Jasmine currently serves as a Community Development Manager in the Ottawa and Kingston communities. Earlier in her career with Christian Horizons she provided direct support in several homes in Waterloo, Woodstock, and Ottawa. During this time of grief and loss we thought it might be helpful to share these perspectives in A Grief Journal. Go back and read Part 1: In Memory, before continuing here with Part 2: Community, and stay tuned for, Part 3: Lasting Impact.
I wrote the draft for my previous post just before Christmas. Since then 2 more people in our community at work have died. That makes 5 in the past few months.
Later on the same day I published that post here on The Disability and Faith Forum I learned of another death. A man that I used to support just died of COVID this past week. I worked with him 16 years ago, in a small town far from where I live and work now, but I remember him clearly.
At a church gathering on Sunday (outside, masked, distanced, etc.) our pastor asked how things are going at work and without thinking I automatically answered “everyone is sick, dying, or dead.” I then clarified “… well at least that’s how it feels.”
That is how it feels.
Many of the people who have passed away in our community are not ones I knew well. I would see them in passing at Christmas parties and barbecues and maybe if I visited their home for a meeting with their staff. So the losses aren’t personal for me in the way you might think.
But each of the people we have lost are personal to someone that I do know well; the staff who have worked with that person for years and know their life intimately, or the manager who has been tirelessly advocating for their health care needs as they’ve aged, or most often lately, their room mates and friends whom I meet with on Zoom every couple weeks.
Every other Tuesday I gather with a group of self-advocates – people with developmental disabilities who get together to work on ways to make things better, both in our agency and in the broader society. They are doing awesome things and I’ve been so happy to get to work with them.
The group has written to the government asking for wage enhancements to attract staff to this field. They’ve chosen a representative to meet with management. At those meetings with managers they have successfully advocated for changes to the way things are done. They tell stories of times they’ve advocated for themselves and they encourage each other through tough situations. Members offer advice, prayer, and connection in a time of such severe isolation.
And lately they’ve taken on a new role: supporting each other through the grief of losing friends and housemates. They speak of the hope of heaven and look forward to when we can all see each other again. They carefully choose their words and dictate messages of condolence for me to write in cards that we mail to the home of each person who dies.
The cards carry memories, “… we remember she liked trains… played with blocks…she had a nice smile…he was a good friend…a nice person…”
And always the cards are addressed to “everyone who lives and works in the home.”
Because everyone experiences the loss. Everyone grieves. Whether you lived with the person, worked with the person, or knew them in passing, their departure leaves a hole in the community that is felt much farther than one might expect.