Be That Person
By: Theresa Schnipke
This blog is the result of me having one of those humbling, a-ha moments. I will likely never forget it. The ‘unofficial’ photographer for the Board, Shirley Evans, and I were visiting a few sites where individuals attend during the day to take pictures for our new website. We were having a tough time finding people at various locations – which is good, because that means they were out living life.
On a whim, I mentioned stopping at the apartments where I knew several individuals would be home. As soon as I walked in, I recognized the familiar smell. It brought me back fifteen years or more. Shirley and I visited with three ladies in the community room and took pictures, and then we decided to visit a few other residents in their apartments. One person I wanted to see was Julia P. I was Julia’s case manager when I first came to the Allen County Board of DD in 1998. I had not worked with her directly since 2001, and I hadn’t seen her in more than five years. By choice, she likes to stay close to home. Since we were there, I wanted to check on her and maybe take some pictures with her.
As Julia invited us in, I told her my name and asked if she remembered me. She said she did and chuckled a bit. (She has a great little chuckle – the kind that makes you think she knows more than she is telling you.) As we were talking and setting up for pictures, Julia asked “So what does your family think of you being the Superintendent?” I was very surprised by the question, as I hadn’t mentioned my job change. I said, “Wow, I didn’t know you knew about that.” She said “Oh yea, I know” (insert chuckle I just described) and admitted a friend told her. She asked again about my family and what they thought of the job. I told her honestly that my husband thinks I work too many hours, and we both laughed. Julia said “Oh, Terry thinks you work too much?” I was completely stunned. Speechless might be the word (and for those who know me, it doesn’t happen often). She remembered my husband’s name after all these years. I confided in her that Terry and I just found out we were going to be first-time grandparents, and she was very happy for us. Julia then asked where our son Brent lived these days. What?! She remembered my son’s name. How could this be? After this, we chatted a while longer about my son, his wife, my daughter, and the years that have passed. I promised I would see her again soon. And I meant it.
As we drove back to the office and again on my way home, I recalled this visit. Julia absolutely made my day. How could she remember such detail after so many years? She has a remarkable memory at the age of 74. I was just one of many case managers to work with her over the years, in addition to all the staff she’s known. I realized what a poor friend I am. I loved working with Julia. I remember having her and three other ladies over to my house for a cookout, and I am sure we shared many of life’s details during that time. How did I move on so easily, yet she remembered my family members and cared enough to ask about each one?
I decided on the way home that I was going to fess up to my failure as a friend. I was going to spend some more time with Julia and do better at what I have been called to do in this life. I vowed I would take my daughter, Brooke, to meet her too.
A month later, I had lunch with Julia and her case manager (SSA), Jessica Baughman. Julia picked a favorite spot, where the waitress clearly knew her and her favorites. We talked about her years in Lima. She moved to her present home in 1990; it’s a very nice one bedroom apartment, decorated perfectly by her. Before then, she lived in assorted homes operated by Mary Ann Brown (whose name will appear in a lot of our blogs). As she recalled each home, she gave the name of a staff or two who worked there. I started to notice a pattern – memory, staff name; another memory, another staff name. She even has a picture framed in her apartment that is of a former staff with her child. During lunch, she asked about other case managers and staff at ACBDD- each by first and last name. To Julia, memories are people. And she hangs on to the details.
Julia has a story not unlike many of the people I have worked with through the years. She has absolutely no family in her life. I remember talking about her parents and siblings in the past. The best I can piece together is that Julia had a family one day and then never saw them again. She said they never visited her after she was placed in an institution. I am not judging this decision from so long ago. Times were different, services were different, and the advice of “professionals” was different. However, here is a woman who connects to everyone in her own way. She has a great memory and is the best conversationalist. She loves to hear about families and home life, yet she has no memory she shares of her own family. She does not know if she has nieces or nephews, even though I know she would be a great aunt.
On that day in August, I realized I had moved on to a new job, a new office, a new year, and for the most part, I had left this friendship behind. I loved seeing Julia occasionally, but I never stopped just to visit her, ask her to lunch, or even check in on her birthday. I did keep up on her health and changes in her life through Case Managers (SSAs), but in my new job, even those connections changed. The whole day still stuns me. When Shirley sent me this picture, it motivated me to write this story. Do I live what I preach? Do I truly see individuals with disabilities as my friends? Are these relationships for a season or a lifetime?
In our field, we have the privilege to hear and share so many personal details, intimate and sometimes embarrassing things we don’t even tell our closest friends. We come and go in the lives of those we work with so easily…..but how does that impact people like Julia? I learned my lesson in August, and I’ll share it with you now: never take lightly the role you play in someone’s life.
At lunch, Julia kept mentioning a current staff person, Rhonda, and she chuckled each time. So when we returned to her home, I had to meet Rhonda. There were six people in the community room all huddled up around Rhonda, trying to tell her something. BE THAT PERSON! Be that person everyone can count on.
Be that person everyone wants to talk to. Make others chuckle when they say your name and talk about the good things you’re doing. Be Julia. Build a lifetime of memories of what matter. BE THAT PERSON!