By Barb Arland-Fye
Barbra Streisand singing “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world …” comes to mind as I reflect on a conversation with my younger son Patrick last Sunday.
We had just dropped off my older son Colin at his apartment in Davenport after sled hockey and dinner. We’d learned earlier that a “staffer” who assists Colin and his roommate Erich as they navigate daily life with autism, would be leaving.
Gary has been a wonderful influence on Colin and Erich, as have numerous staffers (care-givers) who serve them and other people with developmental disabilities.
Patrick, who celebrates his 17th birthday this week, has become more aware of the impact some of these care-givers have on his brother’s life. So as Patrick drove me home, he mused about Gary leaving after what seemed like such a short time and how that would affect Colin.
Staffers have entered and departed Colin’s life on a fairly regular basis for a variety of reasons: some to further their careers, finish college or grad school or to move on to another field of employment.
Providing assistance for people with development disabilities requires skills ranging from bookkeeping and report writing to problem-solving and negotiating. Beyond these skills, the greatest qualification is compassion.
One of Colin’s staffers shaves him on Tuesdays. Even though Colin is capable of shaving on his own — with practice — he looks forward to having Josh help him shave. Up until the last year or so, Colin, now 24, had a tough time coping with staffers leaving his life — especially those who engaged him in social and intellectual activities. On rare occasions, he’s told us he misses a particular staffer.
But he’s mourned the departure of plenty of others without telling us. Sometimes that message has been conveyed in restlessness, anxiousness or recalcitrant behavior.
More than once, Colin — who participates in a self-advocacy group called “People First” has told his staff, “You’re fired!” With the passage of years, though, he seems more at peace with the comings and goings of staff. He’s still sad, but able to move on.
No one, with or without disabilities, escapes having to say a final farewell now and then.
So, when Patrick wondered how Gary’s leaving would affect Colin, I said: “We need to think about the good that Gary has brought to Colin’s life. It doesn’t matter how long Gary worked with Colin, what matters is the impact he’s had on Colin.”
He is a better person for the people who have entered his life and treated him with compassion, respect and enthusiasm. The faces of those who have done so come to mind with fondness.
Colin has always been a person who needs people. When he was growing up, I prayed fervently that Colin would become self-sufficient, but in retrospect, what does it mean to be self-sufficient? Is the definition different for each one of us? Aren’t we all people who need people?
God breathed life into more than one human being; God intended for us to be companions on the journey. Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt:18:20)
People who need people truly are the luckiest people in the world.