Monday, January 31, 2011

A 6 Foot 200 Pound Miracle

Sometimes things that you have hoped and prayed for, and finally accepted that thing as a 'no' answer, happen.  And they happen suddenly.  So suddenly, in fact, that you wonder whether or not you are dreaming, or, strangely, if you are even up to the blessing that you were asking for in the first place. 

Let it suffice to say that my son, Joseph, separated from me at 19 months of age, and who I have dreamed, longed for, cried and prayed would one day be reunited with me for longer than 5 weeks once a year, came from Virginia to live with us to finish out his school year.  He came this last Saturday and enrolled in school today.  I've known that he would be here for all of one week now.  It is no less a miracle than turning water into wine as far as I'm concerned.  

He has a lot of things he needs to get caught up on, a lot of things he doesn't know, some things that need to be unlearned.  But there are a lot of things he knows, too.  I know what a special boy he is. Yes, he just turned 14--rather late in the game for a mother's influence to be felt at it's most significant.  But, nonetheless, I think I'm up for it!  And I know he is too!  So here's to the school year!  Wish us luck!  I haven't been a full-time mom in quite awhile now!
First day of School

Unpacking and getting his room organized

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Viktoriya, My Teacher, My Friend, Last Chapter

It has been a sad and difficult time for the friends and family of Viktoriya Shershnova.  Seeing her suffer in the way that she did the last 20 months after her horrific car crash was more tortuous for her loved ones than for her.  She went from being a vivacious, vibrant, loving mom and famous personality to a shadow of what she was, totally dependent upon the mercies of hopefully kind caretakers at the care facility at which she stayed. 

 I felt so fortunate to have been able to visit her on a regular basis during a portion of that time.  It was a privilege to be able to put her favorite lotion on her arms and legs and put chapstick on her parched lips.  She was able to pay attention and communicate a little bit.  She loved her face rubbed and her hands rubbed.  She would get a sweet peaceful little smile on her face when she was well enough to enjoy it. But she was in lots of discomfort and often communicated that as well by her looks of sadness and pain.
I remember the Christmas of 2009 when I scheduled my singing group, 'Friends And Neighbors', to go and perform their annual Christmas Performance at her care facility.  I had it put on the facility event calender and reserved the main hall and called ahead the day before we came to make sure that Viktoriya was able to be in attendance.  Despite all of that, the day we arrived, they weren't going to bring her out to see the performance because she wasn't ready and they said she didn't have a bed or chair that could accommodate her in the main area.  They were pretty much telling me that we could perform, but Viktoriya wouldn't be there.  
 Now this post isn't about me, but when they told me that Viktoriya wouldn't be coming out, the stubborn Helena welled up in me.  This is the stubborn me that has been through many a hardship and tragedy and has refused to back down and refused to let someone else tell me what I can or can't do, just because they think they can.  I  had 9 very busy women, my own Dad and son with me and here was this floor nurse telling me that we couldn't do what we came to do.  That wasn't happening.  I went throughout the whole facility, talking to every and any person that looked like they had any kind of influence. I also told the staff that we wouldn't be performing until Viktoriya came out and that we were prepared to wait.  And wait we did.  Finally Viktoriya was rolled out after about 30 minutes and we went on with the performance.  It was a special time for me because this was the Christmas present I was able to give her to show her how much I love her.  I will always appreciate the women of 'Friends and Neighbors' for driving the 50 mile round trip and patiently waiting until Viktoriya could listen to us on their busiest of Saturdays to do this for Viktoriya.  They truly showed that neighbors and friends are also the angels among us. 
 The last time I saw her, I felt like I wanted to have a picture taken with her.  It was amazing because she seemed really lucid and content that day.  When I got out the camera, she actually acted like she knew what I was doing and even smiled when the attendant said "1-2-3 smile"! This is my last special memory of Viktoriya. 

On Saturday, January 15th, I got a call from a bellydance friend who told me the sad news.  Viktoriya had passed away on Friday.  Apparently, she had been doing well and then one of the nurses checked on her and she had quit breathing.  They resuscitated her, but she couldn't breathe on her own. She finally quietly passed away.
 The funeral was very simple but well-attended.  Her daughter, Nikol, gave a simple but beautifully heartfelt eulogy about her mother.  Through her tears, she talked about how she had always admired her mom and hoped that someday she could be as beautiful as she was.  She spoke of how her mother had many trials, but always told her and her sister, Jessica, that she wouldn't trade it because she had her two girls.  She told about how every night she would come in and kiss her and tell her that she loved her.  She spoke of the special look she got in her eyes that made her know that she meant it. 
  Another person who spoke was Sarah Brimhall, one of Viktoriya's best friends and who was very close to her daughters, as well.  She had been one of her first students here in Utah.  Viktoriya had taken a special interest in Sarah, like she did so many, and had an open door to her any time she wanted.   Sarah had been with Viktoriya the day before her accident and spoke of how she was literally glowing with good health and happiness.  There is no doubt that she was an extremely beautiful woman on the outside.  But what is even more extraordinary is how beautiful she was on the inside and how much love she had for so many people.  
  I deem myself a fortunate person indeed to have known such a wonderful person as Viktoriya and call her my friend.  We had many heartfelt conversations and had a personal understanding of one another.  I know that her progression is continuing in Heaven and that her understanding is growing by leaps and bounds.  What she couldn't comprehend here on earth, will all be made clear in the world beyond.  Viktoriya's life helped me understand the limitless love our Father in Heaven has for each one of his sons and daughters and the mercy that he has extended us in our individual journeys of progression and knowledge in this life.  It is through his Son, Jesus Christ, that we are able to look with hope and joy toward the life after this one.
 So, Viktoriya, here is my final update on your life and I hope that all who knew you will find peace and know you found rest and joy in the loving arms of those who were waiting to greet you.  God be with you until we meet again!

At the funeral with another one of Viktoriya's dear friends
Some of the flowers at her funeral

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Good Week's Work!

It's been a nice week at work.  I work at a remedial high school in one of the 3 behavior units for students who also qualify for Individualized Education Plans (IEP's).  I work with Troy Hulse, who has been working for a long time with at-risk boys.  He is very good and has a lot of experience with this population.  This is the 2nd year he has actually been in a contained classroom, since before that time he worked out in the field, leading work crews for these same students.  He actually requested me from another classroom I had been working in, probably partially because I am a female and with these kids, it's imperative that they learn how to work respectfully with males and females, alike.  It's a real struggle for them to do that most of the time--just be respectful.  There are several obvious reasons why that is so and probably many more less clear cut explanations.  For one thing, it is society in general that implicitly condones the disrespect of women, objectifying them into not much more than sex symbols.  A lot of these kids have not much more than the prototype of society in general to mold their philosophies and behaviors.  Another is that sometimes their sadly lacking home environments have been such that disregarding women and mistreating them is the standard.  And variously, they are fettered with the chains of physiological limitations, where their erratic behavior is symptomatic of their condition. Any kind of positive response from them must be gained by medication, precision commands with strict reinforcement follow-up!

Every day I go to work, wondering which kid is going to try and take me down with sharp sarcasm or penchant for mean humor.  It's always someone and something different.  One day I think I have made tremendous headway with someone and the next day, it's a total reversal of attitude.  Most of the time, I am able to avoid any major confrontation because I'm pretty savvy myself, when it comes to street smarts.  And, since we are on the level system, there is always the threat of dropping a level if they go too far overboard with disrespect, threats or rude comments.  

The funny thing is that I really genuinely like the boys, who range from 15 to 18, in my unit.  They all are intelligent, personable and humorous!  They can be charming when they want to be. But there is a reason why they are in my unit.  Most likely, it is because they were behaviorally out-of-control in the regular high schools that they attended.  Most of them have several misdemeanors to their credit and some have even been in detention.  So while I quite like most of these boys, I can never trust them.  I'm always on my guard.  For instance, once they actually invited me to sit with them at their table at lunch.  If they actually were to do that, it would be a great sign of status for me.  But I didn't buy it.  I declined to sit with them.  I soon found out that what they were actually planning on doing was getting up and leaving, once I had sat down with them, leaving me at the table alone.  But I'm no dummy (totally debatable, however) and saw it coming and the fact that I didn't fall for it actually got me a little more respect!  

We see some of these boys mainstreamed back into regular classes, first within the high school itself and some even get to go back to the original high schools that they were expelled from.  Basically, when I really get to be rather fond of someone and impressed with their progress, that is the time they will be leaving my class. So, I don't get too much time with a kid who is well-behaved on a consistent basis!

So why has it been a nice week?  Well, it was nice because I am getting more comfortable teaching Social Skills and Daily Oral Language Skills to them, which are the two things I teach on a daily basis.  I see them actually responding and participating in spite of themselves!  When I first started out in this unit at the beginning of November, it was a disaster.  They were bound and determined to withhold any respect or even any acknowledgment of my presence as an authority figure.  I was so grateful to have a male professional in the classroom, who laid down the law when things got out of hand.  Nevertheless, he couldn't see everything that was going on. They have extremely covert ways of trying to undermine me and my efforts to be an integral part of the class workings.   

It's been nice because one of the more dominant members of the classroom actually sincerely invited me to join them in a game during free time.   That was definitely a status jump.  Now most of the kids have decided that I am worth bringing into a recreational game outside of formal class time!  Yes!  They have actually started asking me for different pieces of advice about their understanding and clarification of the world around them, whereas before they would only ask those things to Troy.  Now, they are trusting me enough to ask me!  Major victory!  And, when I do give my opinion about different things, they will actually weigh it in their minds and give it thoughtful consideration.  They may not agree with it all the time, but they do attend to it!  Small though these things may seem, in the realm of at-risk youth, it is huge.  They have grown up with many different obstacles and at the forefront is the ability to trust or the permission to respect adults in their lives.  For me, it's one thing for a young person who has had every opportunity and encouragement to render me some good faith.  But for someone who has not had such assistance, it is the best feeling ever to have them hesitantly at first, extend the hand of friendship and trust.  Maybe then, influence for good can be had~and that's what brings me great satisfaction!  I hope that you have a great week in whatever you are doing, because we all have immense capacity to make the world around us a little better because of what we do!  What do  you consider to be a good week at "work"?