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Unfurling fern leaf

Why Stories Matter 

By Sam Smith

We are created through the stories we tell of ourselves, and those told by others. Stories of incidents that happened before we can remember can form part of who we are today. The day one was born, the first birthday, and tentative first day of school. For some of us, these fleeting moments are held in the hearts and minds of loved ones. Sometimes faded photographs add little incidental details, the colour of the baby shawl used to wrap the precious bundle, the haircut, at one time fashionable, but now evidence of an era long past. 

One of the saddest features of the lives of people who lived in long stay institutions such as Lennoxcastle and Merchiston hospitals was that rarely were any memories of significant life moments captured and retained.  

In the early stages of the hospital closure programme, it was common practice for people to leave the ward and hospital they had lived most, if not all, their life with nothing more than a black bin bag of assorted clothes. No photographs of birthdays or Christmas past, no memorabilia marking the passing of time from childhood to adulthood.  Stories were often told about people, passed on, growing bigger and more inaccurate as they moved from lip to ear.  

When we first met Caroline, she slept on the floor of the ward and had done so for years. Ward staff said she didn’t sleep in her bed, so they gave her bed away. She lay curled up like a leaf on the floor all day, dressed in a suit with buckles to stop her hurting herself. They told us she was deaf. She lay on the floor or curled up in a chair, passed by and largely ignored. These were the stories that were spoken of Caroline; they were not her truth.   

Caroline was and is loved by her family and those who are in her life. She is not deaf. She needed to feel safe to unfurl. She loves the sun and there are gorgeous photos of her joy walking, with help, on the beach with sand in her toes and sun on her face. This is her truth. 

For those who find it hard to use words, we need to bear witness and act as scribe, recording life’s moments to ensure that there is a record of a good life well lived. Through this testimony others can, if privileged enough to be afforded access, know and understand the entirety of the story that has brought the person to this day in their life.  

This is our mission.    

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