Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Past acquaintances

As I sat on my back stoop reading this morning, my mind kept going back in time.  So often I wonder what happened to the families I worked with in my previous career.  There were so many.  Ethics discourage you from becoming friends with clients, yet in my last job that rule was often broken because the situations were different.  But not a few years ago when I worked for the Illinois Federation of Families.  One reason we didn't become friendly was distance. I traveled all over the northern part of the state to meet with families and attend meetings at schools. It was not uncommon to have a meeting at 7:00 AM in Galena and another one at 1:00PM in Pontiac and a group to facilitate at 7:00pm in Lincoln.  On the same day. I would usually schedule my time around meetings in Springfield so I could maximize the gas money and not be on the road as long.

But the main reason we didn't become friends was out of respect for their privacy, and the need to set boundaries and remain disconnected enough so we could make objective decisions. I always felt that in my position, that rule was a bunch of hooey. How could I truly advocate for a family, and relate their story clearly and honestly, without getting to know the real facts?  You don't become immersed in a families life, learning the hard truth, without building trust.  And sometimes along the way you also build friendships.

In all of the towns I visited, families told me their stories and in order to let them know I somewhat understood, I would give them a little of mine. Most of the time we shared the same kind of experiences.  Same circumstances, different people and so many times, the same similar outcomes. Occasionally the kids had the same names.  I always wanted to research whether all Nicholas' had tormented lives. 

Most of the families I met with had boys but some had girls. I was bullied when I was in high school so I could often relate to the "torture" they were responding to.  Sometimes their stories made me cringe and appreciate the life I had.  It still makes me sad to think of one young girl, who was 13 when I met with her single Mom.  She had lost her Dad in a boating accident 2 years before, and her grief was overwhelming. She had started cutting herself and her Mom, who was still recovering from the loss of her husband, didn't know what to do. The school wanted to throw her out, and the Mom didn't have family living close by, and was about to lose her job.  Again.

I so often think of her and want to reach out and find out what she is doing now.  I think I will try to do that today.  Perhaps her story will be the beginning of a book about the lives of the families touched by emotional challenges. I will change their names, but I have decided their stories need to be told.

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