Sheila had a secret. She had a lover. She had kept this secret for over 20 years following the death of her husband so that she wouldn’t upset her daughters. They knew, of course, about her gentleman friend, but they had strongly disapproved. And when they had arranged for her to move into a care home whilst she had been in hospital last winter, they had given strict instructions to the home that Sheila must not be allowed any visitors that they didn’t know about.
Imagine, a life without love. A life where you needs are seen as functional. You are warm, fed, and hydrated. Your scheduled activity slot is arranged for 2 hours each day keeping you active. But you are bereft of anyone in your life who isn’t paid to be a part of your life. Would this be a life worth living? Would the service being provided ever be enough to meet your needs?
Sheila was lonely. In a home with 35 other people. And a 24/7 staff team. Notes in Sheila’s person centred plan stated that she liked to spend time alone in her room. Sheila was liked by the staff team. She was a gentle soul, quiet, easy to support.
Person centred planning has its origins in the idea that one human being would make a voluntary commitment towards another. Human to human contact. A partnership of equals that starts with the surrendering of professional power and interest. Genuinely listening with humility to the lived experience of the person who is trusting you enough to invite you into their life.
Sheila’s social worker was worried about Sheila. When she met Sheila, she saw that Sheila was well fed and in good physical condition. But she also saw sadness. She wanted to know more. She wanted to learn about Sheila’s life story, about her friendships and best memories, her skills and gifts, about what made Sheila happy. Sheila chose to share her secret for the first time in over 20 years.
The care home were regarded by the local authority as one of the better ones. They were really upset that they hadn’t known about Sheila’s gentleman friend. They helped set up a phone call, and then a visit. He now visits Sheila regularly. Sheila is noticeably happier. She no longer sits alone in her room.
I don’t want to a social worker in my life who can’t talk about love without being embarrassed. Love is unconditional. It is the gift that makes life worth living. I want a social worker who gets that and wants to build lives worth living from there.