The Importance of Establishing a Relationship
Posted on: Thursday, April 1, 2010It's always interesting to visit Josie. I never know what to expect when I drive up to her farmhouse. It’s tucked away behind a grove of trees and miles away from the nearest town. I’m supposed to notify the county authorities whenever I visit. Josie’s husband dislikes county workers and has a record of assault. Ten years ago, he was released from the state penitentiary for killing his first wife in the very kitchen I was about to enter. He promised Josie he would never go to prison again. "Next time," he said, "it’ll be a homicide-suicide."
Josie met me at the door. Her disheveled hair had quite possibly not been combed for a week. Her tight fitting sweatshirt was covered with grease and grime from her job scraping iron in the junk yard surrounding their house. Refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, old tractors – anything that had an ounce of salvageable metal cluttered the yard. Josie watched the children during the day and cut iron for recycling at night. She told me once that she could toss a fridge on her back and haul it away if she had to. I could believe that. I’ve never met a tougher woman. She said she "had to learn to get strong to survive" as a girl. When she was growing up, her father and brother routinely abused her, and when Josie’s mother learned of her husband’s sexual attraction to his daughter Josie was kicked out of the family.
"Hi Josie, May I visit you?" I asked.
"If you have to," she barked gruffly. That was about as warm a greeting as anyone could expect. Most people were turned away. But Josie seems to like me, perhaps because I like her. I see in her a princess and wish I could give her a different life.
"How are things with you and your new little one?" I asked.
"I know how to take care of my children!" she retorted. Her answers were often very defensive, but I had grown accustomed to this.
"You’re not already out there tossing fridges around again, are you, Josie?"
"Well, a little thing like birth is not going to stop me. We have to eat, you know."
I talked about the importance of taking care of herself in the postpartum state. I could just as well have been talking to a wall.
"Are you getting some sleep?" I knew the answer before I even asked the question, but it was on the postpartum checklist.
"Well, what do you think?!" she replied and rolled her eyes. I closed the chart. Josie’s needs went beyond the routine flow sheet.
"Josie," I said softly, "I’m here for you and your baby."
"Well, we’re fine!" she huffed. In her mind, our conversation was over. If I couldn’t trust her, why should she trust me?
"Okay, okay," I said and then hesitated. "Josie, he never cared for what I wanted or valued. He recently decided to join the military and I just didn’t want that kind of life for my kids. Things didn’t turn out the way I thought they would and I just can’t take it anymore." I lowered my eyes. "There was some abuse. He had a way of demanding respect by force sometimes." My experience of abuse rather paled in light of Josie’s situation, but I shared a little of it anyway.
Tears were streaming down her dirt-smudged face. "You’ve got to let him go. That’s not the way marriage should be." Josie went on to talk about the virtues of a real marriage, how women should be treated, about how unfair life can be and how judgmental people can be. She talked about freedom. Her words were supposed to be for me, but it was obvious she was pouring out her own pain. Her tears flowed freely.
It was perhaps our most therapeutic visit. I wondered if she was listening to herself. Would she eventually come to believe that she, too, deserved a better life? Had she already imagined it, but knew that the safest thing for her to do was to stay? I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to thank her for her heartfelt concern for me, but I didn’t want to take away from the message she may have just given herself.
I took her hand in mine and gently squeezed it. "Josie," I said softly, "Oh, Josie." I looked into her pain-filled eyes, I felt profoundly silent. Only the language of my soul could take over.
The road was a blur as I drove back to the agency. I was consumed with the question of hope Josie gave me. What would happen if Josie had the chance to hear other women’s stories in abusive relationships? Would she, at some point, begin to listen to herself? Would she begin to believe that she, too, was worthwhile?
The beauty of public health nursing is the creativity it allows to resourcefully work at meeting the needs of our clients. After about one year, I was able to procure funds to form three support groups for women, led by a clinical nurse therapist. At least half of the women in the groups live with abuse. The group dynamics are powerful. If nothing else is accomplished, the feeling of isolation has been shattered.
It was for Josie that I formed these groups but Josie doesn’t participate. Although child care, food, and transportation are provided, Josie has a dozen excuses why she cannot come. "Unless, of course, you want to pay me a million bucks," she scoffed, "then maybe I’d think about it."
"Okay," I said, "I’ll work on it."