Wednesday, June 18, 2008

For Dawn, Who Understands Why

"You get hired to be needed."

I don't remember who said this to me when I took my first job in the world of disability but it, and the discussion that followed, stayed with me. She went on to explain that the needs of those in my care would often seem to outweigh the needs of my family, my friends, my very self. I was to be careful to ensure that I understood where the line was that separated me, the person I was, from it, the job I had. I was not my job, my job was not me. Keep it straight. Don't get addicted to what the job demands.

Good advice, but advice I did not follow. Over the course of time I started making decisions that were unhealthy - emergencies always happened on days off, the beeper rang at really, really inopportune times, I called in on holidays, was in constant contact with the office. I'd get home from work and spend an hour or two on the phone supporting people who were supporting people. This is not bragging, this isn't even exceptional for those of us in the field of caring. I see people doing this all the time. Overworked, overtired, people.

And parents! I consulted to family after family wherein the exceptional needs of the child had taken away the taste of vanilla. The focus on the child was impressive but, over time, had become almost obsessive. Unhealthy tired moms and dads, unhealthy tired staff.

Then I made a really bad decision. My friend, best friend I ever had, Bob died of AIDS. His funeral was set on a day I had booked to do a lecture. The day his family and friends gathered to celebrate Bob's life and mourn his death, I was standing in front of an audience making funny. I realized, years later, that if I had cancelled the lecture no one would now remember. I will always remember that I didn't attend my best friends funeral. So will his family. So will his friends.

Conciously I have worked to make healthy decisions. This Thursday is Joseph's (Mike's son, kind of our foster grandson) is having his grade 8 graduation. We were invited as we are always invited to these kind of events in Joseph's life. We've never made one of them. Ever. We are always travelling somewhere, lecturing somewhere. Well, this Thursday, Mark and Geraldine arrive from Liverpool to lecture here in Toronto for Vita. I had planned to pick them up at the airport, welcome them to the country.

I told Antonella, Joseph's mom, and Mike, Joseph's dad, that we'd have to let them know about attending. I stewed for a couple of days. I really wanted to go. But I was really needed at work. So, I talked with Rose at the office. Rose and I have been working on this conference together and I totally trust her instincts. I explained the dilemma. She looked at me and said, without a moments hesitation, "You go to the graduation." Still not sure, I talked with Manuella, she said, "You go to the graduation."

I said, "Yes" to Joseph and "No" to the job.

But guilt overwhelmed me. Finally I wrote Mark and Geraldine in Liverpool and explained why I wouldn't be there. Got an immediate email back saying 'Same decision we would have made' and wishing us a good time.

So we're going to the graduation.

The world isn't falling apart.

So to tired parents out there - plan a day off to run in the park, to do something completely for yourself. Remind yourself of the taste of vanilla.

So to tired staff out there - take a break, plan a break, enjoy the break.

Choose to say 'yes' to your needs every now and then. Because, after all, there is a reason they are called 'needs'.


gracie1956 said...

What you just described is exactly what happened to me in nursing. I "burned out" after 30 years of my private life and my friends and family never coming first. I thought that the world would crack in half if I didn't keep an eye on things. Everything in my life was out of balance. It has taken me a long time to get my priorities straight.

I'm glad to hear that you are going to the graduation. Enjoy yourself!

Anonymous said...

This is such an important message for everyone. Balance in all parts of our lives is the key.

Thanks for the reminder Dave.


Tonya Marie said...

I too strugle with time spent on work and loved ones. I try to balance the different parts of me. I am a professional working in the field of disabilities, I am a mommy of two little girls that I need to hear their giggles and answer their questions, and I am a wife that charishes her husband's touch and company. Two of these are responsibilities of choice; the other is a gift given by the grace of God. We all should pay attention to the gifts in our lives.

Anonymous said...

Dave, you made the perfect decision. Many of us our only able to stay in this field because we learned that as important as our work is - the people that call us family - need to know that they are important to us too. My daughter, now 26, expresses shock that I'll take a day off to go on a fieldtrip with my "almost" grandson. One of the few things I have to apologize to her for is missing so much because of the work. She is gracious and says it's Ok, you'll make it up when I have kids. I promise her that I will.

rickismom said...

Very very true. Years ago, when working as a nurse, I needed a vacation. My job said they couldn't spare me for a week. I hadn't taken off in a year and a half, and needed the break, but what could I do? Guess who came down with hepititus two weeks later. So in the end the hospital managed without me for a month!

Another benifit of parents taking a break--- no one realizes JUST how much you do until you are gone for three days.....

lina said...

It's all about balance, and I have yet to live to regret the times that I chose family over work, but do most definetly regret the times I chose work over family!

Kei said...


Anonymous said...

Carpe diem, Dave, carpe diem!

Veralidaine said...

Good choice, Dave. Your grandson (whether by blood or not) will always remember that you cared enough to be there at a big moment for him.

Anonymous said...

I think I really needed to read that :)


Shan said...

I used to do that, until I got pregnant and was forced to take two months off work for sick leave in the first trimester. Miraculously, the government just kept going...when I got back I realised I had been totally out of perspective. Changed me forever.

lisa6wks said...

Tomorrow is my last day of school
:) I am stressed about getting everything done, but I am glad the school year is over. I used to work summer school, but no longer, I need the break in order to come back refreshed for the new school year. I want to be able to do this job for a long time.


FAB said...

Jean Clarke said "People's needs are best met by people who's needs are met."

If we don't support ourselves first it becomes increasingly difficult to support anyone else-I'm still working on this lesson for myself though.

Thanks for letting us know you sometimes have to take a break too Dave- and I'm so glad you are!

Nicole said...

I'm proud of you! I run away all by myself at least once a year. It makes me a better Mom and person. Thanks for the reminder. :)

Anonymous said...

Dave! I'm so glad you made that decision, im sure that Joseph will be happy to see you guys there! Our members are important and its nice to know you are so dedicated, i really admire that about you and i strive to be as dedicated, but you are right, we need to take time for ourselves. see u around...

Anonymous said...

thank you.. advice well taken!

Eke said...


How ironic life is, l called and cancelled my shift to-day to attend my grand son's dance recital. No guilt, no excuses. I hadn't got to your blog yet but l'm glad we are on the same page.