CHERYL MARKHAM

PASTORAL CARER AT MERCY PLACE EAST MELBOURNE

I had been a volunteer at Mercy Place for almost a couple of years before I was employed here. I just love it so much. Working in aged care is so satisfying and I know I go home feeling uplifted.  I love being there for people for staff, for residents and for family members.  I really just enjoy being here. I like to smile for them and they know that I’m happy. I tend to hug them a lot too, at one stage I was named the hugging lady.

Pastoral care involves looking after the spiritual needs of people.  As they get older they get deeper, people start asking about the meaning of life and what they’ve done with their life. Pastoral care also encompasses religion, people who aren’t religious, cultural and emotional needs. Sometimes it’s just walking alongside them and letting them know that you’re there.  Listening, really attentive listening is very important, as is touch. I strongly believe in touch we all long to be touched in some way, even if it’s just a touch on the arm. I don’t hug everybody as some people don’t like it and some cultures don’t like it but you get to know who you can hug and who you can’t. 

We are in a very special position working in aged care.  We get to hear their stories, their life stories. We get to carry their stories after they’re gone and we can take them with us through our life journey.  I get to pass on the stories of the people I have cared for to generations to come. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to take with you through your life.

I used to have staff meetings and I would always say to my colleagues remember that we are so privileged because we could be the last person on this earth that a person speaks to. In that situation we can go away and take that knowledge with us and think ‘gosh I am so lucky that I was there for them’.  I’ve said it so often now that people know it’s going to come out of my mouth, but it is such a privilege to be with a person at that last part of their life.  

Over the years I’ve learnt not to judge. It’s so easy to judge someone and you can do it unconsciously sometimes, but I’ve learnt not to.  And I’ve also learnt to become very observant. I can usually pick if somebody is not themselves, even if I am in the shopping center! That means I’m able to go up to them and be there for them because just by the look on their face I can tell if somethings not right. That’s definitely a skill I’ve learnt over the years.

A personal learning, from my time volunteering here came when I sat with a woman who was quite distressed. She had been in Germany during the war, was on the street and her best friend who was beside her was grabbed and taken into custody by the Nazi’s and taken to a gas chamber. This lady had heard every single scream from that day and had lived with that her whole life. She was so brokenhearted by it she said ‘why have I had to live with this all my life’.

I thought about it and I said maybe just maybe you were meant to carry that memory of that friend and the love of that friend with you, so that you got to hold it and keep her inside of you living in a way in your memories.  It took her a little while and she thought about it then said you’ve lifted my spirits so much and I feel so much lighter. 

She died two weeks later and I saw her daughter at the memorial services and I said to her ‘your mother told me quite a few stories’. She said to me ‘I’m sure she told you more than she ever told us, because she never shared those stories with anybody’. She had lived with that inside her all those years and opened up just before she died.  I was so glad that I could lift that burden and that one person can do that. It was like a miracle to me and I felt so wonderful and realised yes, one person can make a difference to people’s lives. 

Whatever role we do in aged care it’s all to make a better day for the person we support, and if we can do that then we’ve got a job we can be proud of. It’s a very valuable role to have.

 
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We get to hear their stories, their life stories, we get to carry their stories after they’re gone and we can take them will us through our life journey.