Lessons we’ve learnt.

I have a confession. I am spectacularly bad at filing anything HR related, and with 33 staff members you can imagine that it is a mammoth task when I finally get to it. This week I put some time aside and went through all the files and came upon our brilliant chef’s CV he sent me almost two years ago. He states that he would love to share his knowledge with his colleagues and would enjoy learning from them too. I read this and burst out laughing. Poor Dylan! I told him that while he certainly has learnt a lot from his colleagues, he probably wishes he could unlearn some things. For instance, during our weekly staff meeting we spend a huge amount of time discussing poop, which is definitely not the part of the digestive system in which his interest lies. . Dylan, like the rest of us, is learning more about the complexity of being human as it is shown to us in all forms during illness, pain and death and so I thought I would compile a list of surprising things I’ve learnt so far:

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Don’t sleep with your brother’s wife

Recently I had to call security when an 85 year old man demanded to see his 87 year old brother who was with us for end-of-life care. Our guest’s children told us that the brother was not ever to visit and we thought nothing of it, until the most determined geriatric little man in the world showed up and screamed and screamed his bother’s name, weeping and wailing until said dying brother started with the same shouting from his room. They wanted to see each other! After much drama I personally went into the room where the brothers saw each other for the first time in 53 years. The puny younger brother dropped to his knees (this is a slow process at this age and a lot of creaking was involved) and apologised for seducing his brother’s wife many years ago. The brothers made up, much needed forgiveness was given and a hatchet buried. This is not a happy ending though. How much time was wasted and how much hurt could have been avoided? So, as I have no desire to get romantically involved with any of my in-laws, it did teach me to respect boundaries and ask for forgiveness swiftly when you’ve messed up.

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Choose your friends well

I honestly thought the drama we would have at Recovery would be limited to loss, grief and frustration. As always, I was wrong. We had an elderly gentleman with us who was to spend his last months in dignity while dying of pancreatic cancer. One day a friend came to visit. We thought nothing of it and took them cappacinos. About half an hour into the visit I popped my head into the room, only to find this “friend” desperately trying to convince my guest to sign over a power-of-attorney! Can you believe the audacity? What surprised me even more is that despite me catching him in the act, he tried again a few days later. Suffice it to say, he was stopped at reception and never came back.

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Eat the bran

I will spare you the detail of why I know this. Suffice it to say that when you do not poop, it is really difficult to get it going again. Eat the bran, drink the water, eat the fruit, get that digestive system going properly especially before a surgery.

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Don’t blue-tick people

Return calls, don’t burn bridges, return what you’ve borrowed, be it a side plate or a million bucks, make an effort, call them, message them, build the relationships, remember their birthdays, show up. I cannot ever explain to you the importance of relationships. Really, nothing else matters more than this. Apart from it being great to have your tribe when you are healthy and strong, it is absolutely vital for a successful recovery and if you don’t recover, you need each other even more. Lock-down and the isolation it brought has proved to us how we were created for community. Don’t forget it now.

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Park properly

As the business has grown and we get more and more visitors, we spend a lot of time directing traffic and getting people to park properly. I personally can no longer parallel park (I must have been able to long ago) and my three point turns usually have an extra few points. So, I am preaching to myself here too, but learn how to park.

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You don’t have time, bad things happen to good people and not everything is going to be alright.

This is why I will never be able to write a best seller self-help book. Life is terribly unfair. Full stop. Horrible unjust revolting things happen. Not everything makes sense. We see people who have never smoked a cigarette suffer from lung cancer. Fit, strong healthy people who didn’t drink or eat sugar get cruel diseases. People get shot in hi-jackings. Drunk drivers plough into law-abiding mothers. Parents are forced to watch their children die. Some people try to kill themselves and live while others desperately try to overcome dreaded illnesses and fail. This is the broken world in which we live and we really only have this moment. Live in it.

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Get a bikini-body

I’m joking. But it helps to be fit. Really.

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Until recently I had no idea how difficult it is to move a person that is overweight. It makes everything much harder – to turn them, help them up and down and in and out. Everything is harder when you are obese, for you and for your carers. We all know the usual risks of obesity: type 2 diabetes, high BP, arthritis, sleep apnea, some types of cancer, heart disease and strokes, but what we might not know is that when/if the illness hits or you have to have that surgery or joint replacement, your chances of making a full recovery go way down, and it takes much longer, with the added frustration of additional complications that will sneak in if you are overweight. Spend one morning with our carers helping an obese person with their ablutions and you will see the challenge of keeping your dignity in that space. It is heartbreaking and that is why I am writing it down. It is not fat-phobia, it is stating a desperately true fact.

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Get medical-aid

It is expensive to get ill. Every single part of being sick or frail is costly. This is Africa. We have no health system that works except the private one. If it is the only thing you pay, pay for medical aid. We’ve had people that come to us after time spent in either Barra or Charlotte Maxeke and the trauma of being at the mercy of a corrupt department of health where the people you hope will care for you only make matters worse is something that no one should endure.

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Do it now

When you sit with someone who is dying, they always talk about their loved ones, and then their adventures. They talk about the dreams that they fulfilled, mountains they climbed, marathons they ran, parties they had, naughty things they did, people whose lives they changed. They never talk about what they owned. Let that sink in guys. They never talk about the things they owned.

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Decide what you believe

I was not sure whether I should add this one, but I feel that it will be dishonest if I don’t. My generation is fond of putting this off. We like to say I believe in “something” or “I’m spiritual” or we concoct a little something that we believe and it differs every day depending on what suits us at the time. Maybe we are too busy; we fill our days with tasks and purposes and there is no need to connect with our souls. Maybe we’ve been hurt by the very people who should have helped us in our faith. Maybe we look at the world and think that there cannot be any good in it. Maybe we are too angry?

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But here I am now, with many stories to share of people who knew what they believed and others that didn’t. It makes a difference in the end. In the most painful, most uncontrollable, most finite moments – in the life and death moments – people who know where they stand and what they believe (and their loved ones) can much more easily find acceptance, and peace… grace to endure the unbearable and hope in the dark. Use the time you have before it is too late, figure it out, invest in a relationship or a practice. It makes all the difference.

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