Team: Biography, Palliative Paws & Ambassador
I was on the verge of retiring from teaching when my husband, Norm, had a cardiac arrest. We had been planning to retire together, do the grey nomad treks and so many other things. All of a sudden I became a carer for him and had to watch him go through the next 10 years in a care home. I was struggling and spent a lot of my time crying with having to cope with it all.
My friend, Pauline, was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was married to Alan and one day she rang me and said,
‘I have the perfect job for you’.
She proceeded to tell me about the volunteer biography program at EPC.
‘I think Alan would love it too’, she went on to say.
I thought she was mad, given all I was dealing with, to suggest I then go and use my little free time working with dying people. Over the weekend, I then heard EPC’s Volunteer Services Consultant being interviewed about the biography program on ABC 774 radio. It all was pointing in the same direction.
I made contact and went for an interview with them, fully expecting them to tell me to go away and sort my life out. But they took a risk on me and here I am all these years later, working in the best role I have ever experienced. It is so life affirming.
I now work in three of the volunteer programs that EPC offers.
My first client was not sure where to start her story. I was brand new and I didn’t know either so I said, ‘Tell me about your Mum’. Well that was the only question I had to ask. She was a natural story teller.
Another client would only answer in one word answers and I thought,
‘I can’t write a biography of one word things’.
EPC has a journal they developed called Quirky Questions and they suggested I use that. The first question was,
‘Have you ever broken any bones?’
I thought that was a silly question but not having any other ideas I went with it. Straight away he said,
‘Oh yes, there was the time my sister….’ and away he went. He just needed something to hook onto and then the stories flowed out beautifully.
I had another client who had gone through the Chinese purging of the landlords period, when the Communists took over. That story was mind blowing and he really needed to get that out.
And then there are clients who have mingled with royalty, danced on the world stages of ballet and so much more.
I love animals and the thought of getting my daily exercise done while walking someone else’s dog is a good one. The clients are often too sick to be able to do that themselves and they and their dogs get highly stressed because of it. Often the dogs are sitting and panting by the front door waiting for me to turn up – they know what day it is.
One lady said to me,
‘They want me to go to hospital for my symptoms but I can’t. I can’t leave my dog. He needs me.’
He was a beautiful blonde Labrador and she died soon after she told me this.
The last set of dogs I walked were too old chocolate Labradors. I thought that two at once might be too much but they were used to walking together, were very slow and gentle and really well behaved. Their owner was a young adult and being able to assist by simply walking her dogs, was a definite privilege.
I am also a part of the Ambassador team for EPC. We go out to meetings large and small to speak about the work of the organisation. We want to let them know we are there, we have lots of programs to offer to support people and their families, we are free and we cover a huge area (Kew through to the Yarra Valley).
The end of my story is that my husband and my best friend Pauline died. As couples, Alan and Pauline, Norm and I, had been good friends since our children were all small. 12 months ago I married Alan and he is also now a volunteer in the biography program. What Pauline directed us to do is complete and we do this work in honour of her and of Norm.