Relationships Can Be Hard Work
When I was 17, I met with a therapist to discuss my estrangement from my father and the reasons behind that separation. One of the first things he told me was that to really understand the issues I would need to "do a lot of hard work."
Two decades later, when my father was dying while I sat holding his hand, I was grateful to that therapist for not having spared me from reality. It had taken a tremendous amount of work, determination and reflection to get to that bedside. Nevertheless, it was clear to me that it had all been worth it.
Today, I know for certain that life is about hard work. It is about the work of learning to say you are sorry, of discovering how to stand up for yourself in a manner that does not destroy a relationship, of being able to distinguish when something is or is not about you, and of offering forgiveness when you may least feel so inclined.
And sometimes, life is literally about summoning the physical strength to work hard. This is rarely, if ever, easy.
In the July 30 issue of New Yorker magazine, David Remnick has written a profile of the rock icon Bruce Springsteen. At 62, he is still touring, active in various social issues, and committed with his wife of 20 years, the singer Patty Scialfa, to raising their three children.
Remnick's piece is fascinating on many levels. However, I found most interesting the revelation that Springsteen's difficult relationship with his father resulted in a deep depression which contributed to the failure of his first marriage and prompted him to enter therapy.
Springsteen recognized early in his career that music and adoration from the crowds during his live performances were a "drug" that dulled the pain of personal failures, but that if he was to have any enduring happiness and stability he would need to have something to fall back on when the cheering stopped.
In Patty's words: "He wanted a family, he wanted a relationship, and he worked really, really hard at it - as hard as he works at his music." And it is without fanfare that Springsteen admits to this day he continues "to do the work."
In July, while at the MIRA Foundation in Canada, I met a remarkable and beautiful 17-year-old named Tessa who is doing hard work of another kind. Tessa suffers from severe neuropathy, a nerve disorder that has affected her use of her legs, given her serious digestive problems, and rendered her nearly blind. Nevertheless, she is determined to be as fully engaged in life as possible given her challenges.
She came to MIRA after being told by 20 different agencies that there was nothing they could do to provide her with any assistance beyond a wheelchair. A year ago, after tumbling out of her chair and down a flight of stairs when she failed to see the top step, she suffered a severe concussion resulting in short-term memory loss.
Undaunted, Tessa sought a chance at a better life, and MIRA has given her that opportunity in the form of a dog named Risk. For the entire month of July, Risk and Tessa worked together eight hours per day, six days per week, forming a partnership.
Risk has been trained to pull Tessa's wheelchair, retrieve items she drops or cannot reach, open automatic doors by pushing a button with his nose, and protect her from danger she cannot see, such as coming too close to the head of a set of stairs. In harness, Risk provides stability for Tessa, thus permitting her to stand and walk a few steps otherwise unassisted.
Tessa would be the first to tell you that although Risk provides her with an increased level of security and mobility, managing him and his needs is really challenging.
She is totally responsible for feeding, grooming and cleaning up after him while in her wheelchair.
Still, her face lights up when she talks about Risk and the adventures they will have together. She has learned, not unlike another 17-year-old so many years ago, that hard work can bring great rewards.
Beth Daniels, of Southern Pines, is executive director of the MIRA Foundation, based in Aberdeen. Contact her at bdanielstempi@ hotmail.com.
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