The different faces of courage.

.This blog is one year old. Our first blog was about courage and how a young man survived the most horrific head-on-collision and learnt to walk again. Not all our stories are that dramatic but each of our guests overcome their fears daily and show tremendous courage in their own unique ways. They fight battles by overcoming the odds, the voices of negativity and fear and their pain.

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We have too many tales of endurance to share in one post, so today, I’ll just honour the twelve guests we have under our roof at the moment.

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Rachel has a crippling terminal lung illness. Each breath she gets to take with the help of her O2 machine is a victory for her. Every time she gets to laugh with her daughters, I feel like raising my hands and shouting “Look at you! Go girl!” She is an inspiration. Every day, she gets up, we blow dry her hair and she puts on make-up and beautiful clothes. That is often all she manages to do, but the fact remains she could easily choose to stay in bed in pjs with unbrushed hair, but she gets up each day and makes the most of her remaining time with courage and grace.

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Arie, a Jewish jeweler, was courageous in taking shaky steps moving from his bed to a chair. Today, his achievement was getting out of bed and gently putting weight on his replaced knee whilst navigating the pipes to his oxygen concentrator and catheter. He wants the sun on his face and to tell anyone who comes by that he once made a brooch for Maggie Thatcher.

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Martha tells me about her pets and her home in Zambia. She never complains about the fact that she lost the use of her legs due to incompetence in Lusaka, that the airplane that medivacked her to SA broke down, that they had to do an emergency landing in the dark (Zimbabwean authorities refused to put the runway lights on) or that they were blackmailed at the airport and had their passports confiscated whilst she was strapped in a bed not being able to feel her legs, or the fact that she then had to spend weeks in ICU. Today she was delighted that she got to feel fresh (albeit very chilly) air on her cheeks and eat chocolate cake.

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Cynthia has been sober for 33 years. She bravely stopped drinking but tells me the battle with depression is far harder. The isolation of COVID and fear of judgement made it harder to reach out and now, deep within the grip of this cruel illness, everything is overwhelming. Today the fear of getting up and showering pinned her to her bed. She is ashamed because she knows it makes absolutely no sense, but she is unable to rationalise it. In my opinion, she showed incredible courage to leave her home and come to us – to reach out. That is certainly a reason to celebrate already.

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I listen to a Rochelle. She is my age and she served in the military and survived an explosion. She takes it in her stride, simply saying her grandmother fought in the resistance in Poland and after getting arrested spent three years in Auswich. “That is real suffering,” she says. “That takes real courage. Bombs are not so scary.” (I feel like I may need to toughen up!)

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Yvonne suffers from acute anxiety. Everything scares her and she is convinced that we will abandon her. This week she needed to see a doctor off the premises. She sees the doctor weekly, but this time around, she just could not muster the strength. We tried all sorts of plans to see if we could get her to take a step out of her room. In the end, myself, two carers and her frail husband shuffled along like a circus of freaks to my car. She insisted I take her myself. When we got to the practice, I gave her my car keys to hold so she would know I wouldn’t leave her behind. Despite her irrational fears, she shows courage in her determination to get better every day.

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Andrew is recovering from surgery after breaking his hip. He has recovered from colon cancer and has a stoma. He is frail. He is also incredibly funny. He refuses to wear his hearing aid as he says he has heard everything he wants to in life already. He is not particularly bothered by his hip, as he has broken so many parts of himself over the years that this is just one more obstacle he has to overcome. Bigger obstacles in his life include that he wants to get out more often and eat marrow bones at Turn and Tender.

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Agatha is dying of cancer. She knows this and is at peace. The courage she needs now is very different from those fighting for survival. In this season, she needs to have the conversations with her loved ones that she has not been able to have before. Her loved ones need to have the courage to hear her, to put their hopes and denial aside and say “goodbye, thank you, I love you, please forgive me”.

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As Agatha is facing the end of her life with courage, we have a little girl with us who is just at the beginning. She is not even two years old and is enduring a complicated facial reconstruction. She does not understand why she has to be brave. She just knows that every time she sees a doctor she gets hurt. I rest in the knowledge that as her little face takes shape, one surgery at a time, so does her spirit and tenacity and that she is learning skills now that takes healthier children years to acquire.

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Hannah has a broken toe. I kid you not. But she is ninety four and it is very sore. She does not overthink things. She wants her hair washed, her fluffy gown and she wants to binge on Downton Abbey.

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To me, my staff are the most courageous of everyone. They get up, get on taxies or drive to work in the cold early mornings or late dark nights to sit with strangers in their darkest moments, to guard their humanness in their most vulnerable times and help them carry burdens too heavy to carry alone.

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