Purpose and Passion

After training for four years between Perth and Adelaide to become a Registered Nurse, Shirley entered the workforce and discovered the many different paths that nursing can take you. 

In 1957 Shirley ventured to Melbourne to obtain her midwifery qualification, but before doing so, she met her future husband, Bob. 

“He was an Adelaide man and we met in Adelaide; we were set up on a blind date would you believe it!”

“His friend and my friend set us up and begrudgingly we got together.”

“But he was such a lovely person, right from the word go.”

“I went to my friend Judy after she set us up and I told her, ‘I am going to marry that man’.”

For Shirley’s first few years establishing her career as a nurse in the workforce, she took on a lot of agency work. 

It wasn’t until the 60’s that she tells me her career took off in a completely different direction. 

“I ended up working in the head injury unit down at Hampstead.”

“It was the best career move that ever happened to me, I just thought it was fabulous.”

Shirley tells me it’s hard to put it into words why that job meant so much to her, but this is her attempt:

“Because you are dealing with a lot of car accidents and things like that, you can imagine there is a lot of young people as patients and although it was confronting, there were a couple of lads that really stood out to me.”

“One was my patient, Steve, who had suffered a head injury from falling off his push bike at age 12, and I believe he received quite a significant settlement.

“His family had bought a business which eventually went broke, and then they all disappeared and left Steve by himself.

“He didn’t have a very good history, but I connected with him, and for the five years I nursed for him, he would call me mum.”

Shirley is so fond of the success and impact she made on her patients’ lives whilst nursing in the Brain Injury Unit. She knows she achieved great things for the young people on her ward and is proud of it. 

“I think one of the reasons I was so successful with the young patients, was because I had teenage sons at the time, and I just knew what would work and what wouldn’t.”

“I felt I was really doing something.”

Shirley was amongst the nurses and health professionals that moved out to Julia Farr, formerly known as The Home for Incurables, when her Unit was shifted from Hampstead. 

Shirley eventually left the workforce and that’s when her second life took off…travelling.

“My children were grown up, two out of three of my children got into nursing, and my husband and I went travelling.”

“It all began because our 25th wedding anniversary was coming up.

“I said to Bob that we weren’t going to have a party because I always end up doing all the work!

“I said ‘what say we go on a trip or something’, and so, we were thinking about Bali.”

Shirley tells me that they had considered a few other places too, like Darwin or Queensland.

“Then one day Bob comes home and drops this pamphlet on the table…for the Greek islands.

“He said to me, ‘what do you think about this?’

“I said ‘when do we leave’.”

With a retirement full of overseas travel, watching her children excel in their respective careers and a sense of fulfilment from her former working life, Shirley is a very kind, happy lady with a soft and infectious smile.

Thanks Shirley.

5 Life Lessons

If you are a reader of this blog, I am sure you are aware by now that I am quite fond of my volunteering role and consider the residents that I spend time with, as some pretty cool friends.

These are the ladies and gentlemen who were schoolteachers and seamstress’ to military personnel, each one of my friends has lived a pretty incredible life. 

And as my motto goes, “lives well lived are stories worth hearing” … and learning from.

Here are 5 invaluable lessons I have been endowed with:

  1. “Step outside your comfort zone, there is no point getting to my age and wishing there was something that you had done, just do it.” – Shirley Grey, Brain Injury Unit nurse, traveller, wife and mother
  2. “Always be looking to learn something new, no matter what age, it’s how we keep on keeping on.” – Mary Walters, age 95, dressmaker, painter, carer, mother and much more.
  3. “Do as much as you can and travel as much as you can, because it just broadens your horizons.” – Margaret Smith, age 95, passionate traveller, wife, mother, quantity surveyor and in a long-term relationship with books.
  4. “Get an education, in my day education wasn’t valued for women, and it is just so important to take advantage of what you can do now.” – Ness Leal, age 95, Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force, wife/War Widow, mother, ballroom dancer, “Old Nan”.
  5. “You don’t need much in life, other than the ability to give to others.” – Brian Richards, age 88, pharmacist, a life’s worth of work committed to a Christian Mission, father and loving husband.

Living the high life

Isn’t it funny how at one point in life we have all said something along the lines of “I hope I never end up in care facility” or how many times have you heard a friend or relative say 

“don’t let me end up there”? 

When in actual fact, we all come to a stage in life that a care facility is exactly where we need to be. And if we think about it positively, instead of seeing it as losing independence, we see it as, receiving the care that we deserve after living a dedicated life to caring for everyone else in our lives. As a resident so eloquently put it to me one time 

“s**t happens when you get old, we all deserve some help.”

If there ever was a way to break the aged care stigma, Estia Health Hope Valley are doing it.

On Tuesday, admittedly my first day as a volunteer, and my first day attending an aged care residence not as a nurse, I was greeted in the wide and welcoming foyer that straight away washes away all preconceptions of aged care facilities. Spacious, light filled, furnished with high back armchairs, your view is immediately cast down to the library sitting space, with the ambience of the fireplace and ceiling high bookshelves, 

I could see myself losing an afternoon right there.

But, alas, I am not here to check in!

I quickly put down my bag and followed the lifestyle coordinator, Vanessa, as she knowingly whisked herself around from room to room decorating each in beautiful photos from Hope Valley’s last ‘Country and Western Show’.

I couldn’t help but admire the enthusiasm Vanessa had, to give me not only a little tour, but to give an introduction to each of the residents. From excerpts of their personalities, their families and abundance of knowledge on their life histories. 

Vanessa knows the residents better than I know some of my own family.

The photos we were putting up depicted what looked like an event of roaring fun, complete with costumes, props, dancing and so many energetic grins. In conjunction with the photos that litter Vanessa’s office walls, it is clear that the Hope Valley events calendar is nothing short of extravagant. The morning’s energy and enthusiasm continue throughout this “normal Tuesday”, as we set the foyer for an afternoon high tea. 

I wish I had taken a photo.

Tables were clothed and set with flower vases, three tiered servers offering cakes, sweets and decadent sandwiches, all prepared in house by the hard-working kitchen team.

The refreshments are not to be looked over either, coffee, herbal tea and of course, my choice of poison, champagne!

Assured that everyone had something to eat and drink, I sat down with some of the ladies and thought to myself, 

“is this even volunteering?!”

Wrapped up in conversation, the afternoon slipped away hearing incredible travel stories from my newfound friend, Margaret…but that’s a story for another day 😉

Leaving that day and reflecting on events transpired, I am thinking, 

I must have picked the right day to show up,

but guess what, each and every day goes a little something like that.

In fact, as I sit here in Vanessa’s office writing all this down, I am awaiting the 1:30pm “happy hour”, canapés and drinks. 

Happy Friday, right?!

So, here’s me:

So here’s me: With a short-lived background in nursing and the world of health care it’s no wonder that I find my writing inspiration from behind the closed but not locked doors of aged care. Write what you know, right? You are probably thinking 

“what does she mean short-lived background in nursing?”

…like why was it short lived and why on god’s green earth is she now writing a blog!? Well, let me clarify, in 2015 I was searching for a purpose and my wise and knowing late grandmothers undervalued words kept reiterating in my head

 “you’d make a great nurse one day.”

And that sentence combined with a passionate desire to do something purposeful and rewarding, drove me to study Enrolled Nursing. Within twenty-four months I had completed four placements (internships for you American yanks) in the health care industry and two of which were performed in the wonderful world of residential aged care. 

I came out the other-side of those twenty-four months with a diploma, the doom and gloom fear all students experience in the face of finding a job and somehow the unwavering feeling that I was not meant to be doing this, like I was a fraud.

I had spent the duration of my diploma feeling like I was swimming out of my depth, like I just couldn’t get it. But there was one thing I did get. People. And they got me. Some of my greatest experiences were the relationships I was privileged to make with residents. There was no way I could be a nurse, my time management was shocking!

“Elise, dear, would you like to share some Tim Tams and listen to my rock music?” 
Um, you betcha Jo!

And so my itch for my life purpose and fulfilment had not been scratched, and some part of me knew that I needed to pursue my interest in writing…
In fact, a resident I spent time with gave me more inspiration than she knows, her name was Joan.

Joan sat with me on her bed and shared a bottle of “bubbly water” which we pretended was the good stuff (champagne!) and told me her life story hours after my shift had finished. I told her:

“Joan you could write a book about your life, it is just so fascinating”

and although she hadn’t thought it to be anything other than just her childhood memories, she boastfully told her son upon his visit, 

“this is Elise, she is going to write my memoirs”.

So here I am, enrolled in a Bachelor of Journalism and Professional Writing, in a course which calls for me to write a blog. Great! Fantastic! I’m excited!
On our very first day we sit in a class room of 25 or so and painfully go around the class to announce our ideas for our blog. On our very first day.

Some poor peers are coming up with duck eggs, using the broadest terms like “football” or “lifestyle” and then here I go with this outlandish, completely unplanned, spur of the moment idea that I would like to write a blog about the stories of our older generations. My tutor loves it. She has plans for it. I am now locked in and beginning my journey of volunteering my abundance of time (Sike! I am a full time student and part time employee) in the wonderful world of residential aged care, where I hope the incredible people will open their hearts and share their lives with me.

Because I love to hear it, they deserve to tell it and we are all privileged to learn and share in these lives well lived.