While working for my parents’ business I have learned a lot of things. I have learned about finance and the importance of managing funds. I have learned the concept of confidentiality. I have learned how to write ISP’s, goals, daily paperwork, yada yada. Every day I refresh my knowledge in business and the DODD field. But the biggest thing I have learned cannot be measured. Sometimes it’s a concept that can’t even be grasped until you have gone through the experience. The people that come to our farm, our clients, they offer me something new every single day.
I guess the whole point of our business (a vocational/day habilitation program) is to teach others. We are supposed to teach people with disabilities how to learn basic living skills and job concepts so that they can learn to thrive in the real world. One particular guy, Jimmy, came to the farm for that purpose.
Jimmy came with a lot of baggage. He had originally worked in a workshop, holding a commendable 9 to 5 job, making widgets. While sitting at a table for hours on end, Jimmy was making a puny paycheck, and he was also developing behaviors. These behaviors lead him to be violent, and eventually led to requiring him to have a behavior plan. (A behavior plan tracks the client’s monthly episodes. It also explains how to handle the behavior.) When Jimmy’s application came to us, we were all a bit hesitant. Was it smart to put other clients in jeopardy with Jimmy’s intense behaviors? Would we be able to handle the episodes effectively? Lucky for us, my dad has a five star heart for giving people 72 second chances. Seriously, lucky for us!
If you read a few of my other blogs, you will recall the 5 L’s: Live, Love, Laugh, Learn, and Leave a Legacy. While we had mandated goals for each of our clients, we also had our own set of goals for our clients, the 5 L’s. When Jimmy first came, of course we had a few issues. Some screams, some anger, and of course stubbornness. But over time, Jimmy transformed.
Jimmy learned to live: he eventually gave in and participated in our different farm activities like crafts and scrapbooking. (He gave me half of his crafts as a gift, and I still have most of them to this day.) He also loved parties. Every month we would have a birthday party for the clients that were born during that particular month. Right after singing happy birthday, Jimmy would shout “PARTY ONNNNN” at the top of his lungs!
Jimmy learned to love: In fact he mastered this goal. He loves the ladies! Every morning when I walked into the barn, Jimmy would give me a kiss on the hand and give me a little note that said love kiss love kiss love kiss Jimmy. He was the biggest flirt ever! Every year we also have a Christmas ball. All of the clients dress up in dresses and suits that were donated to the farm. We decorate the barn, set up a picture area and party on! Jimmy would always go straight to my best friend Heather and I and ask us to dance. He also loved his client advocate, Sharon. Though she sometimes gave him tough love, he would eventually submit to her requests.
Jimmy learned to laugh: Aside from his crazy PARTY ONN outbursts, Jimmy also made a lot of friends. His flirting with the ladies was just the beginning. He also got along pretty well with a lot of the people in his group. And he loved my dad’s quirky and excited morning meetings. Jimmy would also get excited about a lot of things like going to PAWS or our weekly bowling trips. He has the biggest smile when he is energized about something!
Jimmy definitely learned a lot: Obviously he learned to live, laugh, and love. But he also learned how to overcome his behavior. He wasn’t a burden, he was a joy to have around. And honestly if I was allowed to pick a favorite client…shh…it would be Jimmy. Jimmy was the guy sitting in the workshop, who had the uncontrollable outbursts, sending staff running to control him. When he was at the farm, you would never think he was the same person. Here, he was the loveable flirt who would kiss any pretty girl’s hand and who always had a smile on his face.
Jimmy learned to leave a legacy: Last summer Jimmy went to the hospital for some major complications. His stomach completely flipped, and this wasn’t the first time. The last time it happened they had to take out half of his small intestine. But this time it was worse. They had to go in and remove all of it this time. I went to visit Jimmy in the hospital. There he laid. His face was as white as his hospital sheets. He was hooked up to hundreds of wires and cords. But Jimmy still had a smile on his face. He held my hand and kissed it again. My dad talked with him about Jesus and though he was only partially verbal, he affirmed to us that he believed in Jesus and he knew for a fact that he was going to Heaven.
A few days later we got a call that Jimmy was still deteriorating. He was in so much pain, and doctors couldn’t give him anymore medication to keep up with it. He was giving up on this life and ready to move to the next. I went back to the hospital to say goodbye. I saw Jimmy again, engulfed in cords with a snow painted face. But this time was different. He couldn’t talk, or smile. He just laid there and moaned in pain. I put my hand on his and tried with all my might to fight back the tears, and without success. We prayed and sang hymns to remind him that he was standing at the door to paradise.
That night, I kissed Jimmy’s hand this time, and I said goodbye. The next day Jimmy entered eternity.
When my parents and I were riding to the funeral I said to my dad, “You know, Jimmy passed every one of the 5L goals.” It made sense to me at that point that it didn’t matter what specific, measurable, and time oriented goal we gave to our clients. We are here to be part of their lives, not to show them the real world. We are here to show them that we care about them as an individual, a being, and not just another worker. And along the way, they teach us too. Jimmy taught me no matter what we experience in this life, no matter how angry and frustrated we get, it can be overcome; we can have joy.
Though it was so hard to watch Jimmy go, I knew it was best for him. He no longer feels the pain that he felt that last few weeks of his life. He will never again experience the anger and frustration of not being able to communicate. He has a new body, and he is free of every difficulty he has ever experienced in this life. Seeing his face within those last few days revealed his pain, but they also revealed peace. Others may say that he was feeble minded; that there are concepts he cannot understand. But Jimmy understood where he was going. For that reason he had peace, and when looking into his eyes I knew I could have peace through his death as well.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have troubles. But take heart! I have overcome the world. –John 16:33