And then Hilke arrived …
It is mid-winter and mid-morning, and Hilke Piehl’s hair is slightly damp as we greet each other at Montgomery Haven, a Methodist Home retirement village near Northcliff Corner.
“I have been swimming,” she laughs self-consciously, as she agrees to being photographed. This attests to Hilke’s very active life: she swims, plays tennis and gyms every week. She loves gardening and is busily crocheting and knitting for the 67 blankets campaign for Nelson Mandela Day.
Our meeting that blustery July morning has its roots in our chat over a cup of tea at Chartered House seven months earlier. Hilke was looking for ideas whereby she could give back to her local community – despite years of working from home and raising three children, and a full life in retirement. Hilke envisaged helping children to read, or to visit and chat with elderly people in a retirement facility.
Armed with information, Hilke went off to research the best expression for her give-back yearnings.
She found the ideal spot at Montgomery Haven, though she reshaped her idea of sitting in a quiet room reading instead to providing creative and mental stimulation to a group of residents who struggle to be mobile, but who love to be engaged in interesting activities.
I watched one lady colouring in while others were pressing her to finish as they were ready for their bingo game. The books, puzzles and games were purchased by Hilke herself, and she participates with her group of new friends.
“I had been visiting for only a few weeks when I walked in one day, and a few of the residents recognised me and waved and smiled. I was overwhelmed. They knew it was time for bingo or dominoes,” Hilke shares.
“She has brightened the faces here,” said Matron Juliet Chisvo, when Hilke introduced us, “both of residents and staff. We appreciate her visits so much.”
That may be true of everyone at Montgomery Haven, but no less so for Hilke, who has continued this give back for so many months because of the fulfilment she has experienced. “When I go home, even if I am alone there all afternoon, I feel good. I feel loved. I look forward to my visits there. I listen, even when the speaker’s thoughts are jumbled. Sometimes we do activities, but sometimes we just quietly sit together. A hug and a kiss are sometimes all that is needed to lift spirits.”
Hilke acknowledges that her tears do come. “One lady, who has no relatives, was admitted to Olivedale Clinic, and I popped in to visit her a few times. She was so touched that I had taken the time and trouble to comfort her.”
I left both grateful and challenged, waving goodbye to the ladies I had met in my brief visit. Susannah, who leaned heavily on her walker as she made her way to the bingo table, challenged me with her response to my enquiry as to her welfare (in my rusty Afrikaans). “I only know how to be well,” she smiled broadly as she struggled to walk by, “I don’t know how not to be happy and well.”
Example noted, Hilke and Susannah, and gratefully accepted.