The work social workers do could often be summed up this way…working to remind society of those that tend to be forgotten.
Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement, said it this way-
“We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it.”
So we remind them. And, we remind ourselves.
In my undergrad years, I did an year long BSW internship with a home health agency. I worked with their LCSW. One day we got called out to a rural area to meet with a senior who was recovering from heart surgery. The visiting nurse thought a social worker should be involved.
His trailer was pretty dim due to the thick nicotine stains in the windows. We sat on a couch to start the visit and I remember the ash that had built up over time covered every surface. I realized there was soiled laundry piled on the ground.
He was nearly blind. He was a veteran, but unconnected to VA services. That first visit consisted of assessing the various areas of his life while on hold with the VA, whose physical office was a 2 hour drive away.
During that wait time, we found that the only food in the house was a half-eaten box of doughnuts. We found that every month he paid his space rent, bought cigarettes, and then gave the rest of his disability check to his grandson, who had just had a child of his own and was struggling to make ends meet.
Importantly, we found that giving this money to his grandson was the one act that still gave meaning to his life. It was the one reason he still wanted to be alive.
As we drove away , with a splitting headache from the copious amounts of second hand smoke, I wondered how someone could have flown totally under the radar of all the social systems and even the natural supports usually in place. As I continued in the practice of social work, I would learn that for seniors, and many other populations, it is not uncommon to be totally out of sight to mainstream society.
It was also an important lesson in how to connect with the inner purpose that makes someone want to get up in the morning, to let the work flow from there.
It was one of those cases that you never forget. It made me look at my community differently. It made me wonder what the lives behind each door in my neighborhood were really like.
p. s. I would love to hear what case has had a particular impact on you. Drop me a email.