Nelson Mandela said, “ What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

I saw this quote on Friday when I attended a conference with some of my staff. We do this every year. Half the team goes on a Saturday to a venue in Randburg and the other team goes on a Friday to the other side of the boerewors-gordyn in Midstream.

So, at the end of last week, I sent out a message to my staff to remind them of the following:

  1. We leave at 7:30 – all three cars. Don’t be late.
  2. Eat breakfast. Remember the white people are catering and you might get hungry.
  3. For the ladies – go to the loo. There are toilets but you know the queues in the girls’ bathrooms right? So either don’t drink a lot of coffee or go make a wee-wee before we go.
  4. Also for the ladies – leave the stilettos. I know you look lovely in your heels, but there is going to be a lot of standing and a lot of walking. Dress for comfort.
  5. And also for the ladies – wear your hairpieces with pleasure, but make sure you leave the ones like Marge Simpson’s at home. This is so that the person behind you can see. (Do you gather I have been stuck behind a hairpiece at many a conference before?)

It was like herding cats to get all 15 of us in the cars, but everyone looked beautiful and we left on time. Good start. Of course, one car got separated and arrived at a totally different time to the other people, but we all made it in good time to register, get coffee and we even managed to sit together. The talks were fantastic and although some made us face a few difficult realities about ourselves, I could see how everything made sense and how it could be applicable in our lives (except the woman from Netflix who said their policy about vacation is simply:  “Take some” … no limit to days, when and how often. I do not think I’ll be implementing that soon).

But then a speaker came on and she bravely made us think a bit deeper and it got quite… emotional. She asked people to stand when she spoke about different “seasons of soul” to represent what hurts and challenges they are currently facing. This takes bravery, but I think it is especially courageous when you have to do it in front of your  work colleagues. It is quite easy to hide the to harsh realities when our choices and our lives make us ashamed. It is better to forget about the husband that hits you, or the crippling debt, or the child that failed another year or the wife that walked out. I looked at my team and saw them get out of their seats and own their battles. I sobbed, definitely because I was so incredibly proud of the way they heroically got out of their seats when it would have been so easy to stay put, but I also cried for my own shame because I did not know of the battles they carried sometimes.

I only see these kind-hearted people, always willing to assist, always serving, always caring, always nurturing, always supporting. They never let on to me or our guests or patients that they have insurmountable problems too. One of our male carers never stops smiling. He has a soft little giggle and refuses to call me by my name. To him I am just “Mommy”. When he rose to own that he is so overwhelmed by fear and that he is scared that things will never get better for him and his family, I wanted to jump out of my seat and just hug him.

I will never again forget to look past these people’s incredible kindness and patience and see that they also have their own demons to battle, even though they are the angels that help others through their hell.


I often wonder what makes a good carer. Why are some people able to devote themselves to a life of sacrifice, or as Kate Bowler calls it, an emotionally expensive life? How come certain people simply have a “servant’s heart”? How do some people just “get it”? Olida has a way with one of our end-of-life patients who has outlived all expected theories and estimations. If Daphne does not feel like taking her laxative (remember, morphine is an awesome thing, but it does make you constipated!), Olida will just saunter in, give her a look and a smile and then you know, Daphne has no chance. I am not sure how Olida in her tiny little body has such an effect on this woman. She just knows her I suppose, and Daphne is wise enough to choose her battles.


It’s always amazing to see how different carers connect with different people. I see how Kundai uses his incredible humour to get a smile out of the grumpiest of post-surgical patients and boy, does he know how to give a lady a compliment! He usually starts his shift at 3pm and it is as if a breath of fresh  air enters. He just always has the right thing to say, even to me.

Caregivers shoulder the responsibility of nurturing the physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being of our people. Their families entrust us with the task of protecting their dignity and making sure they feel loved. This is such a nuanced role and transcends the conventional boundaries of employer and employee, or servant and one who is served.

In this role of caring, possessing a servant’s heart enables our team to overcome conventional boundaries and offer a level of care that goes beyond mere duty, but  embraces all the soft skills I am not sure can be taught.

Last week I had a meeting with a palliative team around the corner. I wanted to show one of the doctors our rental space and we decided impulsively to go and look at Recovery Lodge too. Throughout our visit I was convinced that the doctor must’ve thought that I alerted the staff beforehand and told them to impress her. As we arrived, both Storm and Olida came out to welcome us and (as they always do) took my handbag, laptop bag and water bottle. I showed the doctor around the dining room where a mom was sitting with her daughter after a life-saving, but very unpleasant surgery. It was raining outside, and the fire was lit, and although mom and daughter were not talking, I could sense the relief. The daughter survived the operation and there was hope. My carers walked this journey with them.

Everything smelt like cinnamon and I knew chef Dylan must have just taken his biscuits out the oven (I mean really, how perfect for me to bring the doctor at the exact moment the lodge smells at its best every day!)  Dylan is obviously not a carer (in fact I see the way he cringes when certain bodily functions are mentioned in our morning meetings) but he takes such care with his meals and we are convinced one of the reasons Daphne is still so well is because he keeps surprising her with fabulous meals. As the doctor and I walked along the patio, each carer greeted us with warmth, and when we got to the last room where Tannie Sophia is busy dying, we popped in. There Felicia was gently putting her little beanie on all the while softly chatting. Felicia’s face lit up and she gave us the biggest Colgate smile. I thought, if this does not blow the palliative care doctor’s mind, nothing will… even if we were able to rehearse it, it couldn’t have been a more beautiful portrait of genuine care.

Today I was saying goodbye to one of our guests after she made quite a phenomenal recovery after cancerous tumours were removed from her bowels. She came to us after she was desperately unhappy at a step-down in Pretoria. The facility where she’d stayed is state-of-the-art and I asked her why she left. She simply said, “No one cared. The food was always cold, the noise was unbearable and the staff were only interested in looking after her when they could hint at her giving them clothing or toiletries. She was unable to sleep as a television at the nurses station was blaring constantly, and that probably explained why the call buzzer was not often attended to. Her overwhelming feeling while she was there was fear. She was at her most vulnerable, and no one showed her any kindness. As we were helping her with bags and suitcases she asked if we could do a photo with everyone before she left. It was a busy time of day and not everyone came for the photo. She said, “I’ll wait, I see George is not here. I need to thank him for his gentle calm all the time, even when I was unreasonable. And I have to wait for Nthabiseng. She made me feel like a human for the first time in weeks after that bath.” Eventually all the carers gathered around her and a photo was taken. It makes me so happy that she felt seen and loved and that she loved us back.

I see a psychologist to debrief once or twice a month. Last week I informed her that I had compassion fatigue. She always patiently listens to my self-diagnosis, which I always get wrong. “No,” she said, “you are frustrated with people who do not have boundaries, but your empathy for the right things is firmly intact”. You see, caregiving is deeply fulfilling, and you do not get fatigued. Yes, the emotional demands are extreme, the physical exertion can be exhausting, and you are constantly required to be empathetic, which  can take its toll, but the reward of making a life changing impact in the lives of people who could never do the same for you is not something you can measure. When you get to witness someone’s life in its bare and naked reality, and can still honestly say that you care, it impacts you on a level I doubt other careers can. The connections we form, deep and authentic and strong, create such an emotional support for us that I think our team is braver than guys on the front lines sometimes.

Maybe I was wrong in the beginning of the blog. Maybe it is not a surprise that the team was so brave at the conference. Maybe they were incredibly courageous on Friday because they actually always are. Were we not created for compassion and serving one another, for love and empathy and community after all? Maybe because these special carers are living lives worth living, they can stand up and own their own challenges because they are part of something so much bigger than just themselves.

I started with a Nelson Mandela quote but want to end with one from Mother Theresa who said “A life not lived for others is not life.”