Those of us with elderly relatives and friends in care should never underestimate the powerful connections that cleaners and housekeepers make that help our loved ones. Careerforce staff member Lucille Ogston was ‘blown away’ when she learnt just how much her housekeeper/cleaner really knew her late mother.
Lucille shares how precious it was to hear her mum’s housekeeper talk about her mum and how fond the staff were of her. Her housekeeper told her the stories again about how mum thought she was the matron of the facility and tried to organise things from her wheelchair at the entrance way.
The day after mum’s death my sisters and I decided the most important thing to do was to sift through mum’s wardrobe to find something for us to dress her in for the funeral. Mum’s wardrobe was divided between Osti dresses (70’s vintage elastic waisted floral dresses) and some very smart ensembles that had served her well for the five family weddings she had hosted. These ensembles all had a very grand matching hat – now all packaged up in hat boxes in our attic awaiting an interested person!
Nothing seemed suitable so we decided to go shopping. We’d make a trip to Ballantynes and buy something appropriate. I don’t know why we thought this was a good idea. Mum had never bought anything at Ballantynes – she was a Mrs Pope’s or Farmers dresser – Ballantynes was for another class of people altogether. Mum had been a seamstress in her early life and in the 1940’s had sewn garments for one of the Ballantynes family. She had altered and shortened a gorgeous fur coat for the woman and as a gift mum was given the deep strip of beautiful fur cut from the coat which she then made into a stole for herself. The stole was a lifelong treasure for mum. (also in my attic!)
On the way to town we stopped off at the rest home to collect some of mum’s belongings. Going into mum’s room was so sad – her possessions now sat in a few boxes by the wall, her name tag gone from the door and a blank white label in its place, photos were removed from the photo board and we were hit by a strong smell of disinfectant. All expected when this happens. However, it moved us both to tears.
As we stood in that little room hugging, along came Beth* the housekeeper. Beth had kept mum’s and all the other residents’ belongings in good order. She talked about mum and how fond the staff were of her. She told us the stories again about how mum thought she was the matron of the facility and tried to organize things from her wheelchair at the entrance way. Mum was only 5 foot (in her stack heeled shoes) but she was dynamic. We loved her energy and humour, and thankfully the staff appreciated this as well.
We told Beth we were off to buy mum an outfit for her final farewell. “Oh no” said Beth “Your mum only ever wanted to wear her red floral dress with red belt, white fluffy cardigan, white shoes and her beads and earrings to match”. Beth told us that the worst part of her job was convincing mum to wear something else while this outfit was laundered. But, good news, we had this outfit in one of the little boxes that now sat by the door, destined for the Sallies secondhand shop.
We respected Beth’s opinion and genuinely valued her respect for mum. We uplifted that little brown box and bought it home. Everything was there – clean and cared for – matching beads and two little bright red earrings. We delivered mum’s outfit to the undertaker and waited.
The next day, prior to the funeral, the family attended a viewing of mum – such a special time together – and mum looked great. Sleeping soundly, looking comfortable in her favourite outfit.
Thank you, Beth, we will never forget your support of mum and of us.