Music is one of the most powerful forces in the universe for inspiring emotions.
Driving home one night, the song “Now and Forever” by Carole King came on the radio. I was flooded with so many beautiful memories of my days working at Douglas St. Group home. On a cold, snowy day in March 1989, I accepted a call for an interview. I had been on antibiotics for 3 days, still running a fever but wanted the job. So I went. While interviewing with the Manager, the entire staff walked thru the dining room. I was told later the comment was made “That little 12 years won’t last 2 weeks”. 15 years later I left the home, but not those who left a lasting impact on my heart and my life. The staff team and individuals gave me a family when I was far away from mine.
The people I worked with then were with me, a few physically, when my sons were born, saw me thru some difficult times, and more importantly, helped make the little 12-year old into the person she is today. It is 31 years later, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and I have come to fully realize the impact walking thru that door that day.
As a child, I always wanted to change the world and make it a better place.
Those childhood dreams of a world with no war, a happy utopia where everyone got along. I befriended some kids in high school who attended an alternative school forwards of the state. I learned their stories, so different and so contrary to how I grew up and what I knew. Originally I wanted to be a journalist. Write and tell the truth, but after meeting these kids, I thought I could impact the world best by being a Psychologist, and please don’t fault the logic of a 17-year-old, a lawyer.
Therefore I entered college with this path in mind. And as life goes, never as planned, I met my husband, graduated, got married and he started law school. We couldn’t both attend and survive on Ramen noodles, which led me to the snowy day in March 1989. I had worked the year before for a company that provides housing for the Mentally Ill. It was a corrupt organization, I, at 5’3″, 110 lbs worked long 12 hour days on my own with 10 residents that could easily kill me. However, with kindness and respect, I was never in real danger. I left after a year.
I started at the home 2 days after my interview. Luckily I was no stranger to people with disabilities. I grew up with twin cousins who were disabled. The staff team was awesome, but they were curious as to how long I would stick around.
When you work with people with disabilities, you are told don’t get attached. That is completely impossible. When you work with someone daily who relies on you and trusts you completely, you get attached. Over the 15 years that I worked there, my clients knew me better than myself. They shared in my wedding preparations, pregnancies and were there for the births of my sons. My children grew up at the group home. My oldest came to the house after school on 9/11 and wept with us. He was just old enough to understand the impact of the events and put aside some of his fears to comfort others.
As I went through my 20’s and 30’s at the home, I begin to realize, that my childhood dreams for changing the world didn’t have to be huge events. Every life you touch, every act of kindness you show, changes the world in some way. The individuals I worked with taught me about myself, and the compassion I was fully capable of. I gave them my love wholeheartedly, but they gave unconditionally. My children learned to help others less fortunate than themselves. They learned to see beyond someone’s physical appearance to the light within them.
I remember standing in a hospital room, with an elderly mom, sister, and my close friend while a client I loved very much was dying.
We were discussing taking her off life support. Her nephew was a doctor, his mother called for advice. He said, mom, I can’t tell you one way or another, but who is with you? She said grandma, Marilee, and Linda. He said to ask Marilee and Linda if she survives, can she go home. We all knew the answer to that, she would spend the rest of her life, in a hospital or nursing home. She would not have the quality of life she would love.
To be a part of that personal decision hit home to me, how much I was valued by the people I worked with. After I left the home, 2 more families reached out to me to be with them while the client was dying. Someone asked me how I could do this type of work and watch them die. I said, if I know in my heart that I helped them enjoy life and live it to the fullest, then I can live with that.