Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Most Joyful Sound in the World

Her name is Tova. And when she laughs, it’s the most joyful sound I’ve ever heard.

Tova is in her fifties, and she has Down syndrome. The first day I began working in her day program, she caught my eye. With over one hundred clients in the program, she stood out. That may be, I think, because Tova speaks with her eyes, and her eyes communicate sadness.

Tova is heavy-set, and has lost all of her hair due to Alopecia. She enters the program daily and doesn’t wish to speak; she makes it known that she is unhappy. Most of the day she is depressed, but it goes up and down. The days she smiles, are the days that make me happiest.

I am really not sure why Tova usually has a miserable attitude, but I can only imagine that it’s a bunch of things together. For one, Tova’s family abandoned her when she was very young. They don’t have much to do with her, and she lives in a group home. Here in her day program, she very often gets lost in the shuffle. Even when there are exciting things happening around her, she will opt to stay in one quiet room and lay her head down on the table.

The one thing that gets Tova excited is money. She earns a dollar every morning as part of her daily allowance, and as soon as you show her that small green piece of paper, no matter what mood she’s in, she’ll smile.

Another thing Tova loves is food. Because she is overweight, she is on a strict diet, but she would do anything for food, and at one point began stealing others’ lunches.

Many people might say that Tova doesn’t get enough attention. That is definitely true. Others would say she needs to lose weight, or needs to be stimulated. Perhaps those things are true, as well. I think, however, that what Tova really needs is love.

These days, I find that if I make conversation with Tova about things like money and food, she’ll talk to me and smile. I’ll usually try and guess what’s in her lunch bag, and it has now become a game we often play. Sometimes, if I find her looking very depressed, I’ll ask her if she got her dollar for the day. Sometimes she won’t respond, but sometimes I’ll see a hint of a smile on her face.

Today, Tova came into my office and complained of congestion. “I want Tylenol,” she told me. “How about a tea,” I asked. She wasn’t convinced.

“Come with me,” I told her. She finally followed me into the kitchen. “Pick out your tea, Tova,” I encouraged. She was silent. “Come on, Tova, this is special tea – the kind that cures all colds!” She shrugged.

“Okay Tova, I’ll choose one for you. Do you want your tea with or without Splenda?” Another shrug.

“I don’t know,” she said. “You choose for me.”

“I’m not the one drinking it, Tova. This is your choice!” I said with a smile.

“No Splenda,” she said.

I handed the hot cup of tea to Tova, and told her to be careful. “This hot water tank is extra hot,” I reminded her.

“Put some cold water in it, please,” she told me. I did.

I walked back to “her room” with her, and placed the cup on the table. The next thing I knew, I was smothered with hugs and kisses. I embraced her back and reminded her that her hugs are the “best ever!”

“Tova, you’re the best!” I said. “You know I love helping you!

And then it happened. A smile, then followed by giggling. And then it came – the best laugh I have EVER heard! It was by far, the most joyful sound in the world.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Big, Beautiful, Blue Eyes

I entered her home slightly nervous. I hoped it would be a good experience, and mostly, a fulfilling one – as my new job description just wasn’t doing it for me.

I walked in the door, and her mother greeted me so pleasantly. The house wasn’t very put together; you could tell her mother’s hands were full.

Her older sister came home and demanded her mother’s attention. The baby cried from the other room. Her mother was able to balance the attention so perfectly.

Then, her grandmother came into the house, carrying her. She had a head of soft curls, and big blue eyes. She was small and frail. My eyes met hers, and we just clicked. I stood, and put my hand gently on hers. She held me back.

After the meeting was over, I didn’t want to leave. I walked into the room where she was playing, and saw her bouncing to music on a DVD she was watching. I even caught a smile. I walked up to her and put my hand out. She engaged me immediately and placed her hand into mine. I played peek-a-boo with her; she smiled.

On my way out, I figured I’d try my luck. “Bye-bye,” I said to her, with a smile. Her big blue eyes met mine again, and she lifted her right hand and waved softly. She didn’t know it, and her mother didn’t know it, but that wave made my day.

Later that evening, at the end of my exercise class, the instructor turned off the lights. She advised us to lie down, put our flat on the floor to ground us, and our hands on our abdomens to let it all sink in. “Think of something you did today,” she started to say. “Something accomplishing. It may be getting up and going to work when you felt like staying in bed. It may even have been trudging out in this weather to come to this class. There is so much negative in our lives, let us focus to the positive for just a few minutes.”

And so I did. I closed my eyes and her image came into view. Her smile. Her perseverance. Her wave.

I held on and didn’t let go, because I learned that something so small can mean something so accomplishing for me.

The other members of the class started to get up and gather their things, but I lay down for just another moment, and held on to those big, beautiful blue eyes.