What Mr. C demonstrated on his arrival in the small agency, and the community in which it was located, was that he was happy to be out of the institution, and living where he felt like he was welcome, and belonged; where he had his own room, his possessions were respected, and he himself was treated with respect and liked by staff and other residents. As he got to know his roommates and his support staff; his ‘challenging and difficult’ reputation fell away. He became a valued member of the sheltered community in which he was placed, and gradually welcomed into the larger community in which he was residing.
He especially liked one staff member, (Laura), a woman who worked in the agency. They seemed to have a unique connection immediately. In the way that it happens sometimes in small communities, he met her husband (Joel) and their children, attended church with the family frequently, and enjoyed activities with them. As time passed, this family became close to Mr. C and he felt like he had found a family that he cared about very much.
A Residential Coordinator, with an eye for inclusion and relationship, saw the connection. She suggested that the family consider including Mr. C in a more permanent and real way with them. The family took very little time to decide to proceed to have their home approved with the province so that he could live with them. And that’s what happened. Mr. C. moved into the family home in December of 2013. He was instantly considered a family member-he was thrilled to be honorary uncle to 4 children. It was evident that he considered the ‘good life’ was right where he was: sprawled on the couch, watching hockey, and kids clambering over his lanky frame. Together they enjoyed what most families enjoy: Playing sticks in the rec room, going to the local arena for games or kids’ practises, singing in the kitchen, having barbeques, going on family trips, watching the children play while listening to music on the deck, having company, etc. Perhaps Mr. C would say that his best times were simply that sense of belonging: having his coffee while sitting in the midst of the chaos that is busy family life-that he is truly, in every sense a valued member of his family.
Sadly, a chronic and persistent medical diagnosis would end his life in February 2016. His family prepared to say goodbye with a funeral in the small church in the community which now considered Mr.C one of its own. The day of the funeral, the church was filling to capacity with friends, families, community members, all taking time to come to say good bye to Mr. C. And as the start time approached, a big yellow school bus from a local school pulled up outside. It too was full – of students– friends of the kids from Mr. C’s family, and friends of Mr. C. They had come to know him over the years, and knew his family members, and were there to say goodbye too. During the service, many memories of laughter and joy were shared. People shared their memories of the experiences and fun times they had experienced with Mr. C. For the luncheon, extra accommodations were needed because of the number of people attending; so the folding chairs were hauled out, extra tables were set. Together, this diverse group of people came together as friends to say Goodbye to a friend.
Sometimes we hear that it seems so difficult to be community inclusive. But really, it is very simple. Being included means that you experience all that life has to offer, on your own terms. Mr. C had a chance to experience family, community, friendships, being valued and love. He touched the lives of a whole community who will not hesitate to include others with disabilities because of what he taught them: That everyone is important, that we all belong together, and that through relationship we can see through labels, reputations, and difference.
with Thanks to Laura, Joel and family and to Lorna, forever story teller