Last week I brought my clients to a Christmas party. Being a director in a non-profit human service agency I have lots of responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is making appearences at various agency functions some involving the folks we serve and others with just co-workers. I loath these events. When attending the events with co-workers I have to make small talk and feign interest in people's problems and stories. When attending events with our individuals I have to make small talk and feign interest in their problems and interests.
In the last few weeks I have been more misanthropic than usual. I have been irritable. My kids have been driving me crazy. My employees have been driving me nutty. My wife and I can't have a conversation that doesn't end in some sort of arguement or misunderstanding. Going to a client Christmas party was the last thing I needed.
The party was held at a large banquet hall, the same place where my agency's annual dinner is held. There was a sumptious buffet dinner served complete with carved roast beef, turkey and ham with plenty of fixin's. I got a plate of food and sat down at a table with three of my current clients. They are men with traumatic brain injuries who are living in one of our residential programs. They were in the holiday spirit greeeting people who passed our table and humming along to holiday music. I was eating quickly, hopng to slip out unnoticed while going up for another plate of food.
As I was shoving a hunk of ham in my mouth I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a former client who I hadn't seen in a whlie. He told me how he had moved on from one of our group homes into his own semi-supervised apartment and that he had just gotten his driver's license. I was floored. This is a guy who has a borderline mentally retarded diagnoses and had been living in a highly restrictive program set up for high risk clients. I congratulated him on his successes and promised to visit him in his new digs.
As I went up for more food someone yelled out my name. It was a woman who I worked with ten years ago who suffered from variuos mental disabilites and was a raging alcoholic. She informed me that she has been sober for three years and is living independantly with only 2 hours of staff per week.
Comming back from the buffet line I saw a table with men I had worked with who were all living in the same group home. I sat with them and listened to them tell me about their successes like working or getting along well with family and housemates.
On the way for some coffee I met another guy who I worked with who moved in with new housemates recently who were much less challenging than his former housemates. He shook my hand and hugged me and said "I remember you Dave Sullivan, you took me to Cape Cod to see the seals" and he proceeded to make seal noises. We laughed, fist bumped and went on our way.
After dinner I slipped out, grabbing a few cookies off the dessert buffet in the process.
As I drove out of the parking lot I thought about the party. I had seen at least twenty past and present clients. All of them were happy to see me. All of them were doing well. All of them were making the best of their lives and didn't bitch and moan about their situation. I thought about each one of my individuals and the time I spent with them; the good times and tough times. I realized that I had a part in all of their recent fortunes be it big or small. Driving down the road I realized that I was smiling.
For the first time in weeks I wasn't miserable.