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Paul reunited with Peter, his step-dad

Hugs, tears, and a very precious spoken word were just some of the highlights of Paul’s long-overdue reunion with his adoptive family this summer.

Let’s rewind. Paul, who’s in his fifties, is non-verbal.

He’s also visually impaired – yet a thorough diagnosis is difficult, as Paul can’t easily express what he can and can’t see.

Several decades ago, Paul was one of three boys – each of a different ethnicity – who were adopted by a special needs teacher.

Paul formed a close bond with his new-found family, which grew when his adoptive mother met his step-dad, Peter, when Paul was 14.

Caption: A young Paul, centre, with his two brothers, also adopted, and their adoptive mother. 

As he grew up, Paul needed more support than his adoptive mother could provide – so moved into residential care when he was 19.

Yet he maintained close ties with his step-dad Peter and his wider family, who live on the Isle of Islay. Sadly, Paul’s mum passed away in 2017.

And when the pandemic hit, Paul was unable to visit his adoptive family.

“It was tough,” says Elizabeth Berry, Paul’s support worker. However, the longstanding family bond remained.

“Peter said right from the get-go, Paul’s always been my son,” adds Elizabeth.

‘It was just amazing’

In July this summer, Gemma Munjic, the Registered Manager at the Reiver House residential service in Leyland where Paul lives, facilitated a family reunion.

Accompanied by Elizabeth, Paul made the arduous, multi-step journey from Lancashire to the Isle of Islay.

Caption: Paul on the plane to the Isle of Islay, accompanied by his support worker Elizabeth, who took this picture.

Several cars, trains and planes later, Paul was finally met by Peter – who’s in his eighties – at Islay’s tiny airport.

“Paul’s dad just ran towards him,” recalls Elizabeth. “Paul wrapped his arms around his dad and it was just amazing. And I knew then that I made a difference in both of these people's lives for the better. It was lovely.”

Paul’s wider support team at Reiver House were eager to be kept informed about Paul’s reunion.

“There wasn’t a dry eye that night at Reiver House,” says Gemma. “I haven’t stopped crying.”

Caption: Together at last: Paul shares an embrace with Peter, his step-dad, at Islay's tiny airport.

Poignant moment

During his stay, Paul and Elizabeth stayed at a house near his step-dad – which proved to hold another poignant moment.

The house “was full of furniture that Paul had never seen before,” says Elizabeth.

Yet without any assistance, Paul navigated his way around every piece of furniture in the house.

“His dad said his mother's favourite saying was that Paul could see a brown smartie on a brown rug,” Elizabeth says.

In other words, Paul can see far more than most people think he can.

“I think Paul's been pulling the wool over our eyes a little bit,” Elizabeth adds, with a smile.

Caption: As Paul is non-verbal, he and his step-dad Peter communicate with gestures.

Over the next few days, Paul spent plenty of time with Peter and his family, including his sister-in-law and two young nephews.

“One of them had never met Paul and he just folded his arms round him, saying ‘Uncle Paul, Uncle Paul,’” says Elizabeth. “And Paul loved it.”

Before the time came to leave, Paul’s family arranged to meet again – this time a lot sooner.

Paul’s been invited to a family celebration in Liverpool in October, which he’ll be going to, accompanied again by Elizabeth.

‘The only word we've ever heard him say’

To mark all the memories made from his reunion, Paul’s support team had a hardback book printed, full of pictures of his trip to Islay.

In August, when Paul celebrated his birthday, he was presented with the book.

“The book is beautiful,” says Elizabeth. “When he got it, he pulled it up to his face and looked all the pictures of his family. And then we showed him a picture of his mum, and he said, ‘mum.’”

“It's the only word we've ever heard him say,” she adds.

Caption: Island life: Paul relaxing on Islay with his adoptive family.

For Elizabeth, the heartfelt experience of making Paul’s reunion happen has reminded her of why she chose to become a support worker.

After a long career in administration, including financial compliance and then pensions, Elizabeth made a career change to become an end-of-life carer during the pandemic.

Then, last year, Elizabeth moved to Lifeways as support worker.

“It's things like this [assisting Paul to see his family] that are the reason I do this job,” says Elizabeth. “I never thought I would ever do something like this.”


About Lifeways:

Lifeways is the UK’s largest team of support professionals providing support for adults in the community.

We support adults with diverse and complex needs, including learning disabilities, autism, physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries, and mental health conditions. 

As the supported living sector’s largest team of professionals, Lifeways’ extensive experience and national reach mean we deliver extraordinary support to adults, enabling them to live fulfilling and independent lives in the community. 

Our 11,000 colleagues currently support almost 5,000 individuals who live in our 1,500 supported living and residential services across England, Scotland, and Wales. 

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