A few days ago one of the gentlemen from another one of the group homes under the organization I work for passed away. One thing you must understand is that each group home is different, each one has a different group dynamic, each one looks different and each one has a different name. In many of the group homes the clients have lived together for many years of their lives and so in one sense they are each other’s family. They laugh together, they fight with one another, they learn to know each other’s moods and voices.
The group home that this gentleman lived in is a house full of older men. They are a sweet bunch of fellows and if you’d see them in their sweater vests and trousers you’d probably think they looked like your grandpas. They are all developmentally disabled and most of them all have physical disabilities as well. These men have lived together for most of their lives.
Today was the memorial service for the one that went to be with Jesus. It was my first memorial service as a support worker and we took several ladies from our home. The service was a lovely one; a great tribute to the memory of this individual. I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting to be gripped really at all. I didn’t know this individual very well; I’ve seen him on several occasions and stopped to chat only a few times. I know a few of the other men in his home a bit better and I shouldn’t have favourites but in this house I do. There is one of the men who I stop to talk with frequently. He is small and his body is very crippled and you’d have to listen very carefully to make out his speech but he is spirited and very smart. He has the best laugh and to my dismay he loves the Toronto Maple Leafs. He drives his automatic wheelchair up and down the road and on the sunny days the staff always put his umbrella up so he doesn’t get a sun burn. Hands down, he is without a doubt my favourite. This morning, I watched the men from the group home from my seat at the back of the chapel. Several of the staff were crying but I was taken back when about midway through the service my favourite grandma from the house started weeping. The sounds of his sobs filled the room as the lady sitting beside him helped to wipe his tears. My eyes welled with tears as I listened to this sweet man grieve, knowing all too well what it feels like to lose a brother.
As I am still reflecting on the service my thoughts come back to the type of community I witnessed today. I am reminded that you don’t have to share the same blood to be family. I think about this in the home that I work in as well. Last week one of the ladies wasn’t feeling the greatest and wanted to stay in bed for most of the day. I propped her up in her bed and sat and fed her some lunch as I chatted with her, even though she wasn’t in a very chatty mood. On the other side of the house one of the other ladies was agitated and screaming quite loudly and as I sat with the woman she chuckled and said “too loud” so I asked her who it was and she told me right away. I am reminded over and over again about how well these ladies know one another. I am fascinated by the way they interact, good and bad. I would argue with anyone in the world who says that people who have severe developmental and physical disabilities cannot experience community because if you would have been at that memorial service today and heard the sound of those tears you would have no doubt that what you just witnessed was a direct result of community. Hellen Keller once wrote this: “When indeed shall we learn that we are all related to one another, that we are all members of one body?” This truth rang true once again today.
If you remember to, say a prayer for these men as there is an empty room in their house now and as we are certain in this case that it’s a lot harder for the ones left behind than it is for the one who is free now.
~The Kindred Spirit