In this past week the word “family” has taken on some very interesting meanings for me. I’m lucky because I come from a huge family scattered across the globe. The majority of us are the “usual suspects”…  all a bit odd but no-one ever made it into the “Scope” or “Huisgenoot” pages. There are some I want to see often, and others I can stomach at most once a year. They provide constant interesting gossip, wonderful support, safe spaces to land and more often than not, it is just really good to know they are there, almost like an extended root system holding us up. After the past seven days, I am grateful for every vanilla cousin, every boring aunt that that is allergic to everything except Woolies food, every sibling that neglects their facial hair grooming and every nibling that is raised on new age principals instead of a good “klap”. The families we see here at the Hospitality lodges are sometimes what movies are made of. Truth really is often stranger than fiction.


We have a 102-year-old Greek lady staying with us. There is nothing seriously wrong with her except that her poor organs are really, really ancient. She has a legion of children and grandchildren, even great-great grandchildren, who all enthusiastically visit her and are all convinced she is going to make a full recovery and go home to cook a moussaka. The social worker has had many meetings to explain it is not quite realistic to expect Mamma Gataki to get better and all the special meals they bring her and beg her to eat might not have the desired effect. I giggled as her daughters kept waking her up and nagging her to see if she doesn’t want to go for a walk, but Mamma Gataki was “moeg” and after a month of saying she wants to go home, she did, but not to the house in Lonehill… you catch my drift. I was amazed at how this huge crazy family’s love totally overshadowed all logic and expectations. I have no doubt they will find a new matriarch and hope that other people can be loved like Mamma Gataki was.


This week we also saw a member of the royal Zulu tribe come for post-surgical recovery after a knee replacement. Apart from the impressive security and additional nursing staff required, the family came in droves, bearing gifts and sweet treats despite the doctor’s very strict instructions that if the new knee is to last, the princess would have to shed about 50kg. Said princess has received a detailed diet from a fancy nutritionist and she eats everything on the diet with gusto  along with her own unapproved diet consisting of cream, red meat, Lindt chocolates and pap. I do not hold out that much hope for the new knee, but at least I know that there is an entire army of Impi’s that will make sure she gets where she wants to go whether she can walk or not.


We have another patient, Brian, who is in his mid-forties, and who we hope will recover soon from a vicious cancer. For or now, he is focusing on surviving the chemo which has left him emaciated and weak. His siblings flew in from across the world and we watched them playing in the pool together before they all stayed over and played Uno. This is the space we dreamt of creating and it fills us with joy that we can offer this to people. The photos I took of these adults joyfully splashing in the pool captures what life is about: deep connection and love that transcends health.



Enter Mr Venter (yes, you can’t make this stuff up). Mr Venter loves his wife. Well, he does now, but we all suspect he did not love her that  much before. Once she got the cancer diagnosis he suddenly realized he could lose her and his way of dealing with this was refusing to admit to himself or anyone else that she is sick. Mr Venter, was in denial with a capital D. Mrs Venter played the long-suffering wife  until she could no longer  pretend that her cancer was not literally sucking the life out of her. She put up a brave fight for many months but eventually she needed care, and even though Mr Venter offered this to her (he made a great show of taking a sabbatical from his high flying job to care for her at home), her care team soon realised he was not giving her her meds because she was “not really sick”. For those of you who know, cancer is serious, and palliative care is a godsend. No one needs to be in pain and no one needs to be scared. Eventually Mrs Venter and the team convinced him that she needed to come to us so that we could help settle her (read, get her away from him and help them both). We soon realised that Mr Venter did not tell any of the family what was going on, and when they visited they were horrified that Mrs Venter was in fact dying and did not just have a little tummy bug as he had led people to believe. The doctor quickly got her pain under control and we were expecting her to pass gracefully fairly quickly,  but instead Mr Venter managed to reach every Snake-oil seller south of the Sahara to come and help her. One person rubbed emu oil on her (where does an emu even have oil?  And why can’t they just use an ostrich?). One Afrikaner dominee came to chase demons out of her while his followers fell about dancing to bad praise and worship, and of course a hippie from Magaliesburg came to tell everyone that cancer was only in your mind and promised a swift healing after applying some cayenne pepper sprinkles and castor oil. We were horrified. But, we also know that this is our patient’s journey as well as her family’s, and we need to make space for both of them. I am sad to say that the cayenne pepper didn’t work and no miracle was forthcoming. Mrs Venter had a gentle, graceful death in the end, but her husband is reeling and picking up the pieces of his life filled with regrets.



As I am typing this, I realize why I am so tired at the moment. It really feels like in the last few days we’ve lived through seven seasons of Days of our Lives.


We also had a wife who brought her husband to us for end-of-life care, but she was so sad about it, and he was in so much denial, that she chose to tell him that he was coming for rehab and that she was checking him in to a spa.  My heart broke when I saw the betrayal in his eyes once he realised why he was really here. His wife just did not have the courage to tell him that caring for him at home was too much for her and that she opted to leave him with us. I don’t blame her. The road she walked was not easy. Another dad’s brain cancer has deteriorated his cognitive function to such an extent that he was unable to walk his daughter down the aisle on Saturday. The family left him in our care while they all nipped off to Mauritius for the wedding. It broke my heart when I showed Mr Howard the photos of his gorgeous daughter in her wedding dress. He did not recognise her but he smiled and patted my hand. How does a bride deal with such sorrow on the happiest day of her life? The tragedy and beauty of life do indeed live side by side.



We have a daughter who faithfully brings her mom’s dog to visit her every day. We have a wife who comes to see her husband daily after his heart surgery to read to him, despite the fact that she herself is ill. There’s a daughter who sits with her mom and types a gazillion whatsapps for her because her mom’s arm is in a sling after a shoulder surgery, and a brother who brings his sister baked goods all the way from a bakery in Sandton, even though she can no longer eat, and a group of cousins that come play bridge while their cousin recovers from neuro surgery.


In contrast, last week a man checked in here for respite care and he had not one name to fill in on the form under next of kin. How can someone live a life of 72 years and not have one person who cares enough for him to receive a phone call in case something happens?


It is incredibly easy to forget what life is about while we rush from one meeting to the next, picking up kids, cooking food, buying groceries and taking pets for walks. We rush past people and especially those we love. How lucky are we here, where we are forced to stop and see that nothing else matters, really nothing nothing else, but each other.