Monday, January 08, 2007

Circle of Love

Several years ago, one of Frankie's old home nurses wrote this article as a tribute for him. It was in a newsletter put out by CIB Oak Hill. I found it online a few years ago by accident, and just remembered it today, so I did a new search for it. It was harder to find this time, and now it's cached with a few other articles, but here it is.

A Circle of Love Remembering Francesco “Frank” Salafia
by Cynthia Mack, CIB/Oak Hill DMR OBRA Recreation Counselor

I first met Frank and the Salafia family in the summer of 1993. His diagnosis was cerebral palsy, mental retardation and seizure disorder. Frank was receiving the homebound services of a physical therapist once a week, a daily home health aide and a teacher who quietly read to him five days a week for an hour.

I understood the concerns his family had in feeling that quiet interactions were a safe haven for their son because of his seizures. But after meeting and evaluating Frank I found that quiet interactions afforded little to no response. So I asked and received permission to start Frank on a more aggressive interaction program that promoted a higher awareness response. I assured them that our interactions would start out leisurely, slowly working to an even paced momentum so that startling gestures would not trigger his seizures.

It gave me pleasure to know that his parents had a monitor in his room and were always acutely aware of everything that involved their son. They were the overseers of every intricate facet of his life; not because he was their son and they his advocates but rather that their love for Frank had a full-bodied and deeply moving affect, which penetrated the soul of anyone, and everyone, blessed to know them and their son.

You can’t help but love a family who spoke the words of love, be it in English or Italian, everyday all during the day to their Frank. Just watching the way they all interacted with him was simply amazing. You could actually see his eyes move slowly in the direction of his loved ones, as they tenderly spoke words of love and gently stroked his face with the back of their hands. They were steadfast in their determination to make sure Frank received all the services he was entitled to.

I remember the first time I implemented my adaptive version of aerobics with Frank. I turned the TV to an exercise channel, talking in a jubilant fashion as I proceeded with slowly manipulating his legs and arms to the movements of the music. Frank laughed loudly and it didn’t take long before his mother joined us. She pretended to be busy dusting an already immaculate room, observing that Frank was doing fine and enjoying my bizarre antics. Everyday his mother or father, who asked me to call them Maria and Joe, came to watch our interactions. It was several weeks after I started that Maria told me she liked what I was doing with her Frank, because he responded to me. It was at that moment that I knew they trusted me with their Frank. A few months later Maria actually said the words. I was honored they felt that way because I knew that trust wasn’t something they freely dispensed when it pertained to their Frank. The Salafias’ are a close knit family who at all times showered Frank with love.

Frank’s condition was very hard for the family to accept because he wasn’t born with these disabilities. Maria and Joe showed me photos of Frank at an early age standing, laughing and playing. They said that it was soon after those early years that he became very ill and when the illness left his body the paralysis showed up and stayed.

It was during this time that Frank’s brother Emanuel (Manny) asked for, and received, an Honorable Discharge [note from Jessica: not entirely true; Manny was allowed to go home from active duty and was honorably discharged years later] from the Navy because he wanted to be home and help with his brother’s care. From the first time I met Manny I found him to be more than just Frank’s brother. He was a roommate with Frank, which is something he wanted to be, “so he could see to him during the night.” In a tender and loving way he would sit on Frank’s bed cradling him in his arms as he spoke quietly saying, “Hi little buddy.” Those few words spoke volumes as to the type of brother he has been to Frank.

It was when Frank’s condition became worse and dictated that he would need more care than was or could be provided at home, that the family’s pain truly surfaced. Frank’s home life was certainly a unique one to say the least. But when the heart wrenching decision was made for Frank to be placed in a convalescent home it underwent the same amount of forethought as did everything which pertained to Frank.

They all took an active part in finding an appropriate placement for him that wasn’t too far for them to see him everyday. When I say everyday, I mean, everyday. His whole family continued to rally around him. Every morning his father would come and spend many hours pushing him around the facility, talking and doing light range of motion exercises with him. Early afternoons would find Maria and her daughters visiting Frank, with Manny visiting in the evenings. It was an amazing thing to see. Frank’s first convalescent placement was about 25 minutes away from his family’s home and his last placement brought him within 5 minutes of their home. Both facilities staff commented positively on the abundance of devotion and loving commitment his family showered on him. Manny didn’t get married until Frank went into the convalescent home and he was satisfied that his little buddy was being well cared for. Even Manny’s marriage and fatherhood did not falter his daily visits.

They all had many years [actually it was only 3 or 4] of convalescent visits and home life to spend with their Frank before his health started failing toward the last half of the year 2000. And as always the Salafias rallied with tender love around their Frank, who succumbed to his mighty fight on December 20, 2000.

I’m thankful and blessed to have been a small part of Frank and his family’s life. And to be fortunate enough to witness first-hand their very special bond… their circle of love.

Editor’s Note: Due to health reasons, Cynthia is no longer working as a Recreation Counselor for CIB/Oak Hill. Her extraordinary dedication and commitment to the people she served enhanced their lives immeasurably. This beautiful tribute to Frank captures perfectly Cynthia’s spirit and love.

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