Today was such a mix of emotions at work. I helped an older lady, we'll call her Marie, who was having a hard time balancing her checkbook. I don't have any problem helping and trying to find the solution; my thought being, I would want someone to help my mother, to treat her with respect and dignity. Maybe in another 20 years I'll put myself in that equation, but right now it's all still defined by her. As I was helping Marie, she talked about the problems in her life - she's killing herself working two jobs, her grown children are taking money from her and never repay her, her mother died two years ago and she just wants to die and be with her, the ill husband. She was very lonely, and I didn't have the heart to stop her, as it was clear that she needed this time. She cried a lot. I talked about taking care of herself, making hard choices about her children, knowing that her mother would never want her to die. It is physically draining sometimes to do this though, to really listen, ask questions and take on their sadness.
After she left, flip the dial 180 degrees to the next challenge, we'll call her Celine. Celine is married to a very wealthy man probably 15 years her senior. She is always immaculate, impeccably dressed, quite beautiful and incredibly mean. She's the sort of woman who expects you to understand immediately how important she is and bend the rules to her needs. Celine can be quite pleasant if you complement her fashion sense, but if like today, as she was unable to be assisted right away, hell hath no fury. You will apologize profusely and promise that she will be taken next, while she slams her paperwork down on the bench in the waiting area and painstakingly removes her sunglasses in a pointed fashion. A pointing at you fashion. Then when your associate is helping her, she will demand that you leave the clients you are working with and come to his desk post haste in order to hear her complaints again. But then her husband will arrive, the husband who threw off his first wife, for Celine, and instantly her demeanor will change. Oh how helpful you are, oh yes you're protecting our assets, oh yes, of course, of course ... the phoniness dripping from her.
Later in the day, Gabriela came in. 85 years young, she brought her granddaughter, because she no longer drives. A month ago, I told her that she needed valid ID in order for me to make the changes she wanted. She had returned with a new passport, but the same sense of humor. Gabriela said that she was afraid she might have to kill me if I wouldn't help her this time. She laughed, I laughed, the granddaughter put her head in her hands. I said, let's avoid the killing and make your life better. I helped her and then she started to tell me about her life. She came from Guatemala 50 years ago with her husband. They left their seven children behind and worked tirelessly to send money to them, eventually being able to bring them all to the US. She would get up at 6am for the 7am bus to take her to the shoe factory. There she would work on various machines until 8pm at night. She would come home, soak her hands in hot water to bring the swelling down and make the joints work again. Then she would start processing baby shoes on an embroidery machine that the second job gave her to work from home. She did that until 1am, and she had to finish, because the truck would come to pick up her piecework at 630am. She said she did this for 40 years.
Unfortunately, sometimes her employers would pay her by check and sometimes by cash. What she didn't know was that they weren't reporting all the hours she was working, so now she gets $530 a month from Social Security. And they're telling her that she may be getting too much, as she didn't work enough to earn that much money. I will tell you that her fingers were gnarled together and she would frequently put them in her lap. She apologized for their appearance, but I told her they were beautiful. To work so tirelessly, to do what she could to bring her children here one by one, and now to be alone, as her husband died 5 years ago - I thought she was radiant. She said she was glad she didn't want to kill me anymore, but maybe she'd think about killing the Social Security lady. We both laughed. Then I turned to her granddaughter and told her it was her job to rally her mother, her aunts and uncles to come to her grandmother's aid. I said that she needed to carry the torch for her, time to let Gabriela's hands rest.