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100+ years and living well until the end

Hospice volunteering is such a privilege, especially when helping to care for a man who had already celebrated his 100th birthday. With his wife of 30 years in a nursing home he was on his own and finding evening meals a chore.

Every afternoon from 4.45pm to 6.15pm, hospice volunteers helped with his evening meal and to settle him ready for the district nurse who assisted him to shower and get into bed. His family found it reassuring to know our team visited daily.

A well-lived life

My first impression on meeting was that he seemed a rather grumpy man, but this quickly changed when I realised physical activity was such hard work for him. He suffered with COPD, and seemed pleased that I knew what this was.

He was a proud man, still very sharp mentally. He had survived a World War which took him to three countries and had worked hard. He had cared for and lost his first wife to illness then remarried at 70. His children were now elderly themselves, and his grandchildren middle aged. We talked about his 100th birthday party and he proudly told me that two politicians had attended. He had lived a good productive life contributing to his family, friends, the bowls club and the community.

Learning the routine

My first shift was on a very hot Australia Day. I had arrived ten minutes early. The frying pan with sausages was sizzling away, the vegetables cooking and the table set. Whilst he ate, I washed up and made him a cup of green tea that was allowed to cool so he could swallow his tablets after he finished his dessert, usually stewed fruit, custard and cream.

After setting up for breakfast, I helped him settle for the evening in front of the TV. The evening news coverage prompted a long conversation about his extensive World War II service.

I came to have great affection and respect for this wonderful old man. Every shift I would try and get to his house before the frying pan and vegetables went on the stove. Even when I arrived at 4pm his tea was already cooking. He raced me every time! One day I had something on and arrived at the rostered time, 4.45pm. He met me at the back door, hands on hips, and said, “You’re late”. I smiled and said “Sorry!”

Made to last

One day he needed new slippers so the man from the local shoe shop was asked to pop over with a new pair. He told me that two pairs were brought and he had chosen the more expensive ones because he wanted them to last.

He had a lovely old timber clock which was a family heirloom. Although in excellent working order, the clock was taken away and fully serviced so it was ready to pass to his eldest son on his death.

He was a man who continued to live his life on his terms, knowing his death was imminent but not letting that daunt him.

His optimism still inspires me.

May he rest in peace.

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