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Meaning & Morse

March 9, 2015

You can blame Inspector Morse for this post. I got to the flat earlier and watched the final episode of Morse – it’s the one where he dies. My goodness, it was sad. There’s the scene where he visits his solicitor to make his will and leaves some of his estate to Lewis. I sob. It reminds me that I’ve been putting off making my last testament. It’s not that I’m afraid of facing up to my own mortality. It’s more my recognition of the utter pointlessness of trying to secure Steven’s future when I know it will hinge on the whim of whatever social care team he is under at the point of my demise.

Then there’s a scene where after many years of trying, Morse has finally got Lewis interested in Wagner. It led them to talk about how we come to make meaning of our lives.

This prompted me to remember a story from 2010. I never included it in the book. I’ve never spoken about it at a public event. It hurt too much. It made me too vulnerable. But I will today.

Imagine the scene. It’s 1999. The final year of my counselling training and we’ve moved on to existential therapy. We’re focusing on the four givens of existence and we’ve knocked off death, freedom and isolation. We’re into the final module – meaning. I sat in that room with 30 odd peers, listening to the tutor talk and tears were rolling down my cheek. I was getting a kaleidoscope of images of our first five years with Steven. And I realized that his joy, his vulnerability, his mixture of excitement and fear of life, went a long way to giving me my meaning to my life.

Fast forward 11 years. Steven has been away about 4 weeks and I find myself sitting in a coffee shop with Whistler’s Mother, the social worker. It is her invite. The enormity of our situation hasn’t hit me yet and I certainly have no idea that the council have a completely different agenda to the one they are presenting to me and Steven. The atmosphere is a little awkward and she suddenly tells me that she’d always fancied the idea of being a counsellor. She asks me lots of questions about my work and I opened up. I finish by telling her the story I’ve just written about meaning.

Her response was: “We have to make sure we don’t become unhealthily dependent on our children”.

I was flustered. ” Steven is one of many things in my life that give me meaning”, I stuttered.

But the damage was done. I was stark bollock naked and she misinterpreted me. In that moment, I knew what was going in her report. I can’t describe how scared and anxious the ensuing silence left me feeling.

Five years on, I still feel the same. Scared and anxious that something as crucial as my existential meaning could be turned on its head. Obviously I’ve learned since that in the social care world, relationships have no meaning, no value. They are definitely seen as having no place in constructing our life’s meaning. And I still feel the same in relation to Steven too, perhaps even more so. When I go to meet Morse, I’ll know that by having a relationship with Steven, I’ve had meaning in my life.

I like to think I provide him with some meaning in his life too.


From → Social Care

  1. Maggie Wilson permalink

    Thank you so much for this – my brother has profound disabilities and I feel he gives my life meaning too.

  2. What sort of world would it be if we weren’t “unhealthily dependent” on each other? Most people not radicalised by social work propaganda would call it loving our families.

  3. lisa permalink

    Reminds me of when the psychiatrist said to me ‘do you think you have an attachment disorder’ !!
    Mark, you must be sick of being misinterpreted. Those in the social care world have always done this. It seems as if they cant wait for a problem. I have wondered if problems equal promotion. A problem is better than cake/ sex for these people.

  4. If they were looking for and solving problems, rather than creating them, our lives might be a a bit less fraught.

    And what was it that gave Whistler’s Mother’s life meaning, exactly? Exercising that kind of power? I think a lot of us can identify with that kind of unconditional love, and anyone who can equate it to something “unhealthy” is someone incapable of feeling it or understanding it. Who are these people who make such easy and mistaken judgements? How do they come to believe that they have the right to control and tear down – WITHOUT understanding?

  5. I wonder how much she heard of what you told her about the core conditions?

  6. lisa permalink

    Totally agree Lizzie. Prob the best bit of power shes ever had, especially looking like Whistlers Mother.
    Most of society can identify with unconditional love, but
    maybe some of those people who work in Social Care would disregard those children with disabilities. Unconditional love is not for them.

  7. Gill permalink

    Thank you for this Mark, you touch a raw nerve for me. I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of family relationships as mine has dispersed through death, career, relationships and in the case of my brother, inability to have him move near me in his later years (downs syndrome with Alzheimer’s). I have a real and painful need to be near him, and the rest of my family .. living on opposite sides of the country. Unhealthy? Yes. It is stressful, a bereavement of the living. Unhealthy to be feeling it? No. We live in unhealthy times: nomadic but never moving as the family group, as has worked for many for thousands of years; ruled by an overly authoritarian controlling state that deems it has last say in our lives whilst wishing to deny us our innate familial love and caring. This all-encompassing connection with our nearest was part of our ancestor’s survival strategy – it is why we are here now.
    This state requires us to put on a stiff upper lip. Ignore our needs and our family’s needs. Ignore our instinctive desire to cherish and survive as a family group. This is the unhealthy part – the unspoken expectation that we must put up and shut up .. hold in the anguish and flow with what feels, and is, totally unacceptable.

  8. Sally permalink

    Sounds like you were being set up.
    From what you say they were already well on the way to sending Steven away for good. To do that they had to rewrite the situation so that it appeared the only possible decision for Steven’s best interests, and any distress or protest on your part, well then, that’d be because you were unhealthily attached-so it would be good for you as well! Really you should both thank them! And so on.
    I have found that clanging, hurtful comments usually show the other side’s agenda and the narrative they are putting together to justify it. That sounds rather dramatic, but I swear it happens. I am “not attached enough” to my son when I am asking for social services to help with an aspect of care, (“It is important he stays close to his Mum”) , far too attached when I am going to dispute him being sent away.(Yes yes this is difficult, but time to think about what is Best For Him”).

    If you had sat back and said the reverse:”Having Steven gives my life no meaning at all” you’d have been ticked off for being a terrible parent, Good God perhaps badly attached, perhaps Steven’s condition was your fault!

    Having a child, having a disabled child gives our lives some meaning which is bloody lucky because it would be hard to keep going without that.

  9. Pauline Thomas permalink

    What happens when you do not co-operate with the social worker’s limited choices on offer for your loved one? They tag ‘overprotective parents’ on to your file. That tag follows through your lives and is flagged up every time they get it wrong for your loved one.

    How many families have to lay bare the emotional relationships with their child on a regular basis to secure some sort of life for them? Not many of the officers running our social services would be happy opening up their private lives to strangers I’m sure.


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