Do you also have weeks when you sit back and think, “Really? Is this my life or is this like an extended Leon Shuster movie?”


This week a Scottish acquaintance made an interesting statement about me. She said that in many previous lives I was a healer and I always had cats. Apparently, I had a successful practice in ancient Egypt healing people and breeding felines. It sounds a bit to me like she thinks I was a witch in my past. That’s perhaps a statement with which my teenagers would agree. She told me that now I am an old soul, which is why I have managed to adapt to the change in career from hospitality to hospice-and-other care so late in life rather effortlessly.


And so, it was with these deep thoughts swirling around my mind as I contemplated the mystery of life, that I went into an end-of-life patient’s room one night. I’ve known this patient for many years, as her daughter is a good friend of mine. She was cuddled up in bed watching Dirty Dancing (I kid you not… People who are dying do not just stop living and suddenly start meditating and talking about the infinite possibilities of life after death. They stay quite normal while doing quite unremarkable things like watching bad romcoms). The patient who was nearing the end of her life might have been focused on Patrick Swayze lifting Baby (who does not get put in a corner), but I was busy wondering why the Scottish lady thought I lived other lives. I finished up in the room and walked out into the garden on my way to my office. It was extremely cold and the garden was hazy with mist floating up from the pool…….and there, in front of my eyes was the patient’s son-in-law. Now, dear Reader, you may  not think this is so unusual, but  the son-in-law died in 2014! I gave a little yell. I have not seen a ghost before (Well maybe I did in ancient Egypt but I can’t remember). Anyway, with the little yell, I did a little jump and then the ghost also jumped. Turns out it was my patient’s grandson, who in the past few years of me not seeing him, morphed into the exact replica of his late father. I quickly reassembled my face and went to hug him, pretending that my yelp and little jump is my usual way of saying hello to people I’ve not seen in a long time.


The very next day, I had a staff meeting at our other lodge where we focus on people receiving out-patient care. I soon forgot my almost-near-ghost-experience and was brought back quickly to my current unmysterious reality: a reality where staff complain that their co-workers spend too long in the shower in the morning, or me complaining that the breakfast margins are wrong. A lot of discussions at the moment are about generators and invertors and guests losing their keys. But there, somewhere between discussing room 26’s leaking tap and the gate motor that needs fixing, one of the staff casually says: “So there was a fourth sighting of the ghost in room 17.” No one batted an eyelid and I asked, “Tell me more?” I was then given a detailed description of a ghost with white hands and a black face, missing eyes and a tendency to stare through the glazed bathroom window. When I asked what was he staring at if he didn’t have eyes, my team just rolled their eyes at my stupidity. I then said that maybe he is an organ donor and donated his eyes, so perhaps we must just be nice to him. This was also not a good answer and I could see all of them regretting working for such a fool. Later in the day, we discovered that it was actually my husband who sometimes makes use of the space behind room 17 to store some tools. I should have known. It was afterall such an apt description of James with the black face and white hands and of course, the missing eyes (Insert laughing emoji and head in hands emoji here).


The ghost story reminded me of the time, also in a meeting, when the staff reported that they spotted a crocodile near the staff quarters. This happened on and off for a few months. I was pretty convinced that there was no crocodile, but the regularity with which the subject came up meant there was something reptilian in the bushes and the idea of being the first person to be killed by a wild animal in Sandton did not appeal to me. I fetched my then, young daughter’s animal picture book, and went to each staff member who saw the old alligator and asked them to find it in the picture book. Low and behold, every single one showed me the picture of a bearded dragon. I can only assume it was a beloved pet that made its way to us. I’m not sure whatever happened to our very own crocodile, but he left and must be tormenting some other unsuspecting Sunninghill resident.


I am often surprised how our days and hours casually shift between the ridiculous and the mundane; how we do a dance that moves between the mystery and simplicity of life. In the last week I prayed with my dear friend and minister, Crae, at the bedside of an extremely ill patient. We wept. Crae chatted and comforted everyone in the room and almost in the same sentence teased me for being a bad driver and I retorted that I wish I had access to a better theologian but that he would suffice in the meantime. I think we can do these hard things, like crying and praying, laughing and teasing, because we are safe in all the spaces with each other. If we work on relationships where we can be fully ourselves, it allows for this ebb and flow, making transitions between emotions we don’t want to feel so much more bearable.


At Recovery people are allowed to let their guards down. We make sure that you are safe and that we are too. This week we had many days where Rose, a patient who has been with us for 11 months, almost died a few times. It was grueling for everyone, especially her. Her three daughters dropped everything and came to camp out around her. Her one daughter arrived, composed, in her corporate suite and fancy shoes. Ten minutes later when I went in to her mom’s room and she was curled up next to her mom, snuggling into her shoulder under the blankets, with a tear streaked face. I feel so honoured that she can be both these people with us – the corporate executive and the mourning daughter – and that she knows she is completely loved and completely accepted in either role.


My life might feel like a Leon Schuster movie, but I love it. I love that we offer this abundant love and unconditional acceptance to our guests, their loved ones and the staff. Past lives, ghosts, crocodiles, death, dancing… and always love… It’s all in a day’s work.