Once or twice a month, I help a friend of mine out with whatever she needs doing. Mimi is a certified art therapist, and today the job had the two of us sitting by a box of files in the cool of her basement. The summer air outside was a good 95° F, but it was cool and quiet down in the basement.

Therapists have to keep files for five years after they last see their client or five years after a child client turns 12, for court reasons. So we were going through all her case files to see what there was she could send to the secure shredder. She had cases from 1982, still, and we went through them folder by manila folder.

Abused kids, adopted kids, court-recommended therapy for abusers, and the like. Each had a story and a history and some Mimi talked through with a soft voice and reverence, others with a laugh, and a few with wry commentary on what she'd learned through hard experience. It was fascinating, and I helped mostly by sitting there and giving her a reason to just keep going instead of hanging over each one, trying to decide what she wanted to keep, what she no longer needed, and what her clients no longer needed.

I love learning from her this way, from her experience and wry humor. She seems so gentle, but still dealt with some spectacularly hard cases. She said that eventually the court work wore at her, especially the ones she just couldn't help, and she stopped doing that work. She also gave me a book called Healing the Sensitive Heart, as she saw similarities in me and it helped her figure out how much she could or couldn't do.

It was a very peaceful bit of time, and I needed it. So was very glad to get it.
She sounds like an amazing person, and I can see why she chose to have you present when she went through this process.
She is utterly amazing, and I loved that she trusted me with that.

It was funny, afterward, she said she should have paid me for being her therapist and I grinned and said that it was already paid for in what she helped me figure out.

That was neat.
I echo what Phae said. I have such huge admiration for people in that kind of profession, that have to deal with other people's drama and tragedy, day-in, day-out. If you have half-a-heart (which you theoretically should have, to even be in that kind of work), it has to get wearing on the soul after a while. I did volunteer work with AIDS patients back in the height of the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and I finally just had to walk away. It gave a taste of what it is like for the people who do work like that as their profession, and a profound respect for the ones that do it well and with caring, like your friend.

I have a friend here who works with abused kids - I don't see him often, but from what I've heard, he has burned out, and probably should have changed career tracks some time ago. I think he is probably still doing his job well enough (no way of knowing) but he is acting out in other ways - very poor relationship choices, drinking, etc, that a happy person generally does not do. I think the years of doing his job has just worn him down. Sounds like your friend is a much better-adjusted person, and will continue to be able to cope - that she shared the experience with you is a good sign, I would think.
Yeah. I think she needed to go through it, too. Some of the history and even some of the mistakes as well as the real good endings, like going to the wedding of the mom to a non-abusive spouse (after escaping from the abusive one for both of them) and seeing her kid standing up at the wedding, proud of his mom and *better* for having been with Mimi. Gah...

Wow... many sympathies for your friend. It's hard to break away from being needed, I think, too.

I'm very impressed by your work with AIDS patients. That sounds like a really hard thing to have done, but probably rewarding as well as. It's cool you knew when to walk away too. I have the utmost respect for people that do those jobs.

Edited at 2011-06-16 08:18 pm (UTC)
To be brutally honest, I got into the AIDS work as a means of coping with the sickness (which in that era meant imminent death) of one of my dearest friends - he was 32 years old, brilliant, and I had known and loved him since we were 14, and he was 3000 miles away, and it was killing me that there was so little I could do to help him. So I got into the work in my community as a means of dealing with my own frustration and helplessness. I didn't do a lot of direct service work with patients, actually, I helped found the first chapter in my state of the NAMES Quilt, and worked with a lot of guys who were sick in the Project and doing lots of outreach with it, and with families of survivors who needed to make quilts. We ended up doing a lot of basic AIDS education, since it was so new at that time, handing out condoms in malls, and so on. It was an interesting time, but very difficult - five of the guys who I worked with on the group died in a year and a half, as did my friend. But when I had to step away was when it moved into the drug user community and the women and babies started dying- I just couldn't take it. *shakes head*

Interestingly enough, my own grown kid (she's 31), who went with me on many of the outreach things, including to one of the huge displays on the Mall in DC, ended up being both trans & gay, and is a hard-core GLBT activist herself, now. So it's kind of cool, in that I feel like I have passed the torch. Life takes some strange turns sometimes.

Edited at 2011-06-17 12:16 am (UTC)
Oof. The friend... oh ow. That must have been really hard, but I'm glad you found *something* you could do. Doing what you did is amazing... the benefits of outreach and education are huge, even when they sometimes feel kind of nebulous, they have direct impact on a lot of people decisions and lives. We found that out by just doing outreach for the Katrina rebuilding projects we have, and the homeless programs we have here in Longmont, that just teaching people stuff spreads.

That many deaths in that short a time of people you worked with on a regular basis would be really really hard. Gah... And that's quite the step you took, that seems like it would be overwhelming for most people.

Oh, WOW... that must have been such a gift for your kid. To know even before she knew that you would be a complete support for her because of all that she'd seen as a kid.

That's amazingly neat.

Cool that you've passed on the torch in that way.
Yeah... I'm reaching that age where I've started to think some about what kind of a legacy I would leave if something happened to me- my brother passed away two years ago, and another one of my close friends (he was kind of my daughter's uncle by default) suddenly less than a year before that. Since I no longer have my career to point to (I've been on disability since '98, after more than 20 years total of library work) I have to think about what I really have to show for my time, for being here. It's one of the reasons I am trying to get back to my fanfic writing, and hope to do more original stuff, too. But, failing all that, there's always her! I am pretty proud of her - her wife is a fantastic woman, too. I got very lucky - I got a fabulous kid and a great daughter-in-law. And it was easier for her to come out to me - she said she always knew I would deal with it well. Her father, not so well, but that was no shock, he was an ass when we were married, and he was an ass when she came out to him - performed as expected. *lol* His loss - she is out of his life now. He has no idea how much he is missing! ♥

I think it's so cool what you do with the Katrina rebuilding... I understand it is still so far behind what it should have been, still so much need. It's ridiculous, really, but so great that there are people like you willing to work with it. I saw a thing the other day about how the - I think it was Mennonites? - keep a steady rotation of people going down there to work building houses for people.

I have thought about trying to get involved in some volunteer work again... I would really love to. But lately my health issues have kept me from even fulfilling commitments I have made here on LJ, so it seems like a bad idea to take something else on I might not be able to handle, only to just end up beating myself up over it. Maybe in a while I will feel more up to it - I do miss it.
And condolences for your father's illness and his death as well.

Yeah... I've been retired now for five years(?)!! and know the feeling of not being able to point at the career anymore, and kind of wondering what more now?

Oooo... cool about doing fanfic! And yeah, writing of all kinds certainly leaves a legacy.

And, yes, that's definitely a child to be proud of, and to have a good feeling for how and what you did raising her. It's always amazing to have a great relationship with a mother-in-law!! I really do love my mother-in-law a great deal, and it's *wonderful* having us get along as well as we do.

There's still another decade's worth of work down in the Gulf area, but yeah... the Mennonites do have a steady rotation going! Just as the UCC does through the Back Bay mission, but the Mennonites are better funded by far. *laughs* They're *good*, and you wouldn't believe the *emotional* impact on people when a horde of volunteers that want to just help you for no reason whatsoever comes down. Just that, never mind what gets *done*, seems to help heal a lot of people that were just left out or left behind.

Yes. Taking care of yourself should come first. And it's nice, sometimes, to be able to write fanfic for causes, too. *grins* I enjoy that, but it doesn't have quite the same feel as going an volunteering with other people. I should get back into that, too, I think, remember I can do something and can help...

Edited at 2011-06-17 01:53 am (UTC)
Are you UCC? Is that your hookup to the Katrina work? My folks were married in the UCC church, and that is the only denomination I have been involved with at all in the past... err, nearly forty years? (My history with religion is a long and complicated one. *lol*) When I wanted to try to give my daughter some spiritual underpinnings of some kind, we went to the UCC in our area for a couple of years - in fact that was during the same period as the AIDS work, and we did a wonderful NAMES Quilt/AIDS Remembrance program for that congregation, probably my favorite one we ever did.

I like the idea of writing fics for the volunteer causes, and would love to do them, but have shied away from them for the same reason that I stopped participating in the gift exchanges like 7th Night Smut - my health, energy levels, and writing ability all kind of went to a new level of hell last year, and I just couldn't count on being able to finish anything with any degree of reliability. In retrospect, I wish I had never started publishing that chapter fic of mine in installments until I had it finished - I will NEVER do that again. It got bogged down when I floundered, and has ended up dragging on for nearly three years - I am SO embarrassed about it. I wouldn't blame everyone for losing interest completely. So until I can get my sh*t together better than it has been, I am very hesitant to make commitments to anything. I just have to keep trying to slog away at things and get myself back on track, somehow. I'll get there.
Yes! We're UCC. My history with religion was mostly "RUN AWAY!!" until my husband, from the UCC, brought me home and his parents asked me if I wanted to go to church and I said, "No."

And they left me alone about it, didn't badger me, just went themselves. A few years later, I got intrigued when they didn't press at *all*.

Cool that you and your daughter found a place to learn from with a UCC congregation! Neat about doing the program for them, too!! Wow.

Oof, about your health. That's *rough*. But it sounds like you're doing the right thing to stay away from committing to fics, as that's more stress than you need.

I really hear you about the multi-chapter thing. *laughs* I didn't even know anyone *could* write it all before posting any of it. *laughs* I am learning, too. But, yeah, four years on Twin Souls and I'm having embarrassment issues as well. You *will* get there!! I will too. I think. XD