*The following is taken from a letter client Derek Watters wrote to staff members of the Villa Verdi Supportive Housing, where he lived for seven years.
Dear Nancy and Teresa,
I think this will be the most difficult letter I have ever wished to write. So I have put off writing this letter, because I know it will be emotionally painful. The people I have met via Ontario March of Dimes (OMOD) in Villa Verdi – be they attendants, office staff, OMOD clients or other tenants – have become my second family. Leaving my home here will tear a gaping hole in my heart.
Since moving to Villa Verdi seven years ago, OMOD personnel have brought about a significantly positive transformation in me. I am not the only one who has noticed - everyone in my family has told me this.
When I arrived here in 1999, I thought I was already pretty good at planning my routines and directing my own attendant care. After all, I had been doing it for the previous 11 years with the Outreach Attendant Care Program from Participation House.
However, as I slowly got to know each of the more experienced OMOD attendants, I soon realized that they had much to teach me. Through gentle suggestion or inquiry, these attendants gradually taught me how to organize my routines and my apartment in order to use my booking times most efficiently. I welcomed their teaching because shorter bookings meant I had more time to pursue my own interests at home or in the community.
Early on, I found it emotionally difficult to have to share my attendants’ time with other OMOD clients. With the outreach program, I had had an attendant all to myself for much longer bookings. I had no experience sharing my attendant with someone else, whose care needs at the time happened to take priority over mine.
Fortunately for me, the staff displayed extreme patience with my occasional outbursts of petulant selfishness. They also gently reiterated the reasonable argument that sometimes I am the one paging an attendant out of another client’s booking.
All attendants were very helpful and supportive of my attempts to learn how to cook, even during my manic phase of wanting to bake my own loaves of bread in my bread machine. At meal bookings, I often pestered my attendant to tell me how she did this or that, in order to learn for myself. Since each attendant had a unique culinary history (herstory), his or her knowledge and skills were considerable and useful.
As Teresa knows, I’m always working on one or two - often bizarre - projects that interest me. When I asked attendants to help me by doing some bizarre task that they had never been asked before, they usually attempted the task good-naturedly. If the task proved impossible to do, they’d suggest alternative solutions without making me feel silly or stupid (which I often was).
As my health and confidence grew, my desire to do more for myself re-awakened. The attendants supported and encouraged my efforts, suppressed their laughter at my first feeble failures, and suggested alternative ways I could tackle the problem.
Finally, as everything in my life started falling into place, and I felt happier and more secure than I can remember, I began to realize that I really wasn't taking full responsibility for the attendant care that I received. If an attendant who knew my routine fairly well made a tiny mistake (which is inevitable – we’re only human, after all), I would normally tease her about it.
Then I deduced that in teasing her, I was giving her responsibility for controlling my routine, which is immature. Mature adults take full responsibility for their own lives. So I stopped blaming attendants for the frequent hiccups in my routine. I started to figure out how I could prevent similar errors in the future, either by improving my communication (eg eliminating ambiguous directions), or by re-organizing my apt in some way.
In closing, words really cannot do justice to my heartfelt gratitude to all the OMOD staff. It’s only because of your unwavering support and encouragement over the past seven years that I now feel fully capable of tackling the immense challenge of moving to B.C., the largest change in my life thus far.
I will take with me countless memories of smiling faces and spontaneous laughs, of attending Theatre Aquarius with many of you, of smelling delicious foods during BBQs out back, and a few tears & sobs (for Josh – my hero).
I will endeavour to keep in touch with you, my second family.
My love to everyone,