Jack Carney and James Micheal Grissom met because James Micheal's mom was dying. James Micheal, who was 36 at the time, has a traumatic brain injury from childhood and his mom had recently been diagnosed with cancer. She wanted to do what she could to make sure her son was cared for, so she reached out to Jack who is an estate attorney.
So this is a story about estate planning for special needs.
But it's mainly a story about choosing to love.
Jack did the work of the estate planning. Planning for family members with special needs is both difficult emotionally and logistically. There are resources that have been developed in recent years, like the Alabama Family Trust which is a way for family to put money aside for the care of their family member without the costs of managing a trust. And attorneys like Jack do much of the heavy lifting in figuring out the paperwork. A listing of resources for estate planning for special needs is below.
James Micheal didn't have any blood family that could care for him. So Jack made a startling decision. He became James Micheal's guardian when his mom passed away.
After a long search, Jack found support for James Micheal. A lovely group home that is supported and cared for by the Bluff Park United Methodist Church. Not only is the home located across the street from the church, but the church community also supports the group home with events and visits. James Micheal had his own room there where he could display his pictures and treasures (many from Chuck E. Cheese).
The Exceptional Foundation was a wonderful addition to the schedule. James Micheal went almost daily. They even had major events like a Prom. By all accounts, he rocked the dance floor and his tux at the prom.
Jack and his family, his daughters Kate and Grace plus a plethora of friends and extended family, became James Micheal's family. They are close to the same age (both in their 30's when they met), so it was most like a brother relationship. He was included in Christmas and Thanksgiving. They had a special 40th birthday for James Micheal at Chuck E. Cheese. They seemed to go to all the hot spots – like Bingo Night at Prince of Peace Catholic Church, local art shows and mini golf.
When Jack took his girls to Disney World, James Micheal went too and had a ball. James Micheal became a special friend for Jack's youngest daughter and was always willing to play with her even when the other grownups didn't have the time or energy. He brought a light and sense of humor to everything he did.
They all went to church as a family.
What did Jack get out of being a part of James Micheal's life? From all accounts, love, laughter and whether he admits it or not, the joy and knowledge that he was a blessing in James Micheal's life. His girls learned that people with special needs bring their own light and perspective to life. And also showed them how rich your life can be when you reach out and take a chance to include someone who needs someone in their life.
James Micheal died unexpectedly this week. His 41st birthday was yesterday. They had a birthday party at the Exceptional Foundation. The memorial service on Wednesday was completely full of family and friends from his many activities. It was full in the way that we all hope it will be full at our memorial. It was full because James Micheal's life was full – in large part due to the social life that Jack and groups like the Exceptional Foundation, had helped support.
After the memorial service, there were hamburgers from Mugshots and hundreds of pictures of James Micheal…. At Disney World, playing with Kate, wearing a silly hat at the Dick's Last Resort, hanging out with Jack and Method Man, dancing at Prom and smiling. Always smiling.
Carney Dye Law, LLC – www.carneydye.com
The Academy of Special Needs Planners - www.specialneedsanswers.com
Alabama Family Trust – www.alabamafamilytrust.com
Exceptional Foundation – www.exceptionalfoundation.org
Promise Home - http://bluffparkumc.org/missions/promisehome/
Alabama Head Injury Foundation -www.ahif.org