“After 54 years of marriage, we had exactly 9 weeks from my husband’s diagnosis until his last day. But it was the most amazing 9 weeks of my life.”
In the midst of the 2020 Covid lockdown in Victoria, the diagnosis arrived. With a broad nursing background, Jen Hall knew life had changed forever, and began those weeks knowing they would be the last ones she would spend with Brian.
Jen’s gentle strength had carried her through a similar journey just four months earlier when she lost her childhood friend. Jen had been there for her as well. “I visited her each day. I was with her when she needed to go to hospital for the last time. She didn’t come home”.
Her focus now was on making these nine weeks precious ones. The family came together swiftly and completely. Someone was with Brian at all times, to shave him, to help him eat or read … which continued when he transferred into palliative care. Everything else, such as her golf and Probus club, went on hold.
In 2012, Jan was working full time and beginning to consider retirement. She started planning how she would use her long service leave when the organisation she worked for closed suddenly and unexpectedly.
Fortunately, she had already begun exploring her volunteering options, and had begun to represent her community as a Positive Ageing Ambassador with the Colac Otway Shire. Never-the-less, she found the sudden, unexpected transition into retirement difficult and remembers going through a time when she felt ‘not quite myself’. She says “There was a space of 6 months when I did little. It was a time of grieving. I had lost colleagues. We tried to meet, but it is different, and people move on.”
While she took up a short stint of part-time work, she gave this up to expand her volunteer work. She now manages payroll and interviews at the local Community house and Landcare group, and continues in her role for the council.
On top of this she continues to help run her large cattle farm, and has a passion for her vegetable garden which keep her fit. However, she adds to this, with a regular visit to the gym, something she has missed during the pandemic.
John and Ursula met in 1958 in Germany, whilst John was on tour with the National Service from the UK. Ursula was working as a stewardess on a bus John boarded heading to a wine festival. They married in 1961 in the Catholic Church at the camp where John was based
They settled in England and bought a tiny house in Durham where they lived until 1964. When they decided they didn’t want to live in England anymore, they chose to move to Australia with their two children because John liked to watch cricket test matches on the news from Melbourne and thought it looked pretty good!
When John and Ursula arrived with their two children in Victoria in March 1964, they bought a block of land in Bell Post Hill and had a house built by the end of the year. John started working at Alcoa, where he would continue to work for 28 years as a fitter.
When the Bell Post Hill house got too small for their growing family, they moved to 7 acres at Teesdale, where the children attended Teesdale Primary School. After about 8 years the travel to work became too much for John and they moved to Bannockburn.
The need for an aortic valve replacement requiring open heart surgery in late 2015 came as a shock to Bob Eadie. Cardiac rehabilitation post-surgery introduced Bob to a physical wellness program incorporating weekly gym sessions at the local community health centre where he found himself surrounded by a group of women who turned out to be “good buddies” at the end of the day. “I found that it (the sessions) improved my cardiac capability and my strength, and I looked forward to heading down every Wednesday afternoon”.
Following that Bob was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. After 6 months of extensive chemotherapy and exposure to a new drug, Bob went into remission where he has stayed for almost 5 years and considers himself “very fortunate”. “I did as a result miss some gym sessions because there were some downsides to chemotherapy. It seriously knocks your body around so your capacity to do normal things is limited for a number of weeks. But as soon as I could, I immediately got back into the gym sessions”. During COVID bike riding and walking became regular activities to fill the void of the group sessions which have not yet recommenced.
30 years ago, Cathy Roth’s life gave her a hint about the path she would travel when her parents-in-law moved nearby. After a challenging life of being refugees with little English, through international medical work, they both developed memory problems that needed her care for the rest of their lives.
In hindsight she knows that this prepared both her, and her husband John, for the possibility that dementia could continue along genetic lines. Cathy remarks that John had good insight into his skills and knew, possibly before she did, that he was facing the same journey into dementia. When confirmed by doctors, Cathy felt an overwhelming sense of grief, with the loss of not only their plans, but also the profound loss of who this man was to society. “The wisdom they carry, the mentoring that could have been, cannot be captured any more. The grandchildren will not get to know the person I knew.”
“It is life at a T intersection” Cathy says, “But instead of going right, you have to go left”.
Cathy felt compelled to act. “I could not sit by and be an observer”. She noticed that what was available for people in John’s situation was limited. Here was a clever man who had been at the top of his field and had experienced the breadth of the professional world, and while he may not remember some things, he was still looking for interesting conversation and company. Yet she could only find groups that were intellectually demanding but required good memory skills, or care services that offered him little. She wanted something that not only stimulated him, but allowed him to keep that sense of who he was.
“My husband and I came to live in Geelong 16 years ago after living on a farm near Ballan, Vic. and we did not know a soul (except our daughter) here and I never bothered to look at people’s faces as I walked down the street because I knew I did not know anyone.
“Early on, after our move here, we needed a small job done to our carpet and along came a recommended tradesperson. Chatting away, he asked us what we were going to do with ourselves, now that we had retired, and we said we would probably join a bushwalking club – an activity we had been involved in previously.
“He told us about his enjoyment of being a (then) new member of Life Activities Club Geelong and agreed to send us a Newsletter which had details of activities they organised listed in it. We kept it tucked away for almost a year, then one Tuesday decided to go to the Clubrooms (nervously) to see if we could join the walks, which were listed activities. What a wonderful welcome we got from the members there and on that day we joined with one of the members who was good enough to walk and chat with us.
“Then we ventured into the Bike Group and, …..well ….. we were hooked. Previously living in the country we were unable to ride unless we took our bikes to some quiet areas, or on holidays, but now Geelong provides many good, safe riding tracks.
Every Pier to Pub swim, since the inaugural event in 1981, that’s 41 consecutive swims! We hear from Gavin Rafferty, one of only two who have achieved this. He’s also a lifetime member of the Fairhaven Surf Life Saving Club. “To celebrate my 40th Pier to Pub swim in 2020, three of my eight grandkids and my two sons swam it also.
“The first Pier to Pub was part of the lunchtime entertainment at the Lorne Surf Carnival. In later years, there were also nipper activities and boat races with the swim at the end of the day. But the Pier to Pub got so huge that it had to become its own event. There is always a fabulous atmosphere with the beaches packed and cars right through town. There are so many categories of swimmers that they just keep coming all day long.
“I consider myself so lucky to have been able to turn up 41 years in a row. Besides being a member of the Surf Club for over 60 years where I swam regular surf races, I use to play water polo. To keep fit now, I swim 3 times a week. It’s good for my health and mental health, except when some young thing charges past me,” he snickers.
Gavin was a teacher and Principal. He laughs thinking back to the rural schools where pools were often a long way away. Spending all his Christmas holidays at Fairhaven enabled him to train leading up to the swim. “That time of year in Lorne, there are a group who swim the route each weekend morning at 8am.
Geelong Design Week 2021 showcased local design and creativity to more than 6000 people. A total of 54 local designers, artists and innovators hosted over 60 events to inspire, challenge and delight audiences from Greater Geelong and beyond.
Geelong is the only city in Australia to be awarded a UNESCO City of Design status. Humans in Geelong were very proud to be part of Geelong Design Week 2021.
Geelong Design Week are looking forward to seeing their hosts and audiences again in 2022. Until then, check out this short, fun, snappy video about the event.
Fun Fact: Tonya Meyrick, of Deakin University, who also features in the video, and her Design students, helped with the design of our Humans in Geelong Book. Video by: @truesouthfilm Thanks @geelongdesignctiy and all involved.
Sometimes life changes in a major way, but sometimes it keeps changing in many smaller ways and you keep moving, or, as in Pam’s case, you keep dancing!
Pam has always danced. She was teaching dance improvisation in Melbourne 20 years ago when she travelled to Argentina and fell in love with Tango. It was not simply the dance she fell in love with, but everything that surrounded it. “Tango is a social force. It allows all ages and all levels of skill to participate. It is respectful of older people. Dance is an invitation and guidance and a respect of shared space” she says.
Then her husband hurt his back and she was diagnosed with breast cancer with complications associated with her treatment. While she recovered, she noticed that she felt “not in balance”. Tango relies on fine balance and she needed to work on regaining that.
Around that time, they moved to Geelong and discovered the Christ Church community that supports people on the margins of society. Pam notes that these are people without support, or with health problems, homeless or have served prison terms. “They are a colourful group but they all have names and stories. Tango began with those seen as ‘on the edge’ of society, so this, she felt, was the perfect place for her to begin a community Tango group on Monday evenings.
“My situation changed 12 years ago”. Up until then Howard was very active. He had moved from the Northern Territory with his family so the four children could go to school in Geelong. He was coaching and umpiring for football games, and working full time as a librarian at CSIRO. Life was busy but good.
He took a month holiday and found on his return, that he was having trouble replying to emails, and moving his left arm at coaching. His doctor referred him to a neurologist who gave him a tablet to take. Howard returned the next day with the good news that it had worked, but this quickly soured when the specialist informed him that this was evidence that he had Parkinson’s disease. Shocked he asked if this affected his life expectancy and was told to “do the things you want now, not later, as your quality of life has a window”.
Rocked by the news, as well as the way in which it had been delivered, Howard found himself at the age of 48, asking ‘What do I do now?’ Libraries rely on electronic materials and communication. He needed his fine motor skills to continue, so he left this position and worked part-time at the Gordon Institute before this opportunity was also removed. It had all happened in such a short time-frame that he found himself asking “What is the point?”
Then, on top of that, his mum passed away and Howard had to manage closing all her affairs. He came across her diaries. “For the last four to five years there was a common entry …’Nobody called, nobody came’. That hit me. I needed to pull myself up and get on with it. I gave myself a talking to, to get on with life. At first my expectation was that, with treatment, I could return to what I was. But once I realised that wasn’t going to happen, I got comfortable with moving forward.”