I have a very bad habit, and I’m sure I am not the only one. I save people’s contact details on my phone, not properly by name and surname, but in a way that will help me remember who they are. For instance:  Monique Tatum’s mom, Ken the church guy, Peter Plumber, Steve Crazy cop, Pamela Pilates. At work, I also save the people’s details according to the first interaction I have with them, so my phone is filled with: Daniel Dementia, Robin Physio (red hair), Stephen UK Cancer mum, Paddy TKR (total knee replacement).

This week my phone rang and it said, “Sam Heath Shoulder”. I knew I knew the person, but could not remember them at all and stupidly answered, “Hey Sam, how are you?” I thought I would soon figure out who it is. But of course, I did not. My own clue on the phone was just too vague. A while into the conversation, I had to admit that I did not know who I was talking to, and Sam explained who she was. I could not believe that I had forgotten. Three years ago, Heather (her mom) (in the contact “Heath” must have been short for Heather), had a shoulder op and stayed with us. It was a slow recovery because she also had cancer. She stayed with us for a few months and then had a shoulder replacement and hip replacement and stayed with us each time to recover. . We absolutely loved Heather. She was one hundred percent not what one would expect of an old lady. She was wickedly opinionated, slipped in the odd swear word when you least expected it, wore elaborate kaftans and always had a bowl of Imperial peppermints next to her, which she distributed generously so that all the staff permanently smelt minty fresh. We’ve not seen Heather in two years, but touched base every so often. We knew her cancer was slowly winning the battle, so I was not surprised when Sam told me her mom was in hospital. Thank God Heather had a brilliant doctor who was wise enough to stop treating her for the sake of treating, and allowed the family to make the call for letting Heather leave the hospital and come back to us.

When Heather arrived, she was welcomed by Obakeng and Talent, who had gently cared for her years before. She was no longer talking, and definitely not swearing, but we knew her, we knew who she used to be and we already loved her. It is incredibly special that we have now morphed into this new chapter with Zazen and are geared up to handle these very complicated end-of-life stages. We could look after Heather in the way she deserved, looking out onto the pool and garden with her beautiful daughters with her. We knew them too, so it was easy to slot right back into a comfortable familiarity. I know this journey was made so much easier for everyone because we built these precious relationships years before, and most importantly,  Heather gently slipped away exactly like she would have wanted.

In the same week I got a WhatAapp from (yes you guessed it) Peter Sick Mom… Luckily I could scroll back and quickly remembered Peter’s sick mom. She was with us two years back recovering from some cancer treatments and surgeries and stayed with us while they were moving her to one of the best retirement villages in Sandton. Peter asked me if we would take his mom for end-of-life care. He said that although they were extremely happy with the care at said place, no one loved his mom like we did. Moving her would be an ordeal, but once he told her she could come to us she was delighted. We felt so honoured that we could be there for her family and mostly, for her.

This week we also got to celebrate a brave soldier from South Sudan who returned to us. Samir was brutally injured in a battle where the rest of his platoon was killed and he was left for dead. Miraculously he did not bleed out and after being stabilised was medivacked to SA so that  vascular surgeons could put him together again. During his first visit he stared at me quite a bit becasue he was not used to white people at all. We became fast friends despite his limited English. Samir likes to Google English phrases and every time I go into his room he says “Welcome home.” Samir is back with us again, to receive the second lot of surgeries, and I know that because he knew where he was going and he knew us, his anxiety about this trip to SA was significantly diminished. He is so special and my heart breaks that he has to fight a war which will never benefit him or his people.

During the nasty COVID wave in 2021, we looked after a neighbour’s mom. She barely survived the virus and we tenderly tended to her until she was fit enough to return home. When the phone rang this week with, “Stuart Neighbour” flashing on my screen, I remembered him clearly. There were a few weeks in 2021 in which I was sure I’d have to phone said number to say his mom did not make it through the night, but here he was, telling me she was in Wilgeheuwel hospital and needed post admission care. It was so fabulous. It felt as if we had seen her yesterday. Our chef, Dylan, remembered what food she liked and we were able to put her back in her old room. Her whole transition, which would have been filled with stress of the unfamiliar, turned into a comfortable welcome-back.

These returning patients are such a compliment to us and we realise what a profound privilege it is for people to allow us to step into these intimate spaces with them, time and again. It speaks deeply to one of our core values of creating a space that is a home away from home, with genuine love and support. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for in the end – a place where we are safe to rest, to restore, or to say goodbye.