Monday, October 5, 2009

The Sister Dorothea Epiphany

For some reason, it seems that it's people who practice the Catholic faith who seem to have the largest impact on my life. Mr. Rooney, as you learned, the Kennedys, and my neighbor growing up, Laura Myers, who gave me a Rosary, which I still keep by my bedside, and used to take me to mass with her (both of which made my dad spitting mad). But, it was my brief encounter with a social worker nun who made the most dramatic impact on my family as a whole. Her name is Sister Dorothea. I will never forget her, although I hope never to meet her again.

But, before I introduce you to her, allow me to set the scene. As you know, my two daughters went into crisis mode during a time when I was trying to build a career and grow a business in property management. After resisting having to step away from that, I had finally turned the day-to-day operations over to my sister-in-law and husband. I think my majority partner knew that wouldn't sit well with me in the end, being just a little too close to home to avoid having my natural competitiveness kick in, and that eventually I would come back. I did. I couldn't stand watching two other people muck around with what I had worked so hard to achieve. Not that they did a bad job, but they didn't do it the way I would have in many cases, and I was close enough to it still to be achingly aware of it. I was hyper-critical of everything because it just wasn't me in the position to make the decisions. I convinced myself that I learned how to balance life and work and the kids were doing well enough that I could go back to my old position, recoup some of the income I had given up and everything would be fine. In the meantime, my partners and I had sold the company to an investment group with the idea of taking the company national and building my partner's vision of a comprehensive software system that would allow us to more efficiently manage more communities with the same staff. Problem with dreams like that, they begin with a lot of sweat equity. As I stepped back into my old role, the first roll out of the newly designed software was on the horizon with all the requisite shake-ups and problems. In the meantime, somehow had to run the actual business we were in. My very first day back on the job, there was a major issue that took a lot of time and finesse to handle. The day after that, we had our first fatality at a common area facility in our company history, and it was my job to handle both the investigation and the inevitable fall out. But, within weeks, I became the anointed lazy one of the executive group because I would pack it up at 2:00 AM so I could get a few winks before coming back for a daily meeting at 8:00 AM. Despite all that, the first alarm bell that I had made a potentially fatal error didn't occur to me until a few months of this had passed, and I got a call on a Friday night from Greg. He wasn't home, but Marissa had called him, frantic. She was home alone with Kelsey, who had passed out. She wanted to know what to do, and he was asking me. My God! Seriously? I thought to myself, "You have to call me at work to ask me what to do here?" Call 9-1-1! Greg went home and got Kelsey and took her to the emergency room himself without having to call an ambulance, and I tried to wrap up what I had on my desk as time sensitive so I could meet them there. An hour and a half later I finally felt I was at a point where I could walk/run out the door. I think the original call came at about 7:00 PM. I made it to the emergency room at about 9:00. I knew at that point that things were not working out. But, I had a strong sense of responsibility to the people who worked for me and the clients we all served. I felt as though I owed it to them to see us all through a difficult transition from the small, locally owned company we once were to the vision of what we wanted to be. So, I stuck it out for a while. In the meantime, Kelsey began to show multiple signs of starvation. She grew a thin coating of fuzz on her back and her arms, which is the body's way of insulating itself when there is not enough body fat to do the job. She couldn't walk upstairs, and was sleeping in our bed. She could barely sit up, and couldn't hold a pencil. But, still, I made it to work every day. Then, on another Friday night, Greg called me again and told me to come home. Now.

This time, I wrapped it up quickly. Probably no more than a half hour passed before I left the office. I came home to find my husband badly shaken with our youngest daughter sitting there, waiting her fate, quiet and slightly defiant. He had caught her in the upstairs bathroom, door wide open, a tourniquet wrapped around her petite arm, about to inject herself. The next few days were a whirlwind. We had already made arrangements for Kelsey to enter her third residential treatment center in the next few days. We were busily stuffing her with Ensure and whatever other supplement we could to buoy her up enough to pass the physical so they would accept her. In the meantime, we checked Marissa into Shoal Creek, which you may recall as having housed her older sister in the past, to detox for three days.

And this was the family dynamic the day I met Sister Dorothea. The day I came to collect Marissa was the same day Greg and Kelsey flew out to Reno to check her into a residential eating disorder clinic. Really, given this chaos, there was small wonder the Shoal Creek administration insisted I meet with a social worker. So, I was ushered into a tiny room with no windows and made to wait. After a while, in came this stern looking woman with ugly, sensible shoes and no makeup, followed by a young, fairly clueless intern. I have never been to Catholic school, but I knew enough people who had, and I had heard the stories of the stern faced nuns. Over the years, I nearly have myself convinced she came replete with a ruler to use on my knuckles. She didn't, of course, but her manner was just as stern and as unforgiving with me, a full grown professional adult, as one would expect a school marm to treat a badly behaved student. She showed me no mercy, no empathy, and gave no ground. Her little shadow, the intern whose name I've long forgotten, got the bulk of my ire when she couldn't keep my daughters' names straight. I was just plain scared of the nun.

She was almost stereotypical. I remember her as being dressed in dark, monotone colors. Maybe a navy blue. She wore glasses, had short grey hair, cropped for efficiency, not vanity. She was pale, clearly not concerned with catching some sun to give herself any manner of natural radiance and, as I mentioned, not concerned with any cosmetic enhancements either. If she smiled, I have no memory of it. She could have been any where from 50 to 65 years old. Her stern countenance made it hard to judge, other than she had the authoritative manner of an individual who has been around the block more than a few times with the likes of me. She was not rude, but she was direct. Very direct. Whatever she thought of me it is hard to say, but it is a safe bet that it was not much. She had dealt with tougher customers than me, I would say without a doubt. If any of them got the better of her, I'd like to hear from them. I won't hold my breath for that call.

Marissa was ushered in not long after we began, and the stern interrogation continued. Her main message was simple. She made it clear I needed to re-think my life and re-think it now. Whatever I was doing was clearly not working. If I wanted my children to survive, they needed me to be present in their lives and by present, she meant really totally present.

Maybe there's a pent up frustration that comes with someone who has denied themselves secular gratifications for decades that makes them so forceful. Maybe it's simply, and less intriguingly, the belief that whatever they say carries the weight of God's word. Maybe she was just a dried up, bitter old prune of a woman what wanted to spread her misery. Whatever the case, I thought I might not ever make it out of that little room in one piece, and if I did, I was determined to do what she had counseled, or rather demanded, that I do rather than risk any more of her admonitions.

So, exactly what did I do? Stay tuned, dear reader. And I'll tell you.

1 comment:

  1. I need to clarify here that neither my husband nor his sister did anything wrong in running the company. What I meant to illustrate was that I am a control freak and they did not run it the way I would have. No one would have, but I was naturally harder and more judgmental on the two of them, so I watched from afar with a very critical eye. I have wondered since if that was what my business partner assumed would happen. By nature, I tend to be slightly competitive in all things but fantasy football. Watching my husband do something I used to do was only going to lead to my assuming I did it better. Naturally, I am the better football fan, so it just follows I'm better at everything else as well, right?