So you’re an aged care volunteer?

“Mrs Francis Smith, Room 34, would like to be taken outside into the sunshine.”

It was my first day as a volunteer at the aged care home. “You can do this”, I encouraged myself, “you’re 65, spent your whole life talking and motivating people, this is just an old lady for goodness sake!” Fran Smith was frail, had difficulty breathing and needed oxygen tubes and a wheelchair. She was seated as close to the TV as a wheelchair could be so that she could see the screen. “Hi, I said, “my name is Doug and I’m a volunteer. I was told you would like to go outside”. She raised her head with difficulty and a faint smile creased her face. “Oh yes please,” she replied. We managed the corridors and coded door exits and made it out into the sunshine. After a short tour of the grounds, Fran asked if we could just stop somewhere sunny. So we parked in the sun and began to talk. “Is your name Doug or Douglas” she asked. “Well, it’s really Douglas”, I confided, “but only my 91 year old mother calls me Douglas”. “I’m the same age as your mother, so I shall call you Douglas!”

We talked for a while as we soaked up the sun. I asked about her life and where she had lived. She had spent her childhood in Murrurundi at the foot of the Liverpool range. Her father worked on the railway. We shared experiences of the Upper Hunter and her later life on the Central Coast. Returning to her room I set her back in her preferred position and said goodbye, adding that I hoped to see her the following week. She smiled and thanked me.

For the next two weeks I was seconded to help on the bus trip outings and didn’t get to see Fran. Arriving earlier the following week there was time to visit her before the bus was boarded. “How about I wheel you down the street” I suggested. There was no hesitation. We traversed the gutters and crossed the road into a rainforest park with towering gum trees overhead, and sat listening to the bell birds and watched ducks swimming on the pond. There didn’t seem to be the need for talk. Just as we were about to return she looked at me dreamily and said, “You know Douglas, sometimes I think we just live too long!”. “You could be right“, I replied as we headed back.

As I drove home I thought of the warmth of the brief connection we had made. I felt good about the time we had spent together. Not only had I brought some sunshine into her days, she had become a ray of sunshine in my life. For the last three weeks we were assigned to help decorating and serving Christmas lunches for the residents. On the day for the high care unit’s party I walked past Fran’s room to greet her. The room was vacant and the bed unmade. Where is Mrs Smith? I asked. Oh, didn’t you know? She passed away quietly in her sleep last week.

I returned for reassignment along the quietest corridor I could find to pull myself together. We greeted the RAO outside the luncheon room. Her welcome was particularly friendly. “I have a special favour to ask of you, Doug. Colin isn’t here. Could you be Santa Claus today?”

There are many opportunities for people who have the time and commitment to reach out to help those who can no longer do everything for themselves. There is surely an area of service where YOU could become involved. In my experience it not only helps others, but is also of great personal benefit. Information is only a phone call away. Talk to Rosemary on 9501 1841 or Ron on 9481 8306.

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