My readers and those that follow me on social media know that while writing is my passion, I do have a day job that pays the bills – at least until writing takes over.
In that day job, I work with special needs adults. The majority of my clients – we call them guests where I work – are low to mid functioning autistic, Down’s syndrome, or some other mental or emotional way of being that is unique from what society called normal. No, I am not a fan of the word disability, at all. However, our program uses that term. I wonder why we can’t just use a new term – uniquability? Just a thought – has nothing to do with my article.
One group with which I work are older adults – those that are over 70. Their program is called “Way of the Elders.” Today, I was told that one of the men who comes quite often passed away last week. It made me sad, but more importantly, one of the guests today became very sad when my colleague told me. You see, the man who passed and my guest were best friends and room mates.
Of course, she meant nothing nor intended any harm. In fact, she is the epitome of tact and care of the population with which we both work. But it affected the guest tremendously, and I started thinking about how a simple discussion can have such effects on emotions.
If you are a regular reader, you know that I have experienced loss recently. As my guest teared and began to cry silently, concern for his well being was raised by the other practitioner. Was he sick? Was he having a stroke? The answer was no to both of these. He was sad and missed his friend.
What hits home for me is that this wonderful man, my guest, is always happy. He is non-verbal,, but his eyes always sparkle, he always has a big smile, and he always uses his hands to keep track of how many times he has attended the Thursday morning group. This is where I started really focusing on how our emotions and thought processes affect our physical natures. Instead of pinpointing that he missed his friend, we all immediately looked for physical symptoms of a stroke, heart attack, a cold, the flu – anything that would physically explain his tears and lack of vibrancy.
After going checking his vital signs and attempting to pull information out about pain, he finally took my hand, put it to his cheek then his heart, and simply said, “My heart hurts.” I realized he was not in physical pain, but in emotional pain. He simply wanted to cry. So, I held him while he cried.
Why am I telling this story today? Because it struck me that we were so focused on the physical side, we all forgot that he was feeling real loss. He needed to release that loss and find understanding from those that are his caregivers.
He had a bad morning. His caregiver scolded him because he was moving a little to slow for her satisfaction. Again, she meant nothing by it. She has 12 to get ready in the morning for this day program, and it is a real challenge some days.
But he needed some tenderness, and being unable to vocalize that need, became downtrodden and weepy. The only factor with which to recognize his emotional and mental needs are purely physical.
So often when we are in pain emotionally, it is the physical side that tells the story. And we, as humans, are so quick to judge based on physical preconceptions. We need to understand that physical clues – non-verbal clues – are apt markers for what’s going on.
That mother who is hunched over and shuffling around; the father who carries an angry look or frown on his face; the woman who shuffles and holds her head down; the man who smokes too much; the woman who eats too much; the person who drinks too much.. So often, those are not physical symptoms of some physiological malady, but signs of depression, emotional hurt, mental pain, or simply dealing with too many ups and downs in life.
We never know what others are carrying inside. We never know how much pain someone else is experiencing. Kindness and compassion go a long way, and putting ourselves in another’s shoes brings us to an empathic level that not only understands but practices kindness.
With all of this, I challenge us all to be consistently mindful of our words and actions toward others. Be mindful of your own inner turmoil to understand how another could be feeling.
Practice kindness and compassion.