Michelle D. Falvey: 1962-2013

Michelle D. Falvey
Courtesy Photo

Precious, brilliant Michelle Falvey passed away suddenly September 14 in Santa Barbara after a courageous battle with cancer.

Born in Boston on June 9, 1962, Michelle was raised in Wellesley, Massachusetts. After graduating from Wellesley High School in 1980 and Tufts University in 1984, Michelle spent 10 years in Boston working in a variety of roles. Each role she played was informed by her curious and sharp mind, her incredible sense of humor, and her ability to connect with and understand people.

From a young age, Michelle possessed an intuitive understanding of people and a genuine interest in helping them. Her parents infused her with a strong sense of social justice coupled with a generous heart. Based on these interests, she decided to pursue a degree in social work. While interning in graduate school, she worked in individual, group, and family psychotherapy. She attained her master’s degree in social work from Boston College in 1994.

She then moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to apply her skills and passion for helping others. There, Michelle worked as a psychotherapist and served at-risk adolescents and their families.

In 2000, she moved to Santa Barbara to continue her work as a psychotherapist and broadened her practice to include clinical supervisor, program administrator, and university teacher. During the 13 years she lived here, she provided clinical leadership increasingly informed by her study, and then implementation, of mind and brain-based treatment intervention. She served the Santa Barbara community as clinical director for the Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Domestic Violence Solutions, Sojourn Early Childhood Mental Health, and St. Vincent’s Family Strengthening Program.

Michelle was dedicated to her spiritual practice based on Buddhist philosophy. She received numerous teachings from the Dalai Lama, as well as Pema Chödrön. She was a regular at the Vedanta Temple in Santa Barbara, and she also enjoyed the quietude of the Monastery of Poor Clares.

In recent years, she studied under Dr. Dan Siegel, a noted author and neurobiologist. Through his mentoring, she became dedicated to integrating the discoveries of neuroscience into the practices of mental-health intervention. She was asked to begin writing for Dr. Siegel just weeks before she received her cancer diagnosis.

She leaves behind her life partner, Lori Pearson, of Santa Barbara; her parents, Art and Betsey, of Wellesley, MA; and her brothers — Ryan and Mark of Somerville, MA, and Justin of Los Angeles — as well as many relatives and friends from Santa Barbara, Santa Fe, Boston, Tufts, and Boston College.

Services were held in Santa Barbara on September 22 at the Vedanta Temple. Donations in her memory will be directed primarily to children and women in need and can be made to the following organizations:

Santa Barbara Foundation, 1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101 (please write checks to Santa Barbara Foundation with the memo Michelle Falvey Memorial Fund); and Vedanta Society of So Cal — Santa Barbara, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara, CA 93108 (please write checks to Vedanta Society Santa Barbara with the memo Michelle Falvey Memorial Fund).

We will miss Michelle’s bright colors, her scarves, her keen sense of humor, her sparkling smile, her brilliant mind, and her beautiful being.

The following tribute from one of Michelle’s clients captures her impact on so many:

When I first met Michelle, I was without a home, lacked permanence, and was expecting my second son. I was on a precipice, and she caught me one warm afternoon on the street outside her office. She saw me walking as in flight, in the midst of fear, a day unlike any other. In this moment she extended her hand to me. She spoke to me with hope, a clarity and directness in her tone that I would come to know well, a cadence and rhythm I would cherish. I did not know what was within her when we met, I could not have anticipated the power she wielded, and I did not understand the magnitude of the gift she would selflessly and assuredly offer me.

Through our acquaintance, she instilled within me the desire to look inside myself and become enveloped with the beauty I found. 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 created the space where we met in her office; she adorned it with color, articles of simple good creation, and cheer. She was a warrior to me. Her eyes were sharp, bright, analytical, and birdlike, and they held a tender luminosity — alternately at times they bore into my own with uncommon acuity, provoking me toward 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, whom you spoke of dearly, and you loved and cared for the children and mothers who were under your guidance with a diligence and compassion 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.

It was you who first spoke to me of dreaming and seeking a path not unlike your own. I began a journey toward 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 know this story of gratitude is far from limited to my family and me, and I hope the thoughts and love of the hundreds whom you helped in your life carried you in some form when you sought a respite, and desired comfort and solace. —Rima


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