Janice was relieved to find Sandy there and stopped by to drop off clothes, letters, and pictures. All of the notes contained the message, “YIL.” No one except Sandy knew what that meant. The nurses met Janice outside, at her request, to retrieve items being left for Sandy. They invited Janice inside, but she declined. Seeing Janice’s distress, a nurse spent time getting to know Sandy to see if Sandy could help her understand how to make Janice feel more comfortable during her visits.
Sandy eventually confided in her caregivers, explaining that “YIL” was a code between them. It meant “You, I Love.” Sandy explained that she and Janice had maintained a very private relationship for almost 40 years. They kept separate homes, and never revealed the true nature of their relationship to anyone. No one else knew.
Finally, it was clear. Janice was afraid that Sandy’s care needs meant they could no longer be together as a couple. The uncertainty and stress caused Janice’s health to decline, and contributed to Sandy’s feelings of grief and anxiety as she moved into this new environment. But the UCH staff’s diversity training taught them to reach out in acceptance. With a copy of Spirit magazine in hand, a nurse pointed to the rainbow comma on the cover, and told Sandy she was in a safe place. Sandy was welcome here, and so was Janice.
Janice started to visit more often, at first only in designated private areas, but eventually the partners were holding hands and attending community events. A relationship that had been kept secret for 40 years had continued to grow because they finally felt safe to be who they always were. Janice and Sandy gained the family they never had as the UCH community staff embraced them openly. Both ladies were regularly visited by the community staff.
The UCH community’s administrator credits her staff for taking steps to make a difference. Honoring the core value of integrity by walking the talk means we don’t just say we are open and affirming, but that we demonstrate acceptance whenever and wherever possible.
United Church Homes continues to work with SAGE to plan for ongoing awareness and sensitivity training and development for all levels of staff, from senior leadership to frontline staff, at all UCH communities.
*Names have been changed to respect the privacy of the individuals.