Ever since my sister was a teenager, she knew she wanted to help people. She didn't know how, and she didn't know where, but that's what she'd talk about when you asked her what she wanted to do with her life - which is a loaded question, to be sure. Her path took a little bit longer than some, but she worked her ass off in school, working full time and being the third parent in our household. I'm incredibly proud of her. She's thoughtful, caring and very generous. My children are so lucky that she is theirs.
It only makes sense that she would channel that need to help and care for others into a career as a social worker. She secured an internship working for the VA her last semester of graduate school. They were so impressed they offered her a job, and almost a decade later, she's still there - working tirelessly to support her veterans. That's what she calls them, her veterans, my guys. Whenever we talk about work, the stresses of our day, she talks about her guys.
She's extremely professional and never breaks confidentiality, never lets a name slip out. There's a ton of paperwork, just as you would imagine there would be for such a ginormous bureaucracy/corporation. It often surprises me how all encompassing her job is. Obviously, she has to go to where the guys are, so she does group home visits, takes them to their doctor appointments, talks to their caregivers. If they move to a new group home, she's the one that moves them. I thought she meant that she arranged their transportation and the dates, but I was wrong. She loads the boxes with their belongings into her car or a van and literally moves them into their new place. She's got to have all those difficult conversations, as well. From their emotional and mental stability, to hygiene and physical issues, she has to cover the gamut of questions to make sure she catches any potential problems - so she can protect her guys and do the best job possible.
At the beginning of this week, she was driving two of her veterans in her car to their doctor appointments, one in the front seat and the other in the back. They were all chatting about Thanksgiving and their plans. She had stopped at Dunkin Donuts for them and had just gotten back on the freeway. After a few minutes, the veteran sitting next to her suddenly became silent, head dropping to his chest. She tried to get a response, find a pulse in his wrist, but she couldn't. The veteran in the back checked the man's throat and thought he felt something faint. She called for help, but she feared she was too far from the next hospital, so she quickly turned and headed back to the emergency care unit at her building. A dozen people met her car when she pulled up, and they tried to revive him but to no avail. Her veteran had died next to her, in the front seat of her car.
She's been around death before, but never like this. We were all together, sisters and brother, when we watched Mom die in her hospital room seven years ago. She's had other veterans die, some due to health conditions and some by their own hand, the demons brought back from serving their country having finally been silenced. But she's never had another human die inches from her while she was desperately trying to get them help. I told her that it must have been a comfort to his family that his last moments were spent with her, safe and relaxed. He hadn't expressed any discomfort or pain to her. He was there one moment and then gone. His family was grateful that she was able to give them that assurance.
On Thursday, I fed her and talked when we could, as the children ran in and out of the room. She didn't want to upset them, to make them feel like they had to comfort her on the holiday. She's been offered therapy and a great deal of support at work, but for now she wants to deal with it herself. These unexpected traumas, they bloom out like ink on paper, making the sadness harder to escape. If you have a moment, I humbly ask if you would offer a prayer, a candle, a loving thought to whatever you hold dear, whatever brings you succor, for my sister.