CEO Musings

Loss and Giving

February 1, 2017

Greetings to all!

I trust your festive season was well spent and modestly outrageous or outrageously modest…whatever fitted the bill.

At Fairway we had our share of joyful excesses and to those who volunteered and   rallied hard to provide great food and cheer. Our thanks is unbounded.

Chef Carl and Lifestyle Manager Tonianne are stars of the highest order…well done!

We settle every year into that post-Xmas-New-Year-haze.  We all joke that the nation downs tools in January – a month lost to work as we seek a good wind-down be that in the sun, surf, socialising or even on the sofa (or all combined…).

We start this New Year – the Year of the Rooster in Chinese cultures (?) with an intake of breath fear-filled at the Trump ascendency and tear-filled at the carnage in our Bourke St Mall.  We are yet to feel the effects of the former but the latter is tragically ever present and I know we send thoughts, love and prayers to all affected.  The shock, loss and pain our fellow citizens are enduring is cruel enough to contemplate let alone live through.

But resilience will always uphold us and compassion and unity will help to heal like a wound mends slowly from within – though the scar is forever.

Resilience and compassion are all around us. Not just a binding force in major tragedies but reflected everyday in our own experiences and played out in the lives of those we know and don’t know… Our species would not have survived were this not so.

Events can strengthen both qualities and be found in ways sometimes unexpected…

I had only been back from my Christmas break for a day when I bumped into staff member Luz at the photocopier.  She had told me some weeks earlier that she may need to take leave as her father was sick in her birth country, Peru.

I had not seen her for some time and as I greeted her our last conversation flooded back.  Her eyes looked sad and tired though she smiled in greeting… “How was everything?” I asked though it was easy to guess her answer.

“The end was terrible, so terrible…” Her voice halted.

I hugged her and felt a small shudder pass through her petite frame.  For a nanosecond we were not “boss and worker” but two daughters knowing the loss of a parent.  For me both have gone and long since settled into the accepting patchwork of my life but for Luz it was raw, very raw and yet to be assimilated.

She told me of her final resolve to go back home to see her Dad.  He had lived for another three days and to her joy recognized her on her arrival.

She than detailed what she found.  A hospital with seemingly no nursing, a family grieving, distraught but overwhelmed to see her and hold her close.

As she spoke her words began to wash over me like a documentary.  I forget that many of our friends and colleagues come from places as dissimilar from ours as chalk and cheese.  Like so many I have ceased to register accents and differing looks – to me we are as one and here I was talking to our beautiful carer Luz, but she was describing a world which is alien – and alien now to her as well, having lived some time in the UK before settling in Australia.

“I had never been to a hospital in Peru as, up until now, we have not had a sick family member.  I have been away for years in other cities with modern facilities and medical services.  My Dad got little care apart from the family’s ministrations.  I was shocked and trying to help my Mum as well as other family members.  Of course Dad’s plight was central; he was going down so quickly.  I knew he was dying.”

I was held by the enormity of what she faced as she told me further details but then she moved her head to the side and there was a change in her voice, a stronger edge to it – “…But I knew what to do to care for him,” she said with gathering conviction. “I knew how to tend to him, how to ease his breathing, position his limbs, provide fluids safely and monitor his discomfort and that of my family, especially my mother who was exhausted.  I knew how to change his bedding with him inert, how to log-roll him and support his shoulders and hips so his body was not stretched every which way.”

“I knew to be his advocate and ask the reluctant doctors to cease antibiotics when it was so clear he was close to the end.”

“I pleaded for morphine but was told “God will take him in his own time.”  I felt sick and thought of home (!) where we give morphine to ease the dying process.”

“It was awful to see his suffering but I was in a third world country which is still so uneducated and locked in old ways.  I had no other way to help him…”

“In the three days I did not leave him. I gave him mouth care as I had been taught at Fairway; I sponged him knowing what was important to do and how to do it…”

I felt in awe of Luz – defiant to the end to provide whatever tinge of majesty and dignity she could afford the death of a beloved parent.


Scroll back to August 2016 Luz was one of the mature age students I wrote about in my piece back then.  She and her fellow student friend Merlo were visiting me to discuss their upcoming personal care clinical placements and Luz conveyed her fears that she would not cope emotionally caring for those she might feel moved by.

What a turnaround: from Sandringham to Peru, the skill of our nurses and carers had endowed Luz with a capability that she had no way of knowing would be so precious and expressed in such a personal way.

We had taught Luz the fundamentals of nursing; without technology or even medical support – the spiritual and physical skills and wisdoms of working with the person, meeting the body’s needs, “thinking with the hands” to provide comfort and planning for the next stage in the process of the body letting go. All the while doing this, she was involving the family and guiding them to acceptance as they could see their loved one beautifully clean, attended and respected.

How humble we must all be at Fairway to think that the knowledge Luz received was channeled to become a gift which she could give and therefore receive the blessing of it back. She is a woman innately compassionate but she learnt to be confident, to take control…to be resilient…

I will never forget Luz’s eyes through tears as she stopped for a moment to look at me fully and said “…Sandy I felt useful, truly useful in my Father’s last days…”

What more could any daughter ask?


Warmest regards to all



(printed with permission)