A few months ago, when I began to think about what I’d like to write in my last piece under “Kryss Meets Career,” I’d planned some light-hearted words or some type of summary, hoping to convey how much I have enjoyed authoring this column. Instead, I’ve decided to leave you with this.
Those who know me best, who have known me longest, would tell you that I’ve never been very good at asking for help or leaning on others. I’ve mostly tried to ignore that about myself, to be honest. Instead, I’ve focused on the things I am good at—baking, activism, being the mother to an adorable pup.
Nikko was a Maltese I rescued from an abusive family who placed an ad to “get rid of him” on the Internet about seven years ago. When we met, he didn’t trust humans, wasn’t housebroken, and had hair that stuck out at every angle. Over the years, we conquered undergrad graduation (me), potty training (him), and bad haircuts (both). We lived in three states, we survived the long hours of graduate school, and we learned to appreciate each other’s quirks. For example, he learned not to get upset when I shouted at the television during Ohio State football games or political debates, and I learned to accept that the last piece of pepperoni on a slice of pizza eaten at home always belongs to him.
This past December, Nikko got sick. The emergency room vets tell me they’d never seen someone act so quickly, but I just sensed that something was wrong. He spent four days in the ICU, in an incubator, IVs in both paws. During those days, I was too busy waiting for vets’ phone calls to take care of myself. It was here when I began to experience the real power of social networking.
For years, I’d been a member of Facebook, of a Web site dedicated to professional women, and to one meant for Maltese owners. I posted in each what was going on with Nikko and of how horrible the waiting was. Some nights, while I was too worried to sleep and the world felt a little too quiet, I would just sit and read the pages of comments and well-wishes on these sites. And it kept me going until I got to take Nikko home.
In the six weeks that followed, I truly appreciated the silver lining of having been laid off, as it meant spending almost every hour with Nikko. He was weaker now, rested more, but I’d take a pillow and lie with him on the floor and he’d put his paw on my hand.
And then he got sick again. Back to the emergency room, the ICU, and the incubator. And I went back to the Internet. Comments and hopeful words from people I’d never laid eyes on kept me somewhat sane while I waited to see whether the medications would be enough.
On Super Bowl Sunday, while the rest of NYC was rooting on the Giants, I found myself sitting in front of his incubator, trying to decide how I could ever make the choice the vet needed me to make. I sat for a long time there, my hand through the slot in the incubation window. After a few hours, he stopped looking me in the eye and, much like feeling a wave when you’re already underwater, I knew. Nikko spent his last moments with a belly full of treats, lying in my lap, with my hand on his back, wrapped in his favorite blanket (one I’d had since my own birth). While NYC celebrated the National Championship win, I was beside myself with grief. On autopilot, I returned to the computer and shared the outcome, gave my personal e-mail address, and signed off.
In the days that followed, I received more than 150 e-mails from people all over the world. Some were real friends who’d learned of the news through Facebook, some were people I’d chatted with on one of the networking sites, and some were complete strangers who read my words and felt compelled to tell me their stories of loss and how they healed. One woman sent me a fruit basket, giving me the store information and asking me to call to give them my personal information. Another sent me e-mailed reminders a few times each day to eat. Different friends took turns staying up on instant messenger to keep me company in the middle of the night when I was far too grief-stricken to sleep. And I, someone who has never been any good at asking for help, in my most devastated moment, was gifted with the love I needed but wouldn’t have been able to ask for.
This magazine, research studies, and so many anecdotal stories have spent the past few years looking at social networking Web sites and discussing the ways in which the Internet has had an impact on people, and most often, we hear about the ways in which so many separate themselves from the “real” world now that there are so many ways to communicate virtually. Although that is certainly a concern, this experience has reminded me that social media can also be an opportunity for us to help each other, to share with each other, and to feel far less alone, even when no one else is standing in the room.
A few months ago, I’d envisioned my final column here to impart some mind-altering words of wisdom that you’d never have thought of on your own. I wanted to leave you with something unique or to find some surprisingly eloquent way to close a column that has meant so much to me to have written. Now though, all I have to offer is this: words matter. Intentions matter. As social workers, we are taught about the DSM and therapeutic treatment models, theorists, long-term success rates, huge overarching plans for our clients and our field in a way that sometimes feels a bit overwhelming to take in. While I don’t at all discount the importance of those, I’ve come to learn that sometimes the smallest moments matter most. A moment of your time, a hug, a kind sentiment, a Facebook or Web site forum acknowledgement, cutting someone a little slack, showing up. It all matters.
For those with love to give, please do so when you see someone in need. For those who, like me, aren’t so good at asking, trust that those folks are out there when you’re the one who needs. Thank you to all who have been reading and commenting here and on my blog posts for allowing me into your lives and for giving me such guidance and encouragement along the way.
Note: I won’t be disappearing. You will still find me reviewing books and writing anything else the incredible editor allows…so keep an eye out!
Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, LMSW, earned her B.S. at The Ohio State University and her MSW at Barry University. She currently resides in the Miami area, where she is always open to new professional opportunities. Her professional foci are in the areas of LGBTQI issues and in the elder population. She is a regular guest speaker at Columbia University, where she gives professional trainings on making professionals, agencies, and companies more inclusive. She has aided in the introduction of Gay Straight Alliances in numerous high schools; marched in the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.; rallied for non-discrimination laws in numerous states; and she continues to advocate for LGBTQI and elder rights on the local, state, and federal levels. In addition, she is on staff at socialworkchat.org and was the 2011 blogger for The New Social Worker, where her weekly thoughts can found at: http://blog.socialworker.com/search/label/Kryss.
This article appeared in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, Spring 2012, Vol. 19, No. 2. All rights reserved. Please contact the publisher/editor for permission to reprint/reproduce.