Sunday, January 21, 2018

That's a Wrap on Year One

This post comes very, very late and for that I apologize. The end of my service year in Boise was busy and difficult and bright all at once. But backing up, after my last post my community and I had many great adventures before departing from Boise. For my birthday in May we took a trip to Stanley, ID and found hot springs to use with beautiful views of the Sawtooth Mountains. Later in May I took my first trip home since August to see my friends graduate from Stonehill College. It was a wonderful reunion, and I made it a surprise for all of my friends. I then got to spend time at home in Vermont. In June we celebrated Pride in Boise with parades, stands, and general support for the LGBTQ community. We took a few hikes together to Table Rock, an iconic hike in Boise, and watched the sun set over Boise on many nights, especially at the end of the year. We finally visited the Old Penitentiary, another iconic point in Boise, towards the end of the year. We saw the natural sand dunes and attempted to slide down them on sleds. We ate at the Basque Market, wandered the Saturday markets as much as we could, saw Hamlet performed by the only female lead who performed as Hamlet in the country at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. We went backpacking for four days in the Sawtooth Mountains with our support people in July. This was a great opportunity and a wonderful chance for reflection on the year. It was also something I never thought I would be able to do, and conquering that hike, that trip, felt like one of my greatest accomplishments to date. We made a collage together with pictures from the year and all of our adventures together that we hung in the house, as it is a tradition for JV communities to do. We hosted one last potluck at the end of the year with all of our support people and friends from Boise. We thanked them for all they did for us throughout the year. I was fortunate to have my mom fly out to see my placement and to see Boise in my last days of service. We got to see the markets, Stanley, and Sun Valley, ID. These last adventures and last goodbyes were things I will cherish for the rest of my life.
                At service, everyone seemed to be dreading the end of my service year; most of all me. I found out in March that I was placed for another JV year in Yakima, WA, but knowing the placement and city did not make this time of transition easier. There were many unknowns in my future and the only thing I knew for sure at the time was that I would miss the shelter, all the people I had grown to know and love, and Boise. As the end approached I made sure to tell people I was leaving, to try and make it clear that I would not be back after July 28th, and that there was a great new JV who would add her own flair to the position. I said many goodbyes and I said goodbye to some people several times, as there was no way of knowing if people who return from day to day. The last few days were tough, as the end did not feel real, yet I knew it was coming. It did not feel like the end of a school year, when there is usually a certain feeling of closure. This was simply another week at service, but yet very different. On my last day I received many gifts, hugs, affirmations, and even cake. I gave a short speech, interrupted by many tears, in which I told everyone how grateful I was that they let me into their lives, that they took me in, and that they taught me so much throughout the course of the year. I truly was leaving as a different person than when I started in the position. I told staff throughout the year how grateful I was that this position found me, as I did not know I needed to be there until I was. I looked around a room full of guests on that last day who may not know how much they have changed my life and how they will stay in my memory for a lifetime. There were many more tears and hugs as the day ended and I was given cards full of guests’ best wishes for me as I moved on. Walking out the door and leaving my keys behind that day was one of the hardest things I have done. I won’t sugar coat my experience, it had its tough, truly difficult days. But at the end of the day, I grew from those tough experiences and learned from every person I met at the shelter. I saw a light in every guest, no matter their background, and I will always be grateful for that light and positivity that each person presented in their own way. I will always remember seeing more light than darkness.
                When I left the shelter on that last day and was walking to the house one last time, I ran into a guest I knew well. We hugged and I told him how grateful I was to see him, as it was my last day. He echoed that message, as he said he didn’t know it was officially my last day. We said our goodbyes, him with his sense of humor shining through as always, and we went in our opposite directions. Only a week later I found out that one guest who I knew well passed away quite tragically, and then a week after that I found out that this guest who I happened to see on my walk home also passed away. Both were found, separately, floating in bodies of water. This was some of the most difficult news I’ve ever heard. I was devastated that they had died and even more distraught that I could not be among people who had known them and attend their memorial service at the shelter. As I was transitioning into a new year of service, my heart was still with those in Boise who were going through this difficult time. It was difficult to find closure when their deaths are still a mystery and when I could not attend the memorial service. I did write something that was shared at the memorial service, which is below. It does not feel like it does justice to who they were, but it was what I kept coming back to about them.
“When I heard the news about Kevin, then about Ruben, I had many thoughts racing through my mind. Mostly, I was thinking about how I had just seen both of them before I left and how, even now, I cannot believe they are gone. This news has been shocking and difficult to bear and all I want is to be with the community of Corpus Christi House, to be with the people who knew Kevin and Ruben well. I saw Kevin almost every day at Corpus, especially as he sat in the lobby recovering from his accident in the spring. I gave him his mail each day and we would make small talk. I appreciated his curiosity about other people and his ability to try and try again when he knew he had room to grow. Kevin and I pushed each other to be better and as I grew I saw him change in certain ways as well. It was so promising to see the progress he had made. 
Even though I didn’t see Ruben as often, he left quite the mark on my life. He was always smiling and joking with me wherever I ran into him and he always had something witty to say. He was honest, blunt, and so full of life. He seemed to brighten any room he was in. He certainly had his struggles, as many of us face difficult times, but I admired his ability to be genuine with what he was up against. I remember meeting Ruben on one of my first days at Corpus and feeling so welcomed by him. I ran into him outside Corpus on my last day and he gave me a big hug and we wished each other well, still using the humor I knew and loved. He was a friendly face, someone I loved to run into at Corpus, as so many of you are. It is difficult being away from Corpus, knowing I won’t see Kevin or Ruben again, and not being there with all of you through this time. Know that I think of you all every day, that my life has been made better by everyone I’ve known at Corpus, and that you have the community of Corpus Christi House to lean on in this difficult time. Thank you for letting me share these memories.”
Just a couple months later, I was told that one of the volunteers at the shelter who I worked closely with for many months also recently passed away. She was a student at the local university getting her degree in social work. She was twenty-nine when she passed away. This news also came as a shock. It is incredible how many people touch our lives and we don’t always stop to realize how much they mean to us. I looked forward to Tuesday afternoons in the kitchen because I got to see her and two other volunteers who I liked talking with very much. It is not every day you stop to say how much you learn from those around you, how much you appreciate them, how much they have changed you for the better. To everyone involved, they were just Tuesday afternoons. I’ve learned in her passing to cherish the simple Tuesday afternoons, and every day, a little more. I’ve learned to say “thank you,” more often and to let those around me know that I appreciate them because they actively make my life what it is. I’ve learned, again, that we never know how much time we have with someone and even if they are not someone who we live with or a family member, our lives are touched by their presence. I cannot express the gratitude I have for being able to know this volunteer. I can only hope she knows how much she meant to the community of the shelter and to the greater community.

I have found it unsettlingly ironic that I came into this new year as a JV in Yakima, WA to serve in the area of end of life care and, while none of my patients have passed yet, many people from my past have. I would like to say that these losses have been a great learning opportunity and that I can move on without any trouble. The reality is that these losses will stay with me, as the people that have been lost had a big impact on my life. It has been difficult missing their memorials and not being with the people who knew them well. It feels as if it does not do them justice to say I’ve learned something from them and I am moving on. The reality continues to be that I have to take one day at a time and do the best I can along the way. Everything in Yakima has been going very well. I plan to continue to make the best of this year. I am putting to use everything I learned last year and the important lessons I took away from that position and the people I met there. Thanks to all of you who have shared this journey with me- I could not have done it without you all!

The three photos above are from our backpacking trip in the Sawtooth Mountains in July 2017

A photo from our last day together in Boise

My last day of service

Two photos of my community in Yakima, WA for the 2017-2018 service year

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