Cutting the Healing

The emotional triage performed by therapists for the severely disabled is being eliminated by budget cutbacks

Overall, Savits' goal is to help her clients come to acceptance by facing their losses and expressing their feelings. At times the process can be harsh, because her clients are people at whose cores lies a solitude so intense and enduring it's beyond the capacity of most folks to imagine. It's a solitude born of the awareness that no matter what they might feel or know or think, they will always look and speak and act differently than others.

And sometimes success is measured in tears shed.
Delores Inez Garcia, an elderly woman who lives in the Davie group home, knows the truth of this. In 63 years of living with cerebral palsy (when she was born, the disease had not even been identified), Garcia has survived the deaths of almost everyone who has ever been close to her. Over the past few years, her health and level of functioning have been failing, and she has increasingly tended to retreat into herself, shutting down all emotions behind a locked door in her mind.

Then last fall saw a sudden breakthrough. "It was Yom Kippur," Savits says, "which is the major Jewish holiday for praying for the dead, and Delores was being very close-mouthed about it. She'd just shut herself down. So I started to talk about loss, and I was trying to get her to talk about how she felt about the deaths of her parents, and I just casually commented that for me, Yom Kippur is the most difficult holiday of all, because thinking about the ones I've lost makes me cry.

"Then I asked her, 'Who do you cry for, Delores?' and there she was with a tear in her eye. So we talked about her parents and her love and grief for them. Finally I looked at her, and I said, 'You know, Delores, there's one loss we haven't talked about yet -- the loss of Delores. How do you feel about losing her?' Well, she broke down again, crying and sort of giving me dirty looks through the tears.

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