The most nerve wracking part of starting social work school is finding out your first field placement. The internship. Free labor for various social service agencies, in exchange for credit and the privilege of writing process recordings. If you’ve never written a process recording, give it a try–remember that hour long conversation you had today? Write it down. Word for word. When you’re done crying, analyze the discussion. How were you feeling? What conversational technique were you utilizing? Have your supervisor dissect it in front of you. Run screaming. Repeat 2-3 times per week.
When I got my field placement information that first year, I cried.
I was to provide case management services to homebound senior citizens. Essentially I had to go to elderly people’s homes, take their psychosocial information (which is not nearly as wild and crazy as it sounds) and help them to get the services they need.
Does that sound like a party or what?
I wanted to work with kids. It’s what I went into social work to do. It’s what most people I knew went into social work for. I had only ever worked with kids. I knew how to engage them by folding origami cootie-catchers, I knew what they were talking about when they babbled on about SpongeBob and Webkinz. I had patience and was amused by their bizarre behavior.
I didn’t know seniors. I didn’t have grandparents. There was an old man who lived on the corner growing up who yelled at us for walking too fast by his house after school. That was my image of the elderly.
So I was shocked when I loved them.
Old people are hilarious. Especially the “oldest old,” those over 85. Most of them were well aware, and comfortable with the fact that they didn’t have much time left. They took what time they did have to get their affairs in order, spoil their grandchildren, and say and do whatever the hell they way.
Zero filter with these people. “Maybe if you took that ring out of your face you’d have a husband.” “You know you should wear a skirt, show it off a little, trust me, it won’t last forever.” I knew it came from love.
My personal favorite was an 86 year old gentleman, who I only got to meet once. I visited him at the end of my internship year, with my replacement intern in tow for training. We always had to ask the clients about their eating habits. This man told us that he had a light breakfast and lunch, and then “at 5, it’s happy hour.”
I’m sorry, but could you repeat that?
Oh yes. Every evening at 5, this World War II vet broke out the martinis and shrimp cocktail, and had himself a little party.
I could hardly contain my love.
The reaction from my fellow intern was decidedly different.
“I noticed that he said that he has a drink every day. That could be a health risk.”
You’re right. This man survived the Depression, the fuhrer, fifty-two years of marriage and two hip replacements. It’s time to lecture him on eliminating one of the only remaining joys in his life. I like to think I talked her into a different direction.
I had numerous Holocaust survivors take me through their agonizing histories. I sat with people as they cried over their parents who had died forty years earlier. I saw more class pictures and dance recital videos than I can possibly remember. And, of course, I got to hear amazing stories that cracked me up beyond belief.
I’m back to working with kids (let’s face it, that’s where the millions are) but I hope to return to working with seniors at some point. It’s a field in a lot of need, and I really recommend it. If nothing else, you get to be served cookies on home visits and be a surrogate grandchild every so often.
And you walk away with some great stories.