This is the last in this series of three written a year ago for work.
In my previous post I mentioned a man who recently died of COVID. I knew him almost 17 years ago when I was a brand new staff. I only worked at his home for one summer but I have thought of him often since then. In fact just this past Christmas I was tickling my young niece and was reminded of him.
In the evenings, once the chores were done and the home was quiet, he would sit on the couch and make eye contact. It was an invitation to come and sit beside him. And when I did he would reach over, take my hand, and place it by his neck. It was a request to tickle him. As soon as I’d start to wiggle my fingers he’d clamp his chin down, pinning my hand there so I couldn’t move away and he would laugh, evidently delighted by the situation.
Eventually he’d release my hand, his laughter would subside, he’d catch his breath. And then he’d do it all again.
It seems a small memory of an insignificant routine but it was one of the ways he taught me new methods of communication.
I was new to the field of developmental services and he was one of the first people I supported who did not use words to communicate, but clearly had much to say.
He taught me how to listen when there are no words. I learned to read eye contact and body language. He showed me to recognize hand over hand movements as expressive language. He was patient as I learned to differentiate his “yes” head movements from his “no.”
As he taught me his language I learned more about him; what form of his name he preferred me to call him by, what foods he hated, and what activities he enjoyed.
I credit him with teaching me how to listen to communication without words. Communicating in non-traditional ways is a skill I’ve needed to keep practising since.
So when I heard he had passed away I remembered all of this. I felt sorrow for his housemates and staff who will feel a great loss in the home. But I also felt grateful. I am grateful for the short time I spent working in his home and for the impact he has had on me.
Like I said in my previous post, each “departure leaves a hole in the community that is felt much farther than one might expect.”