I'm often asked to speak at support group meetings for the various conditions I see in my practice. I try to go to as many of these as I can; it's a great way to meet with individuals on an informal basis. Many of these patients don't have much insight or knowledge about their condition (or worse, have a skewed picture of the future based on misinformation), and I hope I can change some of that in the time I spend with them. As could be expected, in my attempts to balance work and home, I occasionally run across some problems with time constraints. This happened a few months ago. I had promised a group that I would meet with them, but the week became filled with mandatory department conferences and other events which kept me away from home, so on the evening I was scheduled with the support group I was greeted with a chorus of "You're going where? Why can't you stay here for a night?" In a desperate attempt to spend some time with my boys, I asked them if they wanted to come with me. Eldest declined with a bit of a sneer, but Youngest jumped up with enthusiasm. His question, though, gave me a bit of cause for concern: "Can I bring my GameBoy?"
As we pulled into the parking lot of the church where the meeting was being held we could see a steady stream of cars pulling up to the entrance. We parked in a far corner of the parking lot and while we walked to the building we watched people in wheelchairs and using walkers approaching the doorway and struggling to get through. As we got closer, I suggested that Youngest might want to hold the door for some of the people we saw. He looked at me sideways, but then ran ahead. I could hear him talking to a couple wrestling with the door (which didn't have any modifications for people with disabilities); then with a smile, he opened the door as wide as he could so that the husband could push his wife through. After he assisted a few more individuals it was time for the meeting to start.
Before I knew it, Youngest was talking with the facilitator of the group and passing around cookies and punch to the members there. He sat quietly while I spoke to the group and answered questions without bringing out his electronic toy once. As the evening was winding down, I was approached by a woman who had been sitting quietly in the back. It was obviously difficult for her to move forward, even with the rolling walker she was using. Watching Youngest's face, it was apparent that he felt removed from this group. I could almost read his thoughts, "Poor folks; too bad they contracted this disease. Thank God it will never happen to me." The woman thanked me for the information I had provided, and the enthusiasm and encouragement she felt I had brought to the group. And then she said, "You know, I've been battling this since I was 16 years old. I never thought I'd be around this long." Youngest's mouth dropped wide open at this point - with just a few words, this woman had made him realize that none of us are immune to whatever it is that our futures hold. Before I could say anything, Youngest had moved next to the woman and said, "I'm so sorry to hear that. May I give you a hug?" While I answered questions for another person in the group, I could see Youngest speaking softly with the woman.
Afterwards, he and I helped the facilitator clean up the napkins and cups. Youngest didn't say anything while he gathered up debris and placed it in the trash can. As we began to walk through the now-quiet parking lot toward our car I said, "I'm proud of you. I think you did a very nice thing tonight."
His response was typical pre-teen. "WhatEVER, Mom. Race you to the car!"
I wasn't sure how much of that evening Youngest retained, or what an impact it had made upon him until recently. As we were talking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, Youngest suddenly blurted out, "I guess we can all be thankful that we're healthy, right?"
Right, son. And I'm thankful for lessons that are learned without trying.
And to all of you - I wish you a healthy, happy Thanksgiving (and quick healing to you, Happy Mom).