Dear friends --
The following three letters are from our recent effort and trip to bring two residents home, Anna and Sassoon, who have long been institutionalized.
Thank you for your part in making this happen.
We are grateful,
April 10th, 2012
As most of you know, I am in Armenia with Bridget (board member) and Juliet (volunteer, supporter, friend). We just completed a three-day training designed to prepare the staff to bring Anna and Sassoon home from the psychiatric clinics/institutions. It has been a long but satisfying three days as we have honed our analytical skills, addressed our fears and concerns, problem-solved around challenging behaviors and worked to be of the same mind.
Near today's end, we created schedules for Anna and Sassoon's first day(s) at home. And we thanked the staff for the arduous task that they are undertaking. And I can say that we all left with smiles on our faces. Of course, our nerves were frazzled as well -- for tomorrow is Sassoon's homecoming. It has been five years since he has lived in our home. What a journey that will be -- for him and for us. What a gift. It is almost too much for me to even imagine tonight. But my heart is full -- and I am grateful for the chance to try again.
We will bring Anna home on Thursday. It is going to be a full week -- as we learn to live out the skills we have only talked about in the training. But I think the staff is as ready as they will ever be. And the time is ripe.
In the meantime, we have been graced with such beautiful hours with the residents. They are radiant, well, happy. We celebrated Easter together with a trek to a local church where we lit candles, and listened to the haunting Armenian chants. We came home to a long table full of pilaf, hard-boiled eggs, juice, wine, bread, lavash, fried fish, spinach, greens, herbs, cheese, cakes. We celebrated. We toasted.
After dinner the residents surprised us with a choreographed dance. They wore lovely costumes and danced for us. We couldn't stop smiling. They were so proud, and rightly so. So careful in their movements. So beautiful. You can't imagine. There was something so intimate in watching the residents dance, especially those who struggle with physical disabilities. It was an honor to partake in their dance -- to be invited in.
It is a good time to be here. I always love arriving as the trees are bursting into bloom and the earth is starting to come back to life. I love the frequent rains and the dust of snow on the surrounding mountains.
Thank you, a thousand times, for your part in making this work possible. Thanks for holding us in your sustaining hands. May tomorrow be a day of true homecoming for Sassoon. And may the next day belong to Anna.
We know that the next days, weeks and months will not be easy -- but may they continue to be an honor for us, for the staff, for all those who stand around us.
May it be so. Keep us in your hearts.
Natalie (for us all)
April 12th, 2012
Sassoon is home. After five years in a clinic, after a myriad of failed and thwarted attempts to bring him home, he is finally and safely home. His first day at home was yesterday and what a precious day. As we left the clinic he was pulling my arm, pulling the other staff member's arm... He was so anxious to leave. and understandably so. When we got outside, he lifted his head (which was often lowered in the clinic) and started to look around. On the way home, he kept saying, "Wedding. It's a wedding." Juliet mentioned that it was probably like a wedding day to him.
We were all able to be there at home with him for much of the day. He ate a meal with the residents -- slowly remembering some of them. He even danced with them during the dance class, with energy, with joy. Later, he was a bit disoriented as to where his real "home" was and at one point took my hand, led me to his room and started to put his shoes on. He said, "Take me home," and I told him that we were home. That this is his home. His bedroom. He looked up at me surprised, happy and said, "Yes, really?" Yes, really. Sassoon, you are home.
And today Anna came home -- just a few hours ago. We haven't seen her yet -- as it seemed better for her sake to have a quiet and calm first day at home with less faces, less chaos. But she is home -- and doing well.
We can barely believe that this is real. After hoping for so long, after losing hope so many times, after all these years, it is almost impossible to believe. But tonight all thirteen residents will sleep under the same roof. They will all sleep near their warm hearth. May it be so tomorrow and the next day. May we be able to sustain this effort. May this dream come true day after day after day.
And may each of you be blessed somehow by this grace -- may it be felt from afar, from your corner of the world.
Natalie (for us all)
April 14th, 2012
Today is our last day in Armenia. Bridget and I will go to Warm Hearth in a few hours to celebrate Roman's birthday and to have one-on-one conversations with the residents. This is something they always love -- and I always enjoy as well.
Sassoon is doing well and adjusting home. He is being treated for a skin condition that he developed in the clinic, which is uncomfortable, but hopefully that will be healed soon. Despite that condition, yesterday he was looking at photographs of facial expressions (happy, sad, angry, content, frustrated, etc,.) which we use to help him identify his feelings. He pointed to an angry face and repeated someone's name whom we do not know. But then he pointed to the happy face and said, "Sassoon."
Anna is also doing well thus far, too. She had a difficult last few months in the clinic due to the impending transition of coming home. Transitions are hard for her, which we have known. But she is affectionate. She is trying very hard. She is glad to be home. She is playing ping-pong in our basement, joining the other residents in some activities, and beginning to tell us about her time in the clinic. It will take awhile for both she and Sassoon to stabilize -- but we are hopeful that in time they will heal from some of the pain of the past years and that we will know how to love them concretely, how to care for them safely.
Keep us in your thoughts and hearts and prayers, especially our staff here. The next few months will be crucial. We will keep you posted.