I hate Christmas, I always have. However, I have one incredibly fond Christmas memory.
back in the days of my work as a caregiver, working with adults with developmental disabilities, we had to make a big deal out of Christmas for the clients. We had to take any excess money they had, and buy their own gifts for themselves, without them knowing, and we called it Santa. This wasn’t in all cases, but for our clients that wouldn’t put two and two together, thus was the situation.
I had a client who was my main client, and by choice.
I don’t remember my first day working with her, but I remember my first day meeting here, and She intimidated me. What it was about her that got to me, I can’t really say, but she intimidated me. Though by the time i started working with her, we already had a good established relationship, and over the following three years, it only strengthened.
She was non-verbal, had Down’s Syndrome, but was sassy and witty, and, in my eyes, a perfect human being. Her greatest enjoyment, aside from going out into the community, was string. Well, shoe laces were preferred, since she could get the knots undone, but really anything of that nature would do.
Naturally, we got her new string for Christmas – of course along with other things such as music (I had a pretty good idea of her taste in jams), things she needed for the house and so on. But a few pairs of shoe-strings were perfect for the stocking.
Everyone else had the same idea for her for a gift for Christmas, and as we sat down after breakfast to open presents, just she an I – she began opening gift after gift of string. While I would tell her who each gift was from, she would hug me every time she opened them.
Then came the big one – a shoebox full of string. I think there were perhaps 20 or so sets of different laces in that one.
She was so happy she couldn’t stop crying. She hugged me and hugged me and wouldn’t let go of me. It was the only time I saw her cry with full-on tears. She was so happy that I started crying.
I had to stop working there after a while, though I held on for as long as I could for her. In the end, the politics got to me, and I couldn’t fight the system from within any longer, so I left. I felt so guilty that I couldn’t be there for her any more, that I could no longer be her advocate.
I was her main staff for three years. I spent 40 hours a week with her, that was 40 out of her 70 allotted hours, the rest of the staff that worked with her, only spent ten hours a week each. She was so much a part of my life, and when I wasn’t working, I still made myself available as the staff to contact with any questions about her from doctors, pharmacists, anything else. I knew her wants, I knew her tastes, I knew just how she preferred things done. I knew what each little sounds she made meant, I knew what each look, each motion indicated.
And she knew me. She knew when I was struggling, when I was having a hard time with personal issues. She knew when to encourage me to dance with her. She knew when it was good to just get out and walk about.
We were more than just work-related. We were friends.
Friday marked the tragic day. On Friday, my former manager contacted me to let me know that this client, this wonderful being, was in hospice, and that they were expecting her to depart at any moment now.
What was already a tiring day took on a new vibration. For the first time, I began to understand the stages of grief.
Anger was definitely what struck me hardest, and guilt. I felt guilty that I didn’t try harder to see her after I left, guilty that I left at all. I felt angry at the agency she was with, though I have a whole separate rant about that. I just feel loss. I feel the loss that the would should be feeling now that she is not a part of it. I am angry – so angry that she was so healthy and happy when I worked with her, and now, just two an a half years later, she’s in a bed, circling the drain.
While I can’t actually say the words out loud, not yet, I know that it is time for me to say good-bye to her.
Good bye, dear friend. There has been no brighter star than you.