My sweet lady, I will call her Rosalie, always cries when I leave work for the night. She also gets upset when I leave to go for my dinner break.
I always have known that she likes me there and that she is sad when I leave. But it was not until tonight that I finally realized just why it is so traumatizing for her. Now that I realize it, I can make it better for her.
A visiting nurse came to see Rosalie today. Rosalie took an instant shine to her and felt very safe with her. The time came for the nurse to leave and poor Rosalie was holding her by her jacket and not letting go. She was crying and begging her to stay.
The nurse and I both tried to reassure Rosalie that she would come back to see her tomorrow. Rosalie said “no she won’t. She has to stay here.”
After the nurse left , I told Rosalie that she would be back tomorrow. Rosalie then said something that has never occurred to me before. She said “No she won’t. How will she find me again? How will she find her way back?”
That is when the realization came over me. Rosalie does not know where she is. She used to have a home and now she does not know how to get back. She does not know where that home is. She could not find it, even if we gave her the car keys and let her go.
She is so lost in time and space that she assumes that everyone else is too. The fact that the nurse happened to find Rosalie today, does not necessarily mean that the nurse can find her tomorrow.
Poor Rosalie feels so lost that she does not think anyone else knows where she is either. She does not understand that other people can find their way home and then back again to find her.
It was a great moment of realization to me. In her world, she is lost. She has no idea how she got to this place where she lives now. As far as she can tell , it is a lost place that no one can find.
Her family does not come to see her, so she must think they are lost and cannot find her too.
So. when she is crying at the end of my shift when I leave, she is truly afraid that I will not be able to find my way back to see her again.
So then, I explained to Rosalie that the nurse and I were good with finding our way home and back to her again. I told her that the nurse had found her way here today on purpose and could find her way home.
I explained to her that I had found my way to see her many times. It was not an accident that I ended up here. I assured her that I know how to get to where she is and that I would never lose my way to her.
This seemed to help. From now on, I will remind her that I know how to get to where she is.
I will not lose her. I love her very much and will find my way back to her every time.
It reminds me that we all live in different realities. Our experiences form our perceptions and our feelings.
When we try to understand people by looking at their situation from our reality, we cannot truly have full compassion for them.
In order to understand, we have to listen and see that their world is different from ours. That includes the world they perceive in their mind. It is the only reality they know.
People who have been abused, people with PTSD, people with mental disabilities and people who are very poor have a very different reality than others.
It is true for many situations including people who have sick children, people who live with chronic pain, eating disorders, alcoholism and addiction.
In order to have true compassion we have to know that others see and feel things differently than we do.