There are many difficult parts to social services. There are difficult situations, and sometimes difficult clients - but it is usually the situations, physical pain, mental illness, or a lifetime of hurts that make them difficult. I've always been able to see past all of it. It just takes a little compassion.
The most difficult is when we lose a client. And we aren't supposed to have favorites, but there are always those who just plain are. Pat was one of those. An 86 year-old woman with the exuberance and sharp sense of humor of someone half her age, she was one I always looked forward to seeing. After a long busy week, full of one crisis after another, and constant phone calls, she was a great way to end the week on a Friday afternoon.
At almost 2:30 AM, I am unable to sleep. Pat's oldest son called me today to tell me his mother had passed away on May 12th. He thought I already knew. I knew she was ill, and back in the hospital. I'm sure each kid thought the other had called. In their grief, who can really blame them? She had a wonderful family full of dedicated kids that adored her. In fact her house was often full of one or more of the kids or a neighbor who had stopped by to say hi and play a game of cribbage. When we were done working, she would often ask me to stay a bit longer on my own time and play a game.
Then there were her kids. Her daughter, Mary, who lived with her and tended the backyard garden and cooked for everyone. Her daughter, Katie, who lived a few miles away and stopped by often. The sons who didn't live nearby but who called frequently, and her son, Tom, who she took care of until very recently - resisting putting him in assisted living until she had to. Then there was Buck, a Labradoodle with bushy eyebrows and legs as long as a horse, who would lean his 100 pound body against you and jump through hula hoops on command. Sitting in a nearby chair on the porch, he sat tall and looked around like he was a person. He only barked until he realized a friend had come to visit.
I am awake and sad, quiet and reflective. Pat had one of the greatest senses of humor I've ever been around. She didn't care what people thought, flirted with her doctors, and loved everybody. She surpassed being just a client several years ago. Her "I Love ya" always followed you out the door, and you could never leave without a hug. She was proud of being Irish, happy with her life, and loyal to her Catholic faith.
I will miss the Friday afternoons there. Miss helping her with whatever she needed help with on that day. I am sorry she was so ill at the end, sorry her smoking took over her lungs, sorry she had to resort to an oxygen tank. I will miss Mary and Tom and Katie. And I will miss Buck - one of the funniest dogs I've yet to come across - who once ate an entire tray of chicken drumsticks just off the grill, bones and all.
But, I will miss Pat terribly. She was such a joy, such a sweetheart, and so much fun. I am fortunate to have known her. I hope she is no longer suffering and at peace. She has touched my life in a way that few have. While I have lost clients before, she was an extra special one that it was an honor to know. I will hold you in my heart, Pat, and never forget you - and in your own words: "I love ya."