For the second time this year, we were informed there would be more layoffs. Stress filled us all, because we didn’t know how many would lose their jobs, or when they layoffs would occur.
I picked up Wanda that morning to take her to the California State Fair, and, at that point, I hadn’t heard the news of the layoffs. I only knew that we were bidding for an important contract for our program, and we were all anxiously awaiting the results.
Wanda is sixty-five years old and tends to deal with painful or confusing emotions by being critical and grumpy. Many people have a hard time with her, and she has exhausted several social workers in our program. However, I look beyond her irritation and see a hurt woman who wants to be respected and loved. Wanda and I get along well.
That morning, Wanda shared her irritation with the staff and people who lived at her board and care facility. I reminded her that we were going to have a fun day and asked her to focus on positive things. I laughed and said, “No negative talk today. Today is going to be a good day.” I changed the subject to what we would do that the fair, and how we would keep cool on the 100-degree day.
Luckily, I found a close parking spot, so that Wanda wouldn’t have to walk very far. She has a bad back, and it can be painful for her, at times. Today was a free day for people with disabilities, and many rolled about in wheel chairs, while most others had developmental disabilities.
Wanda looked disgusted and loudly said, “The people here are retarded!”
I could have melted into the ground in embarrassment. “Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it great that the fair has given free tickets to all of us?” I changed the subject to the variety of booths at the fair, and she quieted.
Wanda’s mood improved, after that. She wanted to go on the rides at the fair, and I agreed to watch her, but told her there was no way would I go on one. Rides aren’t my thing. Wanda reminisced about her younger days and shared how she loved riding the rides at fairs back then. After nearly half an hour had passed, Wanda began complaining about almost everything. At one point, she yelled at me when I didn’t understand what she’d said, drawing stares from passersby. I felt my face flush, and quietly reminded Wanda that we were going make this a good day.
She confessed that her back was hurting. We sat every ten minutes. I asked several times if she wanted to go home, but she insisted she wanted to stay. She said she wanted to play a game at one of the fair booths. As we walked to that section of the fair, she grew quiet, and I wondered if she felt any enjoyment, at all.
I also had to check my own attitude. Because of what was going on with our funding, I felt a little overwhelmed and sidetracked, and it seemed to me like I simply went through the motions with Wanda. I wanted to be as caring as possible, so I breathed a prayer for strength.
Wanda finally played a game at one of the booths, but complained about how much it cost, and fussed that she couldn’t win the big prizes, because the balloons were not blown up all the way. Of course, she was right. When I agreed, she admitted she felt tired and asked to leave.
We slowly made our way to the car. As I drive her home, I asked if she liked going to the fair. She surprised me by saying that she had a great time. To be honest, I didn’t believe her, but thought she simply tried to be polite, because I had taken the time to bring her.
The next four days, I was scheduled to be off work. When I returned, I saw Wanda. Much to my surprise, she had told everyone what a ball she’d had at the fair, describing all the food she ate and telling how we’d played a game. Her face beamed as she told me she’d given the small stuffed animal she won to one of the residents at her house. Not only did she sound excited, but she gave me a hug and kissed me on the cheek. I have never seen Wanda so animated.
Wanda taught me an important lesson. You never know how and when you might provide joy for someone who is hurting. At the time, it may not look like your actions mean much to them, but they may be having the time of their life, without smiling or giving any visible sign. You never know what’s going on in someone’s head and heart. It made me feel good that I brought joy into Wanda’s life, when most of the time she is filled with negative feelings. All I really did was listen to her, yet, it made her feel appreciated. I must tell you; I could never do the job I have without God. Thanks be to God!
Wanda comes across to all as a critical and frustrated woman. She complains about many different situations and people. Yet within her is a woman crying to be respected and loved. Her emotional hurt is expressed through complaints and judgment of others. Wanda’s family had a strained relationship with her. She often sends cards to her daughter, yet never receives a reply. It’s heartbreaking to see how she tries to connect with no results, and the rare times her daughter does respond, it is negative.
Yes, Wanda is difficult, but I am the only one who hasn’t left her. She feels that I am the only one she can rely on, right now. Wanda has taught me that I can’t know how someone may feel about a simple gesture of love, or how a little attention might make a person’s day.
Later that day, I took Wanda to lunch, and after lunch she hugged me. She is getting more comfortable showing appreciation and affection. This is a big step for her. Will Wanda ever stop constantly complaining and putting down other people? Perhaps not. But she experienced joy, and she’ll remember that feeling and look for it again. I thank God for that!