I performed the Heimlich Maneuver on an unhoused woman earlier this year as she choked on a chicken burrito. She thinks I saved her life, and perhaps I did; however, as years go, this barely made my top ten. I am so ready to leave 2022 behind.
While nothing magical happens between December 31 and January 1, it feels like a fresh start.
I’ve watched helplessly as someone near and dear suffered through treatment-resistant depression most of the year. The constant worry and the overwhelming sadness never goes away.
My younger sister made multiple trips to the ER. She suffered three falls over eight months while trying to get out of bed and endured other medical maladies. Her advancing MS is taking a toll. She’s fought hard to retain independence, but in October, she finally agreed that she needed daily help.
Together we made one of the trips to the hospital on foot (I walked, and she used her mobility scooter) because Paratransit couldn’t accommodate a same-day appointment. Crossing two freeway entrances without the benefit of a traffic light proved harrowing. Every bump caused her pain. It’s not something either of us cares to repeat.
In June, I found myself alone in a building with a mentally unstable man who had set fire to the church sanctuary. I volunteered in the back half of the property. The sound of a distant smoke alarm and the smell of smoke sent me to explore the outer corridor. The man emerged, engulfed in a cloud of white smoke, holding a lighter in each hand.
My fumbling fingers managed to call 911, and I safely exited the building without another encounter. The fire went to two alarms, but thankfully there were no injuries, and they arrested the arsonist at the scene.
In the aftermath, we learned that Lifted Spirits’ entire inventory of donated clothing, masks, blankets, and more would be a loss. In addition, exposure to lead and asbestos rendered the building and most of its content unsafe.
At the time, I served as one of two lead volunteers. We moved the program outside, rallied our resources, and rented a portable storage container to continue helping vulnerable men and women from the parking lot. Unfortunately, San Jose had several days with triple-digit temperatures this summer, making for a few long months.
For various reasons I won’t go into, I tendered my resignation from Lifted Spirits at the end of October. I had hoped to stay through year-end, but that didn’t work out. After nearly five years of service as a volunteer, program lead, former board member, and donor, my last month felt demoralizing. The executive director showed up on my last day of volunteering (at my request), so I could hand over keys and other property. She called “thank you” as she raced to her next appointment. It’s been painful letting go of something I’ve been passionate about for so long. I miss the program, my fellow volunteers, and, of course, the women we served. I’m disheartened to hear how quickly things changed.
While outdoors this past summer, our volunteers put lifting spirits first. We welcomed women through the gate, set out pretty paper placemats, and offered them water or lemonade and a scone. They requested hygiene items from a private station, then “shopped” in our clothing area. I enjoyed selecting outfits and setting aside clothing favorites as they came in. We also had a few food staples provided by our local food bank. We knew the women by name and were there to listen and offer support.
Since my departure, all of the offerings have been reduced to efficiencies. Clothing remains in the POD, and women climb a small ramp to view them in an unlit space. Hygiene items are pre-packaged, and they hand women a lunch instead of serving them at the table.
Last year at this time, we created a party-like atmosphere. We decorated the canopies, played Christmas music, and passed out hot chocolate and tea. In addition, we provided a hot, seasonal lunch, and one of our volunteers made soap and donated earrings so our clients could give someone else a gift and a card. Everyone received a generously portioned gift bag and left with a smile.
This year they put plexiglass barriers at the gate, and two volunteers asked if they “wanted a gift” and then passed it through the opening.
I’m heartsick when I hear of these changes. I’m trying to process my anger and grief, my sense of loss for a program I poured my heart and soul into, and an enveloping sadness for my sister, who I moved to an assisted living facility two weeks ago, just a few weeks after she turned 62.
As years go, it’s been a doozy.