by Lisbeth Vest Armstrong, Chief Program Officer
Did you ever consider the disability field a high risk career option? It’s true. While it is such a fun and fulfilling profession – we get to hang out with, and support, such incredibly sensitive and creative people – there is a price to pay for wearing your heart on your sleeve.
Recently, as we were celebrating the life of our friend Laurie who had passed away, I was again overcome by the realization of this “risky business.” I looked around the room, taking in all the faces devastated by another loss. Someone for whom we cared deeply was gone from our midst, again, taken too soon. There is great risk in caring for so many lovable people over their lifetimes. We learn to love them and then our hearts break when they are gone. Laurie’s passing is another painful reality check. In this industry, far too often, we lose the individuals we support. We risk breaking our hearts over and over again when we enter into these vital and fulfilling relationships.
When Laurie died she was surrounded by her family. It wasn’t her biological family; it was her Hammer family. You see, we become family with the men and women with whom we are here to share our lives. When they pass away, we’ve lost a family member. The grief can be immense. Yet we all know there are others in our care in need of our love, guidance and compassion, regardless of our breaking heart.
So many of those we support struggle with disabilities and illnesses that shorten their lives. It is our job to help them make the good days they do have as fulfilling as possible. In doing so, we “fall in love” over and over again. When we enter into a relationship with them, I wonder if each of us realizes how much they will enhance our own life?
Over the 30+ years I have been doing this work, my heart has broken numerous times. I often think I can’t make it through another loss; I can’t withstand heartbreak again. Then I recognize the many deep friendships that remain and once again I am inspired by the tremendous gifts still in my life. I think of my friend Lynn, whom we support, and who I met when I was just 16 years old. All told, we have been a part of each other’s lives for over 40 years. Our friendship has enriched us both. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I would take that risk any day.
While this work is indeed risky business, those risks pale in comparison to the benefits we reap.
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam:27, 1850