A number of years ago I had the pleasure of meeting and working with a young woman who was trying to get her life back together. Our paths had crossed professionally and over the year and a half that we were in constant contact with each other I learned much about her.
She had been an alcoholic from a young age, early teens, and by the time she was in her early twenties she had been arrest several times for driving under the influence. These mistakes and lapses in judgment cost her a year or so in prison. When she was “sent up” she had a son whom she left with his grandfather while she was away. When she returned home she reunited with her boy, but the grandfather felt that she was unfit and kept trying to use the state, i.e. CPS, as a bully to get her to return the boy to him. That is how I ended up getting involved with the family and getting know her and her son.
CPS (Child Protection Services) can be a family’s worst nightmare, or salvation for a family. Much of it depends on who the CPS worker is, and what their priorities are. I worked with many investigators who thought that their mission was to instill their values into whatever home they visited. As I look back on my years investigating allegations of child abuse I almost have to laugh at some of the people I called co-workers. We had one woman who wanted to remove the children from a home because the mother used the same broom to sweep the front porch and the kitchen. Another wanted to remove the children because the family kept the litter box in a corner of the kitchen. All too often the case managers (investigators) were young; straight out of college with their social work education and middle class, suburban values. They had a difficult time separating their own home life experience and beliefs from the world in which they worked.
What is the “norm” in areas of poverty, un or under educated families, single parent homes, etc. were not what many of these fresh-faced case workers were used to. And, thus they foisted their middle class, college educated philosophy on people who could barely read, and were struggling daily to keep the family together.
But back to the woman who I had gotten to know. While not college educated, she was intelligent. She also had a deep and abiding love for her son, even though she had made mistakes with her life she never let go of that love. When she was released from prison she found employment, a task not easy for an “ex-con” in today’s world. She got her son back and they tried to make a home for themselves in a trailer on the grandfather’s property. The son, having not been around his mom for a year or so was defiant, and that led to the eventual confrontation that caused me to get involved with the family. The boy decided that he didn’t have to listen to his mother, and cussed her out one day. She did what most parents would have done, and swatted him. This left a red mark on him, and he went running to his grandfather to complain. Of course he didn’t tell the entire story, and the grandfather, still wanting the boy to live with him, called CPS.
After hours of talking with the mom, son and grandfather I ended up deciding that the allegation of abuse was a crock, and unsubstantiated the case. While I thought that this would be the end of things, the grandfather kept calling and making new and outrageous allegations of how the mother was abusing the boy. After a time I suggested to mom that she take her trailer and move to another location. She did, and met a man who she married.
They were together until he was killed in a car wreck a couple of years later, and that is when I lost contact with the family. While the death of her husband was tragic and difficult for her and the boy, it spurred her to move out of the area, and start life a new.
When I got sick a couple of years ago, and haven’t been able to work, I started to clean out boxes of notes and files that I had from cases long since closed. I always kept copies of my notes, some of them extensive and others nothing more than scribbles about certain things. That is when I came across her long forgotten name. On a lark, I did some checking and discovered that she had remarried, moved out-of-state, and had developed Huntington’s Disease.
Huntington’s disease is a disorder passed down through families in which nerve cells in certain parts of the brain waste away, or degenerate. It is incurable, and causes the person with the disease to develop all kinds of neurological problems. The disease is fatal.
I had set aside the information about this woman for a year or so, and last November I started to again think about her and her son. With my own neurological problems I wondered how she was doing. This week I spent some time cross checking some databases, and again located her. Only this time I discovered that she had passed away last November. She was 34. I decided not to look any further, many Huntington’s patients end up taking their own lives due to the strain of the disease, and I did not want to know the particulars of her death.
This woman was, and will always remain in my mind, a vivacious, intelligent woman, who loved her son and life. She had a beauty about her, both internal and external, that shouted to anyone that truly got to know her. I hope that the time I spent with the family was positive, and that in some very small fashion I helped her and her son. I also pray that she died in the peace that comes from knowing God, and that her son will grow to be the type of man she would be proud of.
Rest in peace dear lady, and thank you for being a brief part of my life.