Randall at MCE picnic

A Funeral for Randall

by Jude Fischer

Randall was a homeless man sleeping in the alley behind Marian Centre and on the streets nearby. It seems he once slept at shelters in the area, but they had a limit on how much stuff you could bring with you. Randall’s big bags of his meagre belongings soon exceeded that limit, so he chose to stay with them and sleep outside.

And it seemed he preferred the solitude as well. Just as he preferred coming to our blue door for sandwiches and bag lunches rather than to our crowded dining room for a hot meal.

Occasionally he changed his location, moving his pile of bags. He was often seen writing in his notebook, and his camping out was a catalyst for kindness from many. Concerned passers-by would stop to greet him and offer help: gifts of food and drinks, water, blankets, a warmer sleeping bag, crossword puzzles, even a couch to sleep on.

We at Marian Centre helped as well. Sherman brought him food on the days we were closed, Janet asked for his prayers, and Zoyla offered him a picture of an icon she had painted.

An agency worker talked to him about finding housing, and we were hoping this would happen. Sleeping on the streets is not safe; it leaves you very vulnerable. As one homeless person said, “You never know if you’re going to wake up dead.”

One morning in early December, the police appeared at Randall’s spot and cordoned off the area. Randall was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. There he died, shortly after, on Our Lady’s Feast Day, December 8th.

It had been a bitterly cold night, and we were afraid he may have frozen to death. We later learned that he had been assaulted and died as a result.

We offered Mass for Randall at Marian Centre, and we wanted to attend his funeral. This led to countless phone calls—to the hospital (nurse, social worker, and the admitting department) and to the morgue to try to find out when the body would be released and a funeral scheduled.

It was discovered he had family, his mother and a brother, but no one could reach them. There was conflicting information and misinformation.

At one point we were told the body had been released to the medical examiner’s office, but they had no record of him.

Finally the body was released to a funeral home, and after payment authorization from the government was finally received, a funeral was scheduled for early January.

Fr. Jim, pastor of our inner city parish, would officiate at the funeral which could be held at the church if we could provide pallbearers. This, we happily did.

Randall’s mother was finally found, but she was elderly, in a long-term care facility, and was unable to be involved. His brother still could not be found, as the phone number they had for him was no longer active.

Meanwhile one of the Brothers Christopher (the poor men we serve, many of them homeless) brought us a picture of Randall. Another picture appeared on a fence near where Randall slept, in a makeshift memorial, with ribbons and feathers adorning it. We put our copy of Randall’s picture on the bulletin board at the entrance to the dining room where we offer a meal.

The next day a bearded man with blue eyes behind dark glasses came through our blue door. On his way to the dining room where refreshments were being served to those waiting for the clothing room to open, he saw the picture.

Recognizing it, he was stunned and asked why the picture was there. It was in this way that he learned of his brother’s death. He hadn’t seen Randall in thirty years, and had been hoping to find him some day.

What brought him to Marian Centre just as the picture was posted? He had only been here once before.

He shared some memories of Randall’s early struggles and was eager to talk with anyone who had known him in the years since they had lost touch with each other.

We never learned just what happened to Randall, though the police concluded the death was non-criminal.

We finally laid him to rest on January 6th, a month after his death, after a funeral service at Sacred Heart Church. Fr. Jim warmly welcomed the gathering of about thirty who had known Randall—MCE staff and volunteers, Brothers Christopher, a few staff from nearby agencies, and Randall’s brother.

It was a simple but moving farewell. Though there was little advance planning, many small contributions created a beautiful unified whole. Someone brought a photograph, another flowers, still another provided the eulogy. Someone else led the hymns at the service and the songs at the graveside, and still others brought sandwiches and biscotti for an impromptu reception.

A woman named Theresa who had started a group to connect those who have enough with those who don’t, enriching both in the process, wrote a beautiful tribute to Randall which Fr. Jim read. In it she described how so many had united in taking care of Randall, while respecting his choice to remain outside.

“What we think is best for folks may not be … Not everyone fits in the box that is offered, and here was a perfect example of the community coming together to support a man outside the conventional box.”

She ended with: “All of you who showed Randall care and compassion, he gave you the opportunity to be a better person, eh? There is a void in the inner city now. We’ll be taking a second glance each time we go down “his” alley. Rest in peace, gentle Randall. You are in our hearts.”