A review in gratitude.

When the first bit of tinsel hits the retail shops there is a switch in me that gets triggered. I go from a slightly unstable, somewhat anti-establishment, spectacularly average, suburban Karen to an over-the-top-blaring-BoneyM-totally-unhinged-MariahCarey-gift-crazed-turkey-cooking-kitch-decorating-whatsapp-family-grouping-lunatic. In other words, I love Christmas. Ironically I also undoubtedly love Christ and the whole idea of the way the capitalists (not the Grinch) stole Christmas deeply annoys me, but not enough to prevent me from fully immersing myself in it.

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With advent starting last week, I also cannot help but look back on the year that was and how things have changed and stayed the same. I thought I would express it in a type of gratitude-journal-fashion. Please bear with me as I list them as they come to me and in no particular order.

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I am deeply grateful for achievement; that our occupancy percentage was 95% last month and around 87% in the months leading up to December. It is now exactly two years ago that we took the leap to change our entire business model and only cater for patients needing care. We had a hunch that there is a need for actual, compassionate and person-orientated care to the extent that one could build a business on it. Thank goodness our gamble paid off.

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I’m grateful for the unmasking; how wonderful to see people again, to walk in shops and smile at people, for our patients to be able to see our expressions fully and us theirs; for my glasses not fogging up and for not running back to the car when the shop security stops me pointing at my naked face; for being able to lip read again (did you also feel deaf during the masked times?); for not constantly being aware of a virus the world chose to fight in such a ridiculous way for far too long. I am also grateful for advances in medicine, empty hospital wards and for the vaccine.

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I am grateful for the our carers. I am thrilled that I work alongside some of the best humans on earth. I often look closely at this team and try and see where they hide their wings and halos. I am surprised at the amount of times they  are referred to as “angels” by guests (I suspect this is because no one has ever seen them fight for the last piece of cake). Giving care is not easy. If it is not your vocation you will mess it up. You cannot learn it; you instinctively have that ability or you don’t. Skills are wonderful to have, but it is all in the posture and attitude and a willingness to serve others.

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I’m grateful for beautiful deaths. I love that we gently stood by as quite a few guests slipped graciously away this year, knowing we served them well and that we carried their families through some of the toughest times in their lives. To be invited into a space where people have to say goodbye is an honour we do not under-estimate and to know that because of what this team did, their memories of their loved ones’ last days will be filled with sweet moments, cups of coffee and fresh flowers, is such a comfort.

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I’m grateful for surprises. For just over a year we have had the absolute privilege of working with a new technical and maintenance manager. When we employed him we did not realise that along with his skills he also brought a leadership level and servant’s heart to the company which we have never encountered before. It is wonderful to have a man take up the reins alongside me on many levels. Leonard has become more than a manager and a fixer, he has become the person we turn to when we need wisdom and discernment.

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I’m grateful for recoveries… this is after all in our name. I love the moment after we pick people up from hospital, in pain, exhausted and scared and we push them from our parking lot onto our deck and they see the pool, the garden and the new environment of calm. They always comment on the atmosphere and from that moment on, the recovery starts. It is such a pleasure to watch this transformation, from the weary hospital patient, to the confident, loved, well-fed warrior that walks proudly out of here.

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I’m grateful for other recoveries… the ones we don’t expect. It has happened so often over the past year that people who are supposed to pass away within a few days or a few weeks simply get better without rhyme or reason. A lady checked in with us, blue as a smurf with a side note that she won’t make it through September. At this stage it looks like she’ll be home for Christmas and she happily laughs with me when I call her Lady Lazarus. We all joke about the fact that there is something in the water that makes the people carry on long past their sell-by dates.

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I’m grateful for a limit on suffering. When last have you walked through an ICU where people are hooked up to machines, monitors and tubes? The harrowing suffering of those ICU patients is what nightmares are made of. Every single death we had at the Recovery Lodge was full of grace, wonderfully controlled pain and no sharp edges. We experienced it so tangibly when my father died. A friend of mine compared death to being a child who falls asleep in the car on the way home from visiting friends. The next morning they wake up, no longer in the car but in their own bed, knowing full well whose arms carried them to where they awoke. I feel that is what we do – we let the people fall asleep gently with the sound of tyres rolling on tar, watching street lights shining rhythmically all the while never losing sight of the moon and stars.

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I’m grateful for humour. We laugh so much, often and loudly. We tease each other and play pranks, we laugh with our guests, we laugh with their visitors. There are belly laughs all day long.

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I’m grateful for debriefing. Tuesday mornings have become a safe space for us all to unpack the pain we witness, the losses we suffer and to raise our questions. It is a soft landing for us all and we learn not only about what is happening with our guests clinically, but also what happens with them on a deeper level. We are all braver now than before and share on a deeply personal level how the work we do affects us. I am also incredibly blessed to have found my own therapist where I can go and talk about everything from the soul crushing grief to the totally insignificant frivolous nonsense that I allow to take up space in my head. She has given me tools to navigate my new role in this field.

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I’m grateful for community. We really were not created to be individual little ecosystems functioning on our own. I love that despite living in a city with so many people and faces, we actually know our pharmacists by name, have a hairdresser who is good with washing and drying, have a hairdresser who is fabulous with cutting and one who is a whizz with colour. They all have a place here. We know who to call for what. Some physios are too gentle and some too scary. We know who will fit in with which patient. Some doctors get called when a patient has a difficult diagnosis and needs a scientist-extraordinaire and will survive the terrible bedside manner. Other times a patient will require a soft spoken, charming hunk that will listen and help, but will without a doubt be an hour or three late. Sometimes the perfect doctor won’t come out, and then we will drive the guest to the doctor (the temptation of the Mountain-and-Mohammed-pun is tempting). I kid you not, we have one doctor that is so good with a catheter that I dare not tell you what his nickname is. On our speed dial we have different laboratories, a variety of wound care nurses, OTs, nail technicians, drivers, shrinks and social workers.

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I’m grateful for being excluded. Our chef Dylan is the kind of guy that needs no supervision and no input from me. He just does his thing, all the while keeping guest tummies full and staying in the budgetary margins. I have to make zero decisions qhen it comes to food and nothing makes me happier. This week he wants to chat to me about Christmas. I think that is only because he knows I love it and is actually just humouring me by making me feel like I have a say at all. In his defense, he does ask me every day what I would like for lunch, and to his utter disappointment I always eat the same thing (which he makes perfectly).

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I’m grateful for the small things; the way the staff meet me at my car and ask if they can carry my bags. The way Storm shows up with a cup of tea at just the right moment or knows exactly where to hold or touch while we change a dressing; the way Olida kisses me every single morning and just calms me with her presence, the way Obakeng and I match our scrubs to the day of the week, the way I know what Dorcas says not because of what she says but because I have known her more than half my life. I’m grateful for the way George tries not to smile when he proudly gets patients to do what no one else can get them to, the way Noreen surprises me every week with the new things she has gone to learn on her days off, the way we delight in someone passing a stool and announce it on our whatsapp group and the way we tease Noncebo when she walks into the door looking for her glasses. I’m thankful for the way everyone knows what to do when the lights go off before the generator starts and the way this morning we went from staff member to staff member asking what they learnt this year and what they said filled my heart with such pride. Repeatedly they said that they learnt what family is, what compassion is, what it is to listen to people just because they want to be heard, what patience is, what a smile means, what a team means.

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I’m grateful for relationships that carried us; apart from our own team, we have people willing to invest in us, that trust us with their most valued and loved person, people that stay in touch, send flowers, show up and just fall in to step with us as we simply walk each other home.

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I’m grateful for lessons. This year has been full of them, more often lessons I would not choose to learn the way life taught them to me. I feel battle-weary at the end of 2022. I’ve learnt that grief feels like fear and that time most certainly does not heal it. I have learnt that people say horrendous things but that it is not intentional. I’ve learnt that you don’t have to choose just one thing to feel; that you can feel love and anger, despair and joy, relief and deep hurt all in one moment. I’ve learnt that people will disappoint you, so deeply and so bitterly, but you still cannot give up on the rest of them. I know now that peace is transcendent if we choose it and hope is thankfully stubborn. I’ve learnt we can not explain everything scientifically, even Science, and every day I learn again and again how fragile this life is, how strong we can be and exactly how much we need to tenderly do this together.

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