Excerpts From The Book
Yesterday, I went to the funeral of an elderly woman who Iíve been involved with for about 8 years. It was a small crowd, mostly people who have cared for her. Her housekeeper was there. She has outlived all of her peers. Everyone had died and she had nobody left and at the viewing yesterday it was kind of a happy time. We had some laughs about what an irascible old woman she was and how she lived life by her own standards. Up until her death she fought every step of the way and she managed to preserve her dignity. I knew that we had all helped her to achieve her goal. She had lived life by her own terms and we enabled her to have dignity until the end. I see that as my role, to help people live a good life until it's time to die. Yesterday, it struck home in my heartĖthis is the purpose of what I'm doing. It is to give people a good life. To help them in whatever way that I can when they are not physically able to do it for themselves anymore as they grow older and grow more frail.
In my work, I act as a family member for people who have no family. I work through the court systems with guardianships and conservatorships. It really is life involvement. It's the progression until death that we are involved with.. We had this woman who started in her own home and we helped her through an appropriate placement and we managed to keep her life good up until she died. She had one niece who truly cared about her and she came and sprinkled her ashes off of Mt. Lemmon to the tones of Beethoven, who I think she loved so much. The music booming and the ashes flying. She came back and brought me a single flower and gave me a big hug and said, "Thank you for making her life so good when I couldn't be here." It was touching because this woman lived as long as her money. She was 97 when she died. She was down to a pitiful amount of money and could not afford the care home much longer but had a good life up until the day she died. I felt successful in that case because when you are 97 and you've had a good life and your money is ready to go and your life is ready to change radically it's OK to die.
...I had a string of memorable cases last winter when there was a bunch of Child Protective Service cases involving babies. We had a baby that had come in that had obviously been strangled. We figured out that what must have happened was that someone had grabbed the front of her baby clothes and pulled and twisted them in a way that cut off the circulation to her head. That is the only thing that would explain the injuries that she had to her brain. I donít think her parents were bad people though - just young and poor and very stressed. Then after that we had a baby come in whoís mom was in a Methadone program who was not doing real well in it because she was also taking Heroin and breast feeding the baby. The baby drank Heroin in the breast milk and died from it. Then we had, the same week, a family who brought their baby in with a serious head injury. Some cultures think that if the soft spot on the babyís head looks like it is going down they need to make it go back out again. So some people will take their thumb and press on the top of the roof of the babyís mouth. Some people will take the baby to a faith healer that holds the baby by the ankles and shakes the baby upside down to make the soft spot come back out again. The baby suffered some pretty serious brain damage from being shaken while being held upside down.
Sometimes I ask myself why am I doing this? Wouldnít I rather have a different kind of job where I didnít have to get so emotionally involved? Where I wouldnít work so hard and I made more money? But you know, the one time in my life when I needed a lot of help I had friends who gave that to me. Now that I am no longer in that position itís my turn to be able to give that to someone else. It helps me to be able to deal with what happened to me to be able to turn around and say "OK I survived it and Iím OK." And that Iím OK I can take all that happened to me and find some meaning in it. That is important because when one of your children dies one of the things you do is to sit around and wonder if there is a God. Why did this happen and how can God do this to little children? These things happen not because God does it to us but because this is what life is. This is what happens to people in their life and we are here to help each other--to "blow on the coals of the heart." To provide support and caring for other people. The question is not how can God do this to us, but how can we do this to each other? How can we not care? How can we not provide health insurance for all children? How can we not ensure that all children get enough to eat? Life is tough, bad things happen to all of us. We need to be there and be strong for each other.