I attended a birthday party on the weekend. It was so great to catch up with lovely people, sing along with some golden oldies, and meet new acquaintances.
I had met one lovely lady at a previous party, and was glad to reconnect. Like me, she had taken time off from her job, and found herself considering a major vocational change. I had called my time off "Transformation Retreat", and absolutely loved it. I still do! For me, it's not just a year off; it's now a lifestyle.
Like me, this lady had chosen a vocational path ... more on that in a moment! She reminded me of a story about my mother, and I'd like to share it with you.
My mother was born in Sydney, and when she was grown up enough to leave home, she came to Newcastle to train to become a nurse. In those days, it wasn't a university degree. It was hands-on hard work, from Day 1. Nurse trainees were not above cleaning bed-pans for their patients, or fluffing up pillows, or changing the sheets while their patient went to the loo.
My mother lived in a building on the hospital campus, aptly called the Nurses' Home. Next door, the Convent housed the nuns, who at that time were Sisters of Mercy. The hospital was a private institution, but with a very public (nay, Christian socialist) approach to healthcare. If you needed the hospital, you weren't turned away for lack of funds. Anyone could go there.
Back in the old days, it was called the Mater Misericordiae Hospital. Mater Misericordiae translates to "Mother of Mercy", and refers to Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus. Mum was always a very big fan of Mary!!
Mum would sleep on-campus, as I said. When someone on her ward was dying, her Matron (what we now call the Nursing Unit Manager, but in this case, a nun) would get Mum to go and look after that patient. She would sit with them, pray with them, be there for them. Mum would be called upon to help that person to die with dignity and as peacefully as possible.
It's an image that stays with me, even though I never saw Mum nursing in a hospital.
Mum; giving loving kindness.
You see, in those old days (the 1950s), women were expected to give up their job when they got married. Dad wouldn't have cared if Mum kept nursing; but the nuns would have made her leave, despite her being a great nurse.
When I started working at the Mater, it was changed in many ways, including the name (now Calvary Mater, and run by the Little Company of Mary). The old Nurses' Home was converted into offices and a lab, where I worked on my mental health research. I remember choosing to use the stairs whenever I wanted to go anywhere, and thinking of her using those same stairs. They hadn't changed from the originals.
I walked, reverently, in Mum's footsteps.
She was always a good nurse, to the day she died. After all my family left the hospital on the night she passed, I stayed back. I felt called, compelled, needed, wanted. It felt important that I stay. It took a long time for the doctor to come in and do what doctors do before they can call "death". I remember him saying quietly at the nurses' station, that she died at 5.15pm. Now, much later, the nurse came in to prepare Mum's body for the morgue. I was permitted to stay and help her.
It was such an honour - to sit with Mum's body, and to tend to her the way she would have cared for her patients at the time of their death.
The only time I was asked to leave the room, was when the orderlies from the morgue came to transfer her body from the bed to the trolley.
I escorted her to the morgue. This involved walking through the quiet hospital, which wasn't her old one, but the John Hunter Hospital, and then going downstairs in a secret lift to Level 0.
I wasn't allowed into the morgue, and so that's where we parted. Not forever, but for that time.
So back to the lady with whom I reconnected at the party on Saturday night.
She had chosen to be an End of Life Doula.
Before I met her, I didn't know they existed. I knew about the Doulas for childbirth, but this person for the other end of life was a revelation!
And to think, that was one of the vocations to which my own mother was called ...