I remember thinking as I began my career at the Ranch that most of my work would be dealing with adolescent boys and their behavior problems. My job was going to be about teaching them how to make better choices, follow the rules, respect authority, be a responsible being……….I didn’t realize until later that my job was really about helping them be okay with themselves, discover and own their feelings, and then let go of the past and move forward.
My partner and I had been working together for about 2 years and during this time we had managed to help build a very strong, caring group of 12-14 guys in our dorm. We had a lot of group meetings in which the guys talked about their families, their past, and all the feelings surrounding those issues. Often times these meetings were very emotional and tearful and at the end brought our guys even closer together.
During this time we had a 14 year old boy with an unknown father and a mother who had passed away 2 years earlier. We will call him David. David had an extensive history of physical abuse and had been having enough behavior problems that he had been taken out of the home a year before his mom had died. He had been unable to see his mom since leaving home. Her death was sudden and unexpected so David hadn’t been unable to tell her goodbye or attend her funeral. As he became more comfortable with us and the other guys he began to talk more about his mom and would often cry when sharing his sadness. After a few months at the Ranch there was a day when David was having a very difficult time and had been in trouble since waking up that morning. He was angry at everything and everyone and was certainly doing a nice job of making all of us angry, too. We were sitting in a group meeting sometime that day with David yelling and blaming his peers for his behaviors when he suddenly began to cry uncontrollably. Quickly the room fell silent. After a few moments the other boys began to try and soothe David and get him to tell them what was wrong. It was magical; in the midst of his tears David told us. All he wanted to do was go to the cemetery where his mom was buried to be with her one more time and tell her goodbye.
A week or so later my partner and I loaded up the van with David and the rest of our group. We were headed out on a 2 hour trip to the cemetery where David’s mom was buried. David had asked that we all go on this journey with him. The boys had gathered flowers to place on her grave and David had written a goodbye letter. The trip there was a bit noisy as we all dealt with our anxiety by talking, laughing and playing. It was humor that day that helped us make our trip manageable. Once there, as requested, we all stood by the van as David went to the gravesite. He knelt down on his knees, placed the flowers by the headstone, and through lots of tears David said “Goodbye”.
Our trip back to the Ranch was quiet and very somber. I think we were all a bit surprised and a little embarrassed by the depth of our sadness and the flow or our tears.
Before going to bed that night David called for a group hug and said, “Thanks, I’m ready to move on now.” And he did.