Posted by Rebecca Kotkin
I am a social work student, in the second year of the three-year extended masters program at Simmons College. The JF&CS Guardianship Program was my first field placement. I had only known Allison* for a few months. She was a challenging client to work with; sometimes warm and affectionate, at other times angry and abusive. But I cared for her and in our work we tried to ease her burdens. She had no family or friends and now she was at the end of her life. Despite her illness, I thought she’d outlive my placement; that she had too much fire in her to succumb to the cancer. When I got the phone call that she had died, I was surprised when the tears sprang to my eyes.
I had seen her two days earlier and was struck by how matter-of-fact her nurses were about the situation. So clinical – not really cold but just dry. I was being clinical about it too – asking about the medicine, noticing the breathing. But I was sad. I was sad that Allison was dying. I was sad that she was dying and all the people in her life were being clinical about it. Shouldn’t someone mourn her when she dies? I think I could handle all the nurses and the doctor and us being all dry and detached if there was someone out there who was going to miss her in his or her life. I was sad that she would die and her death would barely leave a mark. I felt so sorry for her: her framing of her life reflected so much disappointment. Maybe I was most sad that there was no chance for her to have changed her perspective. Up until then, however vague, distant and remote a possibility it was, there had always been the chance that she could find some peace or joy. Now, the book was closed and this was the measure of her life.
*Name changed to protect privacy.