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What Stan Taught Me About Gratitude

25/08/2017 12:01

After leaving a career in local government, and spending a while trying to gain similar positions, I decided that maybe it was time to do something different.

I was never a huge earner, but I had a steady salary coming in which paid the bills, and I always dressed well to go to the office. On reflection, I realised that I was closeted in a separate world at work and went out into the wide world at the end of the day. The public sector was a safe environment to be in then.

I took a role as an advocate and support worker and met some interesting people along my journey.

Advocacy and support work is very underpaid and undervalued. We all can be vulnerable, there are people with a range of issues that need support.

One of my clients was an elderly gentleman, who I will call Stan (not his real name). Stan was very independent, but never learnt to read or write. He had his own systems for dealing with things, and needed a little extra help at times with reading his letters and understanding his bills.

The first thing that struck me when I first visited Stan, was that his apartment walls were covered from almost the ceiling to skirting boards with photos of Elvis Presley. There were several identical Elvis clocks on his walls with Elvis doing his "Hound Dog" moves. Stan's cabinets were filled with Elvis cassettes and DVDs. His sofas were also filled with Elvis cushions.

"So, you're an Elvis fan?" I asked the first day I met him. Silly question! I suppose, I wanted to break the ice and start a conversation.

Stan was also a heavy smoker, so as well as being knocked back by images of Elvis, I was choked by cigarette smoke. Stan puffed on his cigarette and told me all about his Elvis possessions. He told me about his girlfriend, also his dream of going to Graceland.

Stan told tell me about the bunches of flowers that he brought for his girlfriend and his family photos on his wall.

I must admit, I was a bit unsure at first as to how Stan may respond to having a black support worker, I didn't ask him. He told me that he didn't care what colour I was, as long as I did my job. He took delight in telling me that his best friend in 1964 was a black man, who he worked with but had died.

Even though I am UK born and bred, I am used to being spoken to as if I am different. l am British and different, so I didn't take offence.

Stan was also obsessed with music, he had quite modern tastes.

He would dress each day in the same duffle coat, regardless of whether it was sunny or it snowed. He would go for a walk with his four-wheeled trolley, his cassette recorder with his radio turned on and his cigarettes of course.

Stan never seemed to eat very much. He was so thin, that he could get blown away on a windy day. He existed mainly on jam tarts and tea and his fridge stored the odd meal for one. Being a creature of habit, he would buy a large corn beef roll from his local bakery, which he would take the salad out of before he ate it.

He was captain of his own life, I couldn't control his eating habits, only politely advise. He was happy.

I got on very well with Stan once the boundaries were set, and admired his approach to life. Stan would say to me, "you can take anything away from me, but don't take away my music". I also think that he appreciated my visits because he would never take his daily walk until I arrived, and opened his sitting room window so I didn't choke on cigarette smoke. He would walk with me to the bus stop, and after I got over the embarrassment of Stan singing to his radio as we were walking, I started to sing with him.

Stan was very friendly, eccentric and spoke his mind, but I liked him because he was authentic.

Whenever I asked Stan how he was, he would respond by saying;

"I'm alive, aren't I?" How true I thought.

Stan survived on a small state pension and because he couldn't read or write, he missed claiming his small occupational pension, which I helped him to claim. He was so grateful, he knew that he was living on a small pension but coped.

Stan was happy with what he had now.

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