Making a difference – one person at a time
- by Silver Chain Group
- Article date
- 05 December 2017
Share this page
Making a difference – one person at a time
For International Volunteer Day, we would like to acknowledge and thank our 400 skilled volunteers, who make a significant contribution to our ability to reach those in need of in home care and wellbeing services – people like Rose, who's clients often come to think of her as part of the family.
In 2015, Leah* noticed her back had started to hurt. For a 38-year old mum, with two boys with special needs, it seemed a minor issue. But, despite months of physio, Leah’s back didn’t get better. Eventually, an x-ray discovered metastatic breast cancer. Undetected, the insidious disease had spread to Leah’s spine, which was now severely damaged.
On New Year’s Day 2016, Leah was admitted to hospital. Five weeks later, she came home in a permanent back brace to protect her spine. Constrained by the brace, unable to drive, bend or lift more than a 2-litre carton of milk, Leah went from being a busy mum volunteering at school and caring for her boys, to the strange isolation of being an at-home patient.
While her husband works and the boys are at school, Leah is one of the hundreds of thousands of Australians who spends her days home alone with a chronic and debilitating illness – unable to go out on her own for fear of falling or do the simplest household task.
Kind, thoughtful and naturally sunny, Leah is facing her changed life with grace and courage. Without a shred of self-pity, she is working hard at “still being mum, even if I can’t take my boys to the park or play with them on the floor”.
One of her pet hates is being surrounded by the endless domestic jobs she can no longer do. “I look at them all day long.”
It’s not that Leah lacks support. Her husband, Matthew*, is a tower of strength, but he’s already exhausted juggling full-time work with the cooking, washing and cleaning. Her friends are wonderful – but they have jobs and families.
And Leah doesn’t want to bother any of them any more than she already does. “I’m very grateful for my family and friends. They help me in so many ways, but you can’t ask friends to tidy your cupboards or sort out your linen. That’s why it was such a relief when Rose came into my life.”
Rose Tickner is a Silver Chain Hospice Care Volunteer who, for more than a year, has been visiting Leah once a week, purely for social support. Forced to give up her nursing career after decades of lifting patients wore out her knees and shoulders, Rose was determined to keep contributing.
“It was never in my plan to retire. I still have a lot of offer.” ~ Rose.
“It was never in my plan to retire. I still have a lot of offer,” she says firmly. Warm, bubbly and super-capable, Rose arrived on Leah’s doorstep like the cavalry.
“It was such a relief. She was so friendly and welcoming. And she knew what I was going through because she had that nursing experience,” recalls Leah.
On Thursdays, as they chat, Rose chips away at the household chores. She does the washing-up, changes the boys’ beds and tidies, minimising the amount of work Matthew will come home to. Often, Leah schedules her treatment so Rose can drive her to the appointments and Matthew won’t have to take another day off work.
Together, they are also tackling the chores that have annoyed Leah for so long. Cupboards are being sorted and rearranged, with Leah approving every move. Each task helping to ease her peace of mind.
With her practical help and the empathy and wisdom gleaned from years of nursing, Rose is an important part of Leah’s support network: “She’s very calm and unflappable. She never pries, but you also feel you can tell her anything and it wouldn’t phase her. Breaking that social isolation – it’s so important.”
Rose agrees: “The social side is as important as the medical side of things. If you’re ill and isolated it’s easy to become depressed, which has physical consequences.”
She likes the fact that she can flag anyone she’s concerned about knowing that the Silver Chain Volunteer Coordinators will follow up with the client. “It’s not my responsibility, but I can make sure people get help if they need it.”
For Rose, volunteering has become her second career. It’s part of how she defines herself.
“I’m a wife, a mother, a grandmother – and a volunteer.”
She sees her work with Silver Chain’s clients as a vital contribution to their wellbeing. “I fill a niche where others can’t or won’t help out. It’s amazing how many people are home alone and don’t see anyone all day. I can be the glue that makes people’s lives better.”
Not surprisingly, Rose’s clients often come to think of her as part of the family. A natural nurturer, Rose has become close to another client, Arlene. Arlene became ill while visiting her daughter in Australia; she had no local friends and didn't have access to a car. Without Rose, she would have be sitting on her own all day while her daughter was at work. The two have formed a close friendship and Rose visits every week.
Photo: Rose with Arlene
Last year, she formed a particularly strong bond with Judith, a vibrant African woman. When her beloved client was laid to rest, on what would have been her fortieth birthday, the family asked Rose to speak at the funeral. “It was my biggest honour,” she says simply, her eyes shining.
Rose enjoys the difference between volunteer work and a salaried job. “It’s my choice. I can do the hours I want to and alter my work to fit my life. I’ve worked with other organisations where the more you give, the more they want. But Jane is always checking in with me to make sure I’m OK and the work is not too much.”
Rose rarely says “No”, because the work inspires her: “It’s such a beautiful and rewarding thing to be able to make a difference in another person’s life. And you meet incredible people.”
To this point, Leah ends our interview with shining positivity: “I’m grateful for everything I have. I can still walk around – and the treatment I’m currently on doesn’t make me too sick. And, of course, I’m grateful to have Rose...”
If you’re a warm, empathetic person who’d like to make a difference, Silver Chain is always looking for volunteers to provide social support for our clients. From a chat over a cuppa, to playing chess, to taking people shopping, our volunteers give their clients emotional support and help them remain active and connected with their community.
If this sounds like something you'd enjoy, you can register your interest today.
*names have been changed