, Michelle served as the Clinical Director of St. Vincent’s Family Strengthening Program since 2011. Her specialized expertise in parent-child attachment, complex trauma, brain-based understandings, and chemical dependency allowed her to bring hope of a brighter future to single and pregnant women and their children.
Through Michelle’s warmth, determination, and clinical services, she helped transform the lives of several mothers and their children and put them on the road to stability and renewal with grace and dignity. Professional, positive, and passionate about her work, Michelle was respected, admired, and loved by her clients and her colleagues.
Michelle (right) with one of her colleagues at St. Vincent's, June 2013
We are forever grateful to Michelle for all that she gave not only to St. Vincent’s but also to the Santa Barbara community. She was a blessing to all who knew her. We mourn her loss and will miss her greatly. We extend our deepest sympathies to her family, her friends, and her loved ones. God bless you, Michelle.
Michelle (left) with the children at St. Vincent's Easter Egg Hunt, March 2013
Tribute: A Beautiful Spirit, My Friend and Counselor Michelle Falvey
Written by one of the mothers in St. Vincent's Family Strengthening Program, the tribute below was read with courage, grace, and affection at Michelle Falvey's memorial service last month in Santa Barbara. As you will read, Michelle's compassion, dedication, and love made a tremendous difference in the lives of the mothers and children whom she served at St. Vincent's.
Through our acquaintance, she instilled within me the desire to look inside myself, become enveloped with the beauty that I found, and abstain from denying, dismissing or loathing the ugliness. She encouraged me to develop a coherent self-narrative, an awareness of self, and in doing so bestow the greatest gift to my children. I spoke to her every week, she made the space we met in her own, she adorned it with color, articles of simple good creation, and cheer. The slow, seeking, healing scents of lavender and sage, the steady warmth and compression of compassion and courage. She was a warrior to me. Her eyes were sharp, bright, analytical and bird-like, and they held a tender luminosity ~ alternately at times they bore into my own with uncommon acuity, provoking me towards action, dark with depths of understanding. All her movements were quick, fluid, agile and capable. She pressed in close, she invited, she captivated and astounded me with her memory and knowledge. There were moments when I was rendered speechless by her insight and magic, and sat, basking in the time that was not time, not defined by minutes, or seconds, but rather by awareness, reserves of power, rejuvenation and healing.
Michelle, often you said you had no children of your own. But you loved your own mother with a ferocity and devotion that is rare, you were the eldest of your siblings who you spoke of dearly, and you loved and cared for the children and mothers who were under your guidance with a diligence and encompassing that was more than human. In this capacity you demonstrated a masterful quality that assimilates to nothing closer than maternal love. As I knew you, you were a mother, a matriarch. You were a woman who was a guardian, and your children were those most in need of such a figure and steady, trustworthy source of love.
I recall the single instance in our time together when your eyes brimmed with tears, as I relayed a beautiful experience my eldest son had, in which an adult he connected with, his preschool teacher, held a birthday ceremony for him, and told a story depicting him as an angel looking down at the world before birth, a story filled with special love and understanding of him as an individual. Your eyes glistened, and I wondered at your apparent sadness. You revealed that you were so happy for him, but at the same time your happiness was coupled with sorrow – sadness for all the children who never had such an experience, who were never shown by an adult they respected that they were seen, watched over, or cherished in such a manner. The degree of your empathy struck me. I once heard a quote from my father: "The inability of some people to feel the pain of others as if it were their own is what makes evil possible." Michelle, you felt the pain of others as if it were your very own. You placed the needs of others above your own. You were so good and kind. You had the fortitude and selflessness of a saint. You adored and protected children, and promoted and practiced peace, goodwill, healing and love. I have never known anyone quite like you.
I want to tell you how I admired you. I want to say that so often as an adult I have looked about me and found faith and trust far from my sphere, how often I have failed to embrace the concept of community or love of oneself, and how arriving in your care from these states, from these cycles, how very special and valuable were the lessons you taught me. The more I learned about you, the more in awe I was. You worked last with mothers and children in need, but in your life you also aided those addicted to treacherous substances, and men consumed by rage and pain, histories of violence, who in turn made the decisions to inflict great pain on their loved ones, as well as the women and children who were their victims. What a spectrum of people you served, what levels of failure, defeat, darkness and malice you battled against! You were a courageous soul, and you withheld judgment . . . it appeared as though any absorption of the devils you combatted only served to strengthen the caliber and purity of your being.
What comes of grief, what can come of loss? It was you who first spoke to me of dreaming, and seeking a path not unlike your own. I began a journey towards this mission while you still lived, and I will continue it. I will seek to be like you, and give, and remain grateful and humble. No aspect of my future endeavors and aspirations will be separate from the memory of you. I had the honor of being in your presence and under your care, and I will honor you with every step I take after I leave this program that is touched in every way by your work and spirit. I will think of you whenever I look at my sons and contemplate their early years. I will carry you with me the remainder of my life.
Michelle, you were surrounded by light in life, and I know your spirit will shine and illuminate with the same rare beauty and power in the next realm. Thank you for giving so freely, and for touching and carefully, purposefully tending to my sons and me. I know this story of gratitude is but an echo, you guided and impacted so many, and I hope the thoughts and love of the hundreds who you helped in your life carried you in some form when you sought a respite, and desired comfort and solace.
With all my love and my deepest gratitude, thank you.