I am still going into my “essential” workplace, the specialty/emergency veterinary hospital. Why?
Not one case of Covid-19 has been diagnosed among staff, and I hope that continues. If luck runs out, then we will adjust again. Our clients have to leave their animals in a room without contact with staff, trusting nurses to immediately take the pet for assessment and treatment. All communication is provided by phone while owners wait in their cars. We have been able, though, to provide the people who are saying the final goodbye with an ability to be with and hold their beloved pet while still social distancing. It has just required creative problem solving. And we provide virtual visitation for owners with hospitalized patients. In a time of anxiety for all, at least we can provide some comfort.
Yet all staff know that they are also risking their health and the health of their closest loved ones by coming to work.
As a social worker, my workplace is “essential” not only because it is healthcare. The veterinary professionals, support staff, and all the workers are challenged yet motivated. They are motivated not by paychecks but by their team, the public needing their services in this trying time, and by their empathy for all furry and human. Simply, they are motivated deeply by empathy which is the foundation of compassion. This is true in every hospital or healthcare facility, HUMAN or ANIMAL, operating now. I am honored to be in the company of these individuals.
I see the enormity of stress and the anxiety on faces and in posture. There is more frequent utilization of counseling support and chocolates, superficial and pertinent/focused conversations. Sudden meltdowns have become normal. An extremely hard job full of stress, life, death, lots of death, physical and emotional presence is one focus vying with concern for loved ones outside, the future, and how to keep going. Additionally, life goes on; personal events still occur like births and deaths, weddings and relocations. Relationship issues worsen, and substance abuse recovery becomes more difficult. The rhythm of work in our hospital is an antidote, in a way, to all of the worry. The wagging or purring patient brings relief from all that the mind is combatting. Yet a moment lasts a moment only right now.
So yes, I will continue going into my “essential” workplace.
My thoughts about the history of veterinary social work (as contributed in February 2020 to VSW listserv)
From: Veterinary Social Work Listserv On Behalf Of sandra@SBRACKENRIDGELCSW.COM
Like Laurel, Deborah, Susan and a few others out there, this thread has brought so many memories. Honestly, I kind of wanted to dwell in them privately for a bit. With Laurel’s post, I realized that I needed to fill in the gap of history that I occupied. I felt like I was hiding, and I was for a bit. I hope a skilled writer will one day create a history. I also knew my post would be long, so I’m so sorry about that. If you want, read the first paragraph and the last.
I came to this career a bit differently than the others. I wanted it and dreamt of what could be done as a child. I did some independent studies in undergrad to understand animals and humans, and then when I did my thesis for my MSW (graduating in 1980), I had a very difficult time pitching and then implementing a study. My hypothesis was just that my sample would disclose more freely during an interview with an animal present. I was able to find a brave professor to help me, but I struggled terribly and was called “crazy” in trying to find a site that would let me in to interview with my own dog. Public and private facilities refused. Remember, in that day, animals were still “dirty,” and parasite control/vaccinations were not common knowledge especially in the south. Luckily, a Catholic nun was my classmate, and she convinced her Mother Superior to let me use St. Elizabeth’s Children's’ Home, a home for girls in state custody. I was able to conduct my study in the courtyard only, and my professor said that if I had had a bigger sample the results could have been published. In addition, the literature review was terribly short. I believe I only found three articles and two books by Boris Levinson (a psychiatrist who took Skeeter to inpatient child psychiatry visits) who I interviewed by phone. Yes, he just answered my phone call. There was no email then.
After graduation, I knew that I had to shelve my interest in order to find a job since I couldn’t be labeled crazy. I had several jobs and participated in several “pilots” which were successful. Developing pilots would benefit me later at LSU. I was in private practice in 1988-1989 when I learned of the Delta Society formation and conference. The first conference I attended was in New Jersey, and I found a home. That conference was held with NARHA and Canine Companions. What a field day! I began using my own dog in AAI visits and in my private practice. We moved to a farm where we were able to live with my horses, and I began to plan an equine therapy program. And I began to present to veterinary practices and consult with veterinarians about grief due to pet loss, helping owners with quality of life decisions. I formed a pet loss support group and presented by request at animal shelters to the workers. I had seen Susan Cohen, Terry Anderson, Ben Granger, Carolyn Butler and Laurel Lagoni, and Leo Bustad at the conferences and I was humbled and too shy to introduce myself. I finally introduced myself to some of them sometime after I obtained the position at LSU.
I was calling LSU School of Veterinary Medicine to let them know of my presentations and work, and the Dean’s secretary said, “Well, we are looking for a counselor, but the application deadline has passed.” She put me on hold and said that if I could have my resume there the next day, I could still be considered. Remember there was no email as this was 1990. I delivered my resume 73 miles away to the school, which led to several interviews and then an interview with then Dean William Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins went on to become Chancellor and President of LSU in the years to come. He said that he wanted someone who in 20 hours a week could develop a grief counseling program for LSU’s hospital, all LSU alumni, provide counseling for staff, students and faculty (800 people), and supervise social work interns from LSU School of Social Work. I asked if I could do an AAT program as well, and he smiled and said, “Anything else you want to do.” I said yes, yes, and yes. With time, I was able to show him numbers, and we diminished counseling services and offered to students only. I say “we,” because one of my first MSW interns was Stephanie Walker Johnson. I lived 73 miles away and could only do 20 hours a week, and after she graduated with her MSW, she became my assistant and then took over the position when I left. Stephanie has maintained and enhanced the program now for 26 years!
I was at LSU from 1990-1994, a short time, but we developed a pet loss service for the hospital, a pet loss group, the counseling program for students, a model AAT program in partnership with the School of Social Work (the first program to be allowed into a major medical facility in Louisiana), and I began teaching in rounds and in the curriculum. We held a conference on the Human-Animal Bond. I had to overcome my shyness to present, and some still tease me about using index cards in the beginning. I was asked to write articles about stress management by orthopedic surgeon Derrel Elkins, DVM which in 1994 became our book Stress Management for the Veterinary Practice Team. My own pet loss book for children Because of Flowers and Dancers was also published in 1994. Because of the friendship developed with Carolyn Butler and Laurel Lagoni, I realized that we couldn’t simplistically expand pet loss to the loss of a horse. So having been a horse owner all of my life, I theorized and educated about loss and euthanasia of a horse in “The Human-Horse Bond and Client Bereavement,” published in 1996.
In 1994, I interviewed across the country for other positions to prompt LSU for more in terms of my position there so that I could relocate closer to the school. In doing so, I was offered a tenure track position teaching in the BSW program at Idaho State University. Louisiana was going through a recession and couldn’t compete, and as many of you know, very few without a Ph.D. are ever offered such an opportunity. I moved to Idaho with two daughters and a host of assorted small and large animals. There I taught, lived on a mountain, and had a blast until 2008. I also continued helping to develop programs there, presenting, publishing, and serving as the state’s Foundation Pet Loss Consultant. I continued the same when I moved to Texas in 2008. As faculty in the BSW program at Texas Woman’s University in 2013, a student named Briana Schultz, having listened to my tales, wanted to do her online MSW and her VSW certificate through the University of Tennessee. She asked me to find her an internship in Texas, and I did. The VSW program at the Center for Veterinary Specialty + Emergency Care was created.
In the 80’s to 90’s, a veterinarian who pursued internships and residencies toward specialty expected to live out their careers in academia. This began to change in the 90’s and today, most who specialize will be in privately owned or corporately owned practices. At the VSW Summit in October 2015, I presented about the development of this kind of social work internship. Melinda Larkin of JAVMA published an article in January of 2016 which resulted in hospitals contacting me to develop programs similarly.
I had one goal when I was a kid: If the time came that we had to leave earth with only a few things and a few people, well, I hoped that we would be convinced that the animals would have to be included. As I entered higher education and training, this translated to a goal for society to recognize the abilities of animals to make us better humans, to fulfill needs that other humans may never fulfill, and to see them as not only utilitarian but essential for our humanity. More importantly, I hoped that the animals would help those who experienced the bond achieve some bit of a spiritually integrated being. Well, as we succeeded in elevating our relationships with animals, the people of like-minds who devote their lives to caring for the animals, the veterinarians, veterinary professionals around them, shelter workers, those involved in animal welfare, rescue, lab animal work, exotic animal work, etc. have been presented with new and hard challenges. It never entered my mind years ago that elevating the human-animal bond could so challenge and even harm those so instrumental for the animals’ survival.
Laurel wrote this, and I wholeheartedly agree:
“Still, in my heart, I believe every veterinarian needs to understand grief and be skilled in dealing with it so they can be present with their patients and clients when pets die or are euthanized. I think it’s a huge part of what sets veterinarians apart from human physicians and helps them stay human in the face of all the science, treatment protocols, financial matters, staff supervision, etc. they must deal with day after day after day. I think grief support is ultimately what clients count on veterinarians for, what they trust them to do for them.”
I see social workers and other mental health practitioners now as essential in the dynamic and not only when there is grief. When the barrage of comments on social media is too much, or the documentation is strangling, or the co-workers become negative, or the owners can’t afford anything, or when they need a break from death…it’s not grief only anymore. So there can be disillusionment too, but disillusionment is also about grief, right? For all of these things, and when an animal, non-speaking but completely equal in the family or to the professional individual who is taking care of them, and when that caretaker is spending all of their physical, spiritual, and psychic energy on the animals’ behalf…. the missing piece, the relief, the way the caretaker finds their path back to the hope, is the social worker/trained mental health practitioner. At least we can assist.
Sandra Brackenridge, LCSW
Veterinary Social Worker, www.cvsecvet.com
Texas State Board Approved Supervisor
Social Work Consulting and Counseling for Veterinary Practices
Phone: 940-269-0140 or 208-705-0088
April 7, 2019
As someone who is considered to have expertise in matters of loss and in matters of pet loss, my take on the journey through grief is that it does not complete in acceptance, in recovery, in resolution, or any of the other words so many experts use. One heals as if terribly physically injured, and with having been injured, there are always scars. Many of the scars are visible. Some are internal. Scars are indicative of having been truly alive. When you notice them, you can remember the pain. You can remember the risks and the fun that led to them. You can remember any difficulty in healing. Scars change in their appearance as they heal as well. When they are fully healed, they are just part of you and who you are.
I have also taught that it is assistive in healing for others to “hold” your grief. It is helpful for you to express it in words, in writing, in charity, in pictures, and many other ways. But it is most helpful if others hold or embrace your grief through that expression. I know also that we cleanse previous losses when we grieve again.
This post is my attempt to help heal a deep scar, and a letter to the soul whose loss and life is within the scar.
Hey Rox, it’s been a year. It’s been a year since I sent you out of your physical body which was doing you harm. I still miss you. And I still want you to be here. I bet that may never change.
I’ve been hurting lately as much as when you left. So I talked to my oldest and wisest friend last night, also a therapist, who said I shouldn’t hold myself to a year, that every process is its own. She is right; I have advised the same, but I needed to hear it. I guess that I might not ever stop grieving you. I know I will never stop wanting you or missing you.
My grieving will also never stop for others that came before you. They all, especially Beignet and some of the horses, Survirgo, Country, and Sunny, have been entering my dreams lately. Anytime I have quiet, I remember all of you. But Roxie, today your presence is big big, and my missing you hurts a great deal more than before. Jethro and Dupree seem to know what’s up with me, and they seem to know it takes both of them to help me heal now. Thank you for communicating with them.
You were so exuberant and always ready to provoke my laughter. You were perfect at cuddling, affection, closeness, and you did drool and drool and drool. The drool ensured that others let you be mine only, and that the inauthentic missed your wisdom and love. I can still feel your fur, your feet, your muzzle, and I even easily remember your smell. You were teaching me so much about living mindfully and joyfully. You made it your mission to give joy, because you absolutely loved people and other animals (especially Lilo, Dora, and Toby). You loved showing, and you knew what it was about. Your favorite thing was applause. And when you won, you tried to take the ribbons from the judge. You got most excited going to the vet, because they were eager to see you. You couldn’t wait to see them, even if they poked, prodded, and drugged you. You gave off a lot of love, my girl, at any opportunity. You lived, as we all should live.
It was our blessing that you were so beautiful; beautiful enough to win any show. I know it was part of your plan. It was my blessing to have you connected to me. You were such that we attracted others, so we made memories. We had so much fun together! We traveled; we charmed people at every stop; we bonded in unfamiliar environments. It was you and me, and me and you. We had a good time.
And I feel that you knew we were to be together before you were born. I feel many pets know something similar. You weren’t here for long; you came, you lived as long and as best as you could, loving me and making me warm and with laughter and loving me with singularity. You did it girl.
And then 21 days after your death, you gave me your bone. You did. You left it outside for me to see. That must have taken so much metaphysical energy. But true to form, your love for me was the biggest of any human or animal who has ever loved me.
So many spiritual traditions say that at a year the spirit leaves and is free. I’m okay with that. Please be free. I am tethered to the earth until my death. I can only hope that I embrace the teachings all have valiantly and trustfully given. I am grateful and indebted to you, Roxie, and all of the other animals who have graced my experience here. But I miss every single one. Today I am grateful for having lived with you my girl.
Roxie, I am writing this letter to you as well as to share with any other human who shares a similar love. I have not been a perfect person or a perfect animal host. But I am grateful that I have been loved. I have been loved in the purest form, and it was just given without request. I have been loved by perfect souls. In all dimensions, we are connected, I pray, forever.
Remembering you today and everyday, Roxie. Thank you my sweet girl.
Here are some other links to know Roxie:
I am in Washington D.C. (on November 4, 2018, two days before our election).
I am here to talk to veterinary pathologists about their grief, compassion fatigue, and burnout. Yeah, they know you are thinking why would they suffer? They study tissues and give us their diagnosis. Did you ever think for a moment how they feel when they give multiple diagnoses in a day which they know might destroy a family’s life? Other pathologists work in environments where they are researching, and they may euthanize animals because they don’t fit their research. They’re doing this research for future good, but how many of you can buddy up with them given what they do for our society? They do what they do with love. They got into vet med because they love animals just like other vets, and then they specialized. Others work in academia, a suction for the soul in some ways for any field, and they suffer because they’re not trained to help students or to navigate organizational relationships. I so appreciate their invitation to me to talk. I learned so much. I shared that if not for one of them, I would not have had quality time for almost two weeks with Roxie. Anyway, the talk was productive, and then I ventured into DC.
I did a city tour, and I have to tell you the Capitol with both wings of Senate and House is bigger and more ostentatious than I remembered from a previous trip long ago. I got off the bus at the Lincoln Memorial. Nearby, footsteps away, are the Korean War Memorial, the WWII Memorial, and the Vietnam War Vet Memorial. I visited them all.
I took many pictures of the Korean War Memorial for my father who is proud of his service during that time. The Vietnam War happened in my lifetime, so these lives were lost in my lifetime.
The Lincoln Memorial: I was there exactly 50 hours before we receive election results. Lincoln is memorialized as if the sculpture is very much alive. The sculpture’s eyes are riveting. His words are there all over the place. I felt the horrible quandary of his decisions at the time; his improbable yet forgivingness of others; his embrace of people as all equal; his grief, his sadness about human nature, and again his grief. Lincoln stuck to his moral principles. He gave us many lessons which he learned through the pain of grief, yet he didn’t force the nation to understand. He only offered his knowledge through speech. I was moved to big tears. I looked up to Lincoln’s sculpture, and I saw a man who risked everything political to do what he sought deep down as morally correct. I asked about us now. Who did I ask? Myself, my God, Lincoln, and all the souls I visited in the memorials. I asked for help for all of us. I made it down all those steps alone, risky because my vision was through tears.
Just a little more than a week ago, Jews were gunned down because of irrational blind hate. They were killed in America. They were killed in an America which promised they could worship freely in their faith. I observed in DC all nationalities with their little kids touring our monuments which represent this type of freedom. They were touring because we are their hope and their example. And I thought about the children taken from their parents at the border. I thought about the children in Yemen who are dying because our government is allowing them to die.
I feel that I’m supposed to at least tell you how I’m thinking. I don’t vote party, but I do vote kindness. I do vote integrity. I vote for kindness. I do vote the values of our nation as inclusive of all, especially disregarding color or religion or national background. I do vote in honor of those who have given their lives for us; for me, you, my kids and yours, and their kids.
My experience in DC coincided with this election in a synchronistic way.
I just hope that Tuesday’s election results prove to me that as I still live in the same kind and generous nation I have known it to be. If you have yet to vote, please do. I need to know your true heart. I hope that this nation is what Lincoln and Jefferson and so many others intended. The photo below is of the forgotten; those in the Korean war.
Veterinarians and their staff have evolved and have had to adapt as society has evolved in the human-animal relationship. They deal everyday with clients who value their animals as they do, and they get to know details of humans' lives better than mental health professionals do sometimes. But how might a veterinarian know how to talk to a homeless person who owns a pet? How would they know how to help an owner with PTSD who is losing an animal when day in and day out, the pet enabled a bit more normal life? Every actor needs new skills which are relevant in the acceptance of this new millieu of animal-human relationship. And veterinary social workers help.
Behind, beside, or shielded by every person is just a person, though we sometimes fear they are not "normal." As a society, we shut out, and even oppress, those who are disabled or who cannot control whatever ails them and prevents them from living a conforming role. Yet, when we are disabled in some way, physically, intellectually, or emotionally, the animal companion may not only be a companion. The animal may be a life-line, a tether to some normality. In a milder form for all of us, we have all been disabled with flu, illnesses, or grief. Our animal may have given unforgettable nurturance during those times. Imagine suffering through a prolonged term of disability in which you could not see the end. IF graced with an animal, I bet the chance of survival and resilience would be increased.
There is someone I have recently met as a client whose life has exemplified much of my passion in this journey. She has given me permission to share. Sheri is a giving and receiving member of our pet loss group. She was homeless for several years. She continues to suffer from PTSD. Even after Token left her, she continues to strive to be her best.
Sheri's canine love Token, died on Thanksgiving 2017 after months of treatment for cancer. Their story is this blog. We as different species, really should never be divided, or placed in a heirarchy. Humans need other species, and they willingly help us survive. Sheri and Token's story is one that characterizes the partnership of the discipline of social work with the discipline of veterinary medicine. Both disciplines should work together in offering support to these families which include animals. This story exemplifies the core concerns of both disciplines and where compassion might reside. It highlights Sheri and Token. Please watch this short film starring Sheri and Token by clicking this link:
And please see this newspaper story:
Sheri is alone now; she has no animal companion. She is fighting PTSD, and her symptoms are much worse without Token. However, I hope you can see from the film, Sheri will survive. She is gifted, very intelligent, possessing remarkable personal resources, very articulate, and mostly giving of herself. She doesn't allow fear to prevent her from revealing her vulnerabilities, and she is into helping others. No doubt if you look over that list of her qualities, she learned some of that by living with Token as her support and her mentor/teacher.
A couple of weeks after Token died, Sheri thought of us. She gathered all of the people who knew Token to write HIS DOCTORS and STAFF at our clinic a thank you. I cannot even express how much this meant to all in hospital. The card is pictured below.
Token led Sheri into my life. I asked Sheri to thank him out loud. She said she did. And that's what I wanted, really, to say in this blog. I am so grateful to you, Token, for leading Sheri to us. And thank you all for sharing your creatures with me. I am honored each time you do. I never forget their contribution and their meaning in living beside us. Token will always be remembered by everyone he ever met in life, and through Sheri even after his death.
Know that I work part-time at a specialty/emergency veterinary hospital in my “retirement.” I maintain a veterinary social work internship and a VSW program which will be a model for all programs that I am helping to develop throughout this country. Thankfully, the events of this week happen infrequently, but they are worth sharing for those interested in Veterinary Social Work.
An advanced VSW intern, who does many of her hours at night, texted me to tell me that a mother and teenage children had come in. The husband had bludgeoned their dog. The husband used a baseball bat to beat the dog, and he threw free weights at the dog. The dog was on the bed (a crime I guess). This man was reportedly the most heartfelt of animal lovers in the household. The older teenager, witnessed the entire act and called his mom who was home within minutes. The mom took the children and the dog to our hospital where social work interns are under my supervision. The intern who texted me was intricately involved with the mom and her family that night. With her assistance, the mom demanded the husband exit the house indefinitely while they were out. This man was previously without mental illness or anger issues, and he had no history whatsoever of violence. That sounds familiar this week, meaning the Las Vegas massacre.
First, I want you to know the dog is ok and getting better. The children are ok and will have contact with therapists. The mom is knowledgeable and cognizant of the risks and the correlation of animal abuse and domestic violence. She has made sure that the husband is no longer allowed in the home, and she required him to get treatment before any discussion of return, to which he agreed. The family is experiencing concern for the dog, disillusionment, trauma, and grief as their family implodes. Because of VSW services, all authorities are working it: Animal Control, Police, Child Protection. All are safe, humans and animals. Having a social worker and social work interns within the hospital have been incredibly instrumental in this case.
This mom was trying to get her child that witnessed the incident to open up and express his feelings. She told me that she was able to use what happened in Las Vegas, pointing out that the Vegas shooter did this once and once only. She said they discussed how much pain and suffering the gunman wrought. She said to her child "One time is enough." She meant that though there may be no pattern in past behavior; this can still happen, and even though it was once; they will never forget. She is broken-hearted as she loves this man and her children love him too. All is topsy turvy now for them.
People can crumble into their worst selves quickly. We all need to be awake and attuned with our intuition and gut. This past week was hellish for our hospital staff. We had this case of animal abuse and three more assailing cases. In one of the other three cases, we were able to calm an owner temporarily. But VSW's found that their job was more of supporting the veterinarians and staff, because the clients were intractable. The staff and veterinarians dealt with these clients who threatened lawsuits, threw numerous expletives, hung up the phone repeatedly with staff/doctors, and demanded innumerable hours of attention. Their language was intimidating and abusive. They also complained about the money required, saying the hospital was all in it for the money. Advanced veterinary medicine provides so many choices, but no veterinarian is in it for the money. Look at their salaries. If you want to go the distance for your animal, and have the best, it costs. There is little insurance reimbursement for animal medical care.
Sometimes clients' behavior is due to grief and frustration regarding their inability to financially afford a possibility for survival of the pet. When this is purely emotional, or an acting out of grief, VSW's help a great deal with the client. However, occasionally, a client's behavior is a product of their own personality and patterns of behavior, as in these cases. No doubt, their behavior has undermined their attempts to have good relationships with professionals before these incidents.
Veterinary staff and veterinarians model the non-judgement and positivity of the animals who are their patients. Sometimes, like in these cases, veterinary professionals are blind-sided by people who push, and manipulate, until they become out-right abusive. Veterinarians are not trained as social workers are: they are not trained in boundaries or self-care. Abuse of an animal or human being or community of human beings cannot be tolerated.
The animals who inhabit our lives and hearts exemplify non-judgement and trust. Please be kind to the people who have devoted their lives to them, and to your love for them. Their job is very very hard.
First, an honest confession. I was interviewing for other jobs in 1994 because I wanted LSU to compete with an offer to keep me there. I had my dream job at LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, which was Coordinator of Counseling Services, but it was part-time at only 20 hours per week. We had hired an assistant for me, Stephanie Walker Johnson (who took over in my capacity and is still there), because I lived 73 miles away, so how could I cover full-time? When my divorce necessitated that LSU bring me on full-time and at a good salary so that I could move closer, I interviewed with several opportunities in pretty places to help me negotiate. I found the position of Assistant Professor at Idaho State University and applied. Lo and behold, they asked if I would interview. I was not one of so many who had dreamt of teaching as a profession. I taught at LSU, but that I considered different…within my passion, and worth transcending my shyness. I knew I only had a Masters degree, so that of course put me out of consideration too. Sure I had published as much or more as many Ph.D. candidates, but I thought, really thought, I was just going to have a conversation and meet people.
It was February, and I had never been to the Northwest. I rented a 4 wheel drive, and I did that without knowledge of the place; I thank God or guardians or guides. I parked fine, but slipped and slid in the parking lot on my way to meet with the faculty. It was very casual, and when I think back, I know they never thought they would hire me, or that I would accept and be part of their lives for a long time. All of us were going through the motions. I remember lunch, where I wasn’t questioned much at all, and they all mostly conversed passionately with each other. This would be a draw for me. I will always remember being intrigued by Henry Durham who engendered a discussion about suicide as a violent act. Then there were a few more questions in the main office of Sociology and Social Work, not behind closed doors but right behind the receptionist in the main office. I remind you that I never expected to be a serious candidate, so all of this was alright with me.
Enter CLIFF, in a tie-dyed T-shirt, unkempt long hair, and quite frankly looking like he was without a shower in his home. He certainly didn’t fit my ill-conceived image of a faculty member. I assumed he might be the department mascot or helper. Lol. He was either getting coffee or copies from the Xerox, I don’t remember, because coffee was next to the copier. I was quite piqued in my southern innocence when all faculty greeted him with such respect and friendliness. But remember, I’m a N’Awlins girl, and this pleased me. Yeah, even social workers have stereotypes (former students should remember my teachings i.e. redneck vs cowboy) . They introduced him to me, and he turned around and grinned his shy but welcoming grin, and then he disappeared. It took me some seconds to integrate the parts of my mind. This is and will be my first memory of Cliff Bryan who would become so important to me. And I value this memory, because Cliff has dedicated his life to just that…getting people to integrate those parts of their minds and align them with their hearts.
Cliff and I have had few of the meaningful, sociologically relevant, and profound conversations that so many are describing on Facebook. I envy those that had the conversations. Cliff and I were connected through mutual best friends and many students. There are too many to name but you know who you are. Some of his besties were mine as well, and now that I think back, our approaches to them were similar when they needed a friend. Yet, Cliff got to do the fun stuff (i.e. say irreverent things, quip and change their lives, or get ‘em drunk or something akin to that). I want to say here and now that any friendship with any of that circle was fun for me too, even if I didn’t get included in some of the debauchery. And I say that because they, these many of the circle, were all so incredibly fascinating, heart in front, and some were geniuses; most had no idea of their worth to me and to Cliff. I knew this: if Cliff valued a person, then I needed to pay attention to that person. I also look back to see that so many of Cliff’s closest friends were social workers, and it is because he has always loved the human in all of us and valued non-judgement. He personified that throughout my relationship with him more than most social workers.
So by now I hope you assume that I was hired at ISU. I was, and I accepted, and I spent 14 years with the wonderful faculty and students there. It was a best time of my life. And Cliff is in a majority of happy memories. I laughed more there than I ever had in my whole life, partly because of Cliff, and I laugh less since I left. So much happened between 2005 and 2008. And not just for me. Henry got sick, Hurricane Katrina necessitated my help, and I had several other deaths/losses. Henry’s illness was something for all of us. Again, Cliff and I never sat down and talked about Henry’s illness, impending death, all the particulars. But somehow we just supported one another through that. And it connects us today, without words.
I am realizing as I write that THAT is what I will miss most about Cliff. I know and he knows without words. I know he knows me without words, and I know him without words. I guess for professors that’s pretty rare. For friends, it makes us pretty profound friends.
When I have returned to Pocatello, Cliff has made an effort to see me every time. I have met Reta, and I am so grateful to her, to him for being open to that relationship, for the knowledge that he has been loved these past years. That she is the person he needed speaks all to me, because Reta is real.
I don’t know all the reasons my tears keep coming for Cliff. I understand it will be a well-deserved exit, and an exit he has thought about a lot and for many years. I think a lot of my tears are of gratitude. None are regret, because he and I just understand. I know I will miss him in this world for sure. In July, I sent him a follow up to a text message conversation, in which he was pissed because he was already ready to go. In it was https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEWSOPUfYF0. He sent me a big “like,” but just for you who won’t listen to it, here is part of the last verse:
Here where the angels
Have appeared and are gone
Your face like an ember
Glows in the dawn
But I want you to remember
All wild deeds live on
All good times, all good friends
All good things got to come to an end
The thrills have to fade
Before they come 'round again
The bills will be paid
And the pleasure will mend
All good things got to come to an end
All good times, all good friends
All good things got to come to an end
Yes. It was good Cliff. All good, sometimes hard, but all good. I hope you’ll be able to see me when I come, and I thank you so much for even trying. I will miss you when you go, and there is no hurry for me or for all who love you. I hope you’ll visit in spirit if you can, and that you get together on the other side with so many you’ve lost. If none of that exists, I want you to know you are in me and my heart forever and for good. I love you very much, Sandy