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Walter and May: A Love Story (Part 6)

July 25, 2009

May was a pleasant, outgoing woman in her fifties.  The first time Walter and his staff came through her lineup, she smiled and introduced herself to Walter – the kind of gesture that happens every day, to all of us and to those we support, but it was not typical of people’s response to Walter.  Max took note of her apparent interest and made a point of seeking her out next time they visited.  May started looking forward to Walter’s visits, and would schedule her shifts around him and even open a till especially for him if she was on a break when he came in.  Walter’s face would light up when he saw her.  There was a kind of magical connection between them that seemed more surprising to Walter than it did to May – she quite simply fell in love with him, and couldn’t see why everyone else didn’t feel the same way. 

Walter and May’s friendship grew.  She would invite him to her home for lunch, and over time she began including him in family functions.  Walter’s behavior around May was markedly different than it was with staff, although for some inexplicable reason the behaviors that drove everyone else to distraction she found endearing.  Our most sophisticated behavior management plans failed where May’s unscripted, untrained, but entirely genuine approach to Walter succeeded in putting him at ease.  Her interactions with him were completely natural, if a bit unconventional (she referred to him as “my little sweetie” and would mimic tugging at his ear for a laugh). 

May remained Walter’s closest friend and ally in the years that followed.  We began including her in planning meetings and she would attend Spectrum functions, but interestingly did not take a shine to anyone else the way she did to Walter.  Theirs was a singular relationship.

No-one ever expected Walter to have friends.  To be honest, it wasn’t even part of our early discussions.  Who would want to be friends with someone like Walter?  What could he possibly contribute to a relationship?  With the best of intentions, we had taken responsibility for Walter and saw it as our duty to provide for his every need, including his relationship needs.  It took someone from outside the service system to show us how shortsighted our expectations had been. 

And none of it would have happened if our staff hadn’t paid attention to the opportunity when it presented itself.  How many other opportunities did we miss?  How many are we still missing by simply not recognizing them as opportunities?

Walter passed away a few years ago.  At his memorial service, staff reminisced about their time with him and shared stories of successes they had experienced with Walter – yes, there were successes! – but the one person whose heart was broken that day was May.  I ran into her in the ladies’ room, sobbing to herself, and I put my arm around her to comfort her.  “I can’t believe he’s gone,” she said, “there will never be anyone else like him.” 

I think of Walter often.  I am so grateful that he and May found each other, but I can’t help wondering how differently his life might have turned out if the people in positions of authority over his life all those years (including us) had made relationships the number one priority.  Walter caused us to rethink our role as paid supports in people’s lives.  It took a Safeway cashier with no experience or training in our field to show us the vital importance of natural relationships. 

What a gift for Walter to have developed this friendship and experienced a sense of belonging in a mutually rewarding friendship before he left this world.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2009 6:09 pm

    Wow. That’s some story.

  2. Margie permalink
    July 25, 2009 8:51 pm

    Thank you for sharing Susan. I am so glad that Walter and May got the chance to be with each other, to share time together, to relax and to be themselves together. That is what life should be about, to be able to be relaxed as yourself, and to be able to be happy and share that with someone that you care so much about. That is a gift, a true gift. Again, Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

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