As a Creative Companion, I was lucky enough to visit Josie in a care home set in an idyllic country village, a few miles out of the area where she used to live. Josie had been very sporty in her past, having been a PE teacher and a physiotherapist. She was well versed, very sociable, and had belonged to lots of sports clubs. I thought that Josie might enjoy a trip out to watch a local game of cricket, as I knew she had been in a cricket team.
However, sadly, this was not meant to be, as Josie had a series of falls that made outings very difficult and too risky. I had to think of something else, and something good, because being active was a large part of her identity.
Josie enjoyed her chats, finding more meaning in them than any other activity that was offered. Then, one day, Josie spoke to me of an aunt that was quite famous. She had had her own slot on the radio many years ago. I took this golden opportunity, rushing home to do a bit of research. I finally discovered a beautiful video of her aunt being interviewed in the BBC radio archives. It showed the building where she had worked and her studio too. I felt like I had hit the jackpot! I worked out how to download the clip onto my tablet, and I looked forward to taking it to Josie on my next visit.
When I went in, I found Josie sitting quietly at her usual spot in the communal area, with a few others at her table, but she was not engaging or making conversation. Josie would always look up and give me a beaming smile when she saw that she had a visitor and would always politely ask if I would like a hot drink. She had no family that was able to see her, so would really seek a connection with me when we conversed.
A natural way to increase your sense of belonging is to focus on what you have that is similar. Psychologists from Maslow to Baumeister have stressed that a sense of social connection is one of our fundamental human needs. People that feel more connected with others have been proven to have lower rates of anxiety and depression. Therefore, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical wellbeing. And this is what I aimed to provide for Josie.
On this visit, we watched the interview together. On hearing her aunt’s strong accent, Josie instantly recognised her. Her face lit up so much she seemed to shine. She then began proudly showing the others at her table the video of her famous relative. Many wonderful conversations flowed, dipped deep in rich memories, which in turn triggered more ideas for me to utilise, such as a family member owning a shop, catching the bus with her sister to school, where she went to college and so on! It is in moments such as these that I know I have the best job in the world. And these memories were of great use during the pandemic, as I would send pictures through the post to Josie of her school, the family shop, and even her old hockey team!
On some visits where Josie seemed a bit lost, confused or low, I knew that the pictures of her aunt would bring back a smile, making her feel part of something special – a sense of belonging, meaning and connection to hold onto. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and aiding your ability to cope, and I was so happy to help Josie find her sense of belonging.