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.