Friday, November 14, 2014

The Shawl of the Social Worker

The Social Worker's Shawl
     The shawl that is proffered by a social worker employed in a cancer center is one that blankets skin denuded of hair and of dignity.  "Soups" they call the chemical mixtures which fight cancer.  The bowl of searing liquid, served drop-by-drop seems like a bizarre recipe offered with such kindness.  The hopes are that cancer cells will die in the soup's scalding, burning swirl.  Social workers are like your mom, tucking you in to keep you cheered, reassuring you that chicken soup is good for you.  She keeps you warm and tells you that your illness might pass soon; you'll see the sun again and return to your playmates and to your toys.  She answers your questions.  "What is in that soup?" queries a child, uncertain that they will like the taste.


 Seven years, twice a month I watched Barbara, our local Providence St. Mary Cancer Center social worker.  With that concerned mother look she would solve dilemmas, suggest an alternative healing for pain, encourage patients to undo knots of their family relationships and ask for help, sooth a sorrow and demystify a cancer treatment, find a resource, locate funding, educate, argue with insurance companies, read poems of longings and during rare times used her shawl as a winding cloth.  Often she would drape her shawl about two patients one frightened and one a survivor from cancer, a survivor from soup.  They would find warmth sitting there together.  Barbara's shawl was comforting.  The many colored strands were like a mother's many loves woven with wisdom and hemmed with laughter and empathy.    

     For three and a half years running my beloved Gary and I regularly attended a cancer support group run by Barbara.  You see Gary and I were rarely apart.  Usually, not always, I was the only wife to come to this group.  Now, many years after Gary's passing, I still go to Barbara's cancer support group.  I may seem to be an oddity, a child who won't leave home.  I have friends in this group, who suffered and then survived.  They know and I know that soup may be served again.  They know and I know that shawls are not out of style.  I stay partly to understand how to knit a shawl and how to lend it.

 Painted at A Social Worker's Art Therapy Class
By Kathy
     Barbara offered Gary and I the chance to come and paint.  I was still working and couldn't usually come.  For Gary this class was reminder of a talent long laid neglected.  His painting of the Wallula Gap became a gift to his dear daughter, Marzieh, on her wedding day this year, which will be three years after his passing.  When I see these intense colors in his painting, they seem to have been inspired by a shawl.

Wallula Gap by Gary


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