Wendy’s hoarse howling startled me. She was usually among the best-behaved, highest functioning residents in our group home for adults with mental challenges. But today I turned to see my colleague, Sandra, struggling to bring Wendy back to her room, while fending off her kicks and bites the whole way. I fought my own fear of getting hurt and ran to help.
We tried to restrain Wendy, but the harder we tried, the harder she fought back. I released my restraint and hugged her instead, stroking her head, as I would to a friend who needs comforting. Sandra stared at me as though I was crazy, but it worked. Wendy relaxed and melted into tears. When she saw that I was no longer in danger, Sandra left, leaving Wendy and me holding each other. Tears streamed down Wendy’s face, as she tried to digest what happened.
We were in her bedroom, sitting on her bed. “Would you like me to leave you alone to calm down, Wendy?”
“No, please stay.”
I put my arm around her shoulder as she sobbed, and my eyes met a framed photo of her parents on her night desk. One of them had pushed her down the stairs when she was an infant, which left her with a permanent disability on one side of her body. This story is in her file, accessible to all staff. This story is why I realized I should stop trying to force myself upon her.
I wonder if I responded differently than Sandra because I am not so emotionally exhausted: I only work weekends. I wonder too, in that struggle, who is more afraid: we, the workers being punched and kicked, or the residents who grew up with abuse instread of love. And I realize how important it is to overcome our own fears so we can help them with theirs.
Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada