The story of Jan Barrett and her deep connection to the people of BRHS’ residential aged care facility known as Maddocks Gardens starts with Ray, her husband.
“He was 6-foot-4 – a big, tall man,” Jan begins. She smiles, her hands painting a picture along with her words. “He was a builder and a singer. And he played football for St. Kilda you know? Oh, what a lovely voice he had. He loved to sing… During the week Ray would go and sing at local nursing homes, encouraging the residents to sing along with him, passing the microphone to them.”
Then one day, during one of his regular visits to Maddocks Gardens, Ray met someone there that Jan knew.
“She had been a close friend of my mother’s when I was a teenager, at Lindenow. I remembered her when I was growing up.”
The elderly lady had Alzheimer’s. Ray urged Jan to come with him on his next visit to Maddocks Gardens, to talk with her.
“And you know, I really didn’t want to,” Jan recalls. “I guess I just didn’t know what to do, what it would be like. But finally I agreed to come in.”
The way Jan remembers it, that first visit with her mother’s friend was hard. Alzheimer’s had taken its toll, and for Jan the experience of talking with her was disheartening, upsetting. She left Maddocks Gardens, and she stayed away.
But a little while later a close friend of Ray’s became a resident of Maddocks Gardens, and as her husband began to visit more frequently to see his friend, Jan began to come with him.
Slowly, the place began to feel familiar, as did the people. Jan started to become a regular, chatting with the staff and the residents. Strangers became friends.
And then Ray suffered a stroke. A series of strokes. And soon, the big, friendly man with the lovely voice, who had done so much to brighten the spirits of the residents of Maddocks Gardens, was now a resident too.
“I was with him everyday for months,” Jan remembers. “Just like before, we were so much a part of the place.”
Jan says during this difficult time the staff that she had grown so close to became indispensable sources of support and comfort.
“They helped me understand what was going on.”
Ray passed away on March 25, 2016.
For many people, Maddocks Gardens may have from that moment been too much a reminder of sadness and mourning to be able to return. For Jan, it actually became part of her healing.
“For about a week I couldn’t go back, I couldn’t go past the room where he died,” she remembers. “But that passed.”
Soon, she began to visit regularly again. She found she missed the deep sense of fellowship, the warmth of the experiences and recollections she shared with the people of Maddocks Gardens.
Often, Jan would just sit with a resident and listen, the stories of life emerging from people in whispers sometimes and at other times roaring and sweeping through the rooms like a southerly.
A few years have passed since Ray died, and Jan has become an integral part of the life and spirit of Maddocks Gardens.
They go on outings, they play bowls, bingo, they talk, and sometimes they sing. The distinction between “resident” and “friend” has faded away. Jan is there for the residents of Maddocks Gardens just as if they were family, which in many ways they are.
Somewhere along the way she became an “official” volunteer, but the real meaning of her visits has never changed.
“Most people just want someone to talk to,” Jan says. “Sometimes they just want someone to reach out to them, and touch them on the hand, and ask them how they are. It’s only little, but it means so much.”
May 20 – 26 is National Volunteers Week, and we’re taking a moment to recognise and celebrate the many volunteers, like Jan, that make invaluable contributions to the BRHS community.
If you’d like to know more about volunteering at BRHS, it’s easy. Just visit www.brhs.com.au/volunteers-fundraising.