A Daughter Reflects

Reflection-by-Lara-Kaput In 2022, my elderly father, Julius Edmundson, who had already been living with Parkinson’s disease, suffered a stroke. It left him unable to walk and barely able to speak. At his rehab facility, he was offered pastoral care, which we knew would not aid in his recovery. Like me, my father survived being a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Leaving the church for us not only led to the disintegration of our family for reasons I won’t detail here, but the trauma we experienced prevented either of us from wanting anything to do with support that might come with an agenda or theological rationale.

Having known Joe Sehee from his work with Humanists Victoria, I reached out to him about what Social Health Australia might be able to provide at this critical time for my father. In addition to dealing with my dad, my partner Dan, with whom I lived in Canberra, had recently been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. After visiting with my dad, Joe helped put together a small team of volunteer companions who would check in on my father and bring with them little more than a bit of kindness. Leading the team was Annie Whitlocke. In addition to visiting my dad, Annie was instrumental in helping me find an aged care facility that suited him. Annie also recruited a full-time palliative care nurse, wife, and mother to two young children, Misty Pasic, to spend time with my father.

Each one of Social Health’s companions brought something different to my father that lifted his spirits and got him in touch with parts of himself that he could not have easily accessed on his own. Joe would often listen to and discuss music with my father. Annie helped my father reconnect with his love for animals by bringing one of the disabled dogs she cares for along on her visits. After discovering my father’s affinity for rodents, and much to the chagrin of some administrators at my father’s nursing home, Annie also arranged for the Rat Fancier Society to pay my dad a visit with furry friends in tow. And Misty developed such a close bond with my father that he dictated letters for her to write and send to my sisters, with whom he was estranged.

Joe, Annie, Misty, and I also created a “Team Jules” group in Messenger. Part of the reason was for us to know who was visiting, but it expanded to share stories and monitor my dad’s progress. It was also done to engage my two stepbrothers. Both in their early twenties, they seemed to find it confronting to deal with an infirmed father who, up until his stroke, had been an avid cyclist, reader, and guitarist. When my partner died, Annie was also helpful to me. For example, she assisted me in finding an appropriate funeral service provider. She also was a listening ear when I subsequently wanted to advocate for voluntary assisted dying. Just knowing that I could pick up the phone and speak with Annie provided me with solace. It hardly mattered that I rarely spoke with her.

In recent months, my dad has been visited by another companion and latest member of Team Jules, a young man not much older than my brothers named Will Bigmore. Like my dad and me, Will also happens to be an ex-Jehovah’s Witness. In addition to making visits to the nursing home, Will has accompanied my dad out to visits, such as to a holiday party attended by other Social Health companions and community members. It turns out that Will and my dad share a lot in common, including an interest in psychology. Other companions have visited dad to discuss philosophy, accompanied him to a Ukrainian cultural lunch, and have taken dad to an ice hockey game, all of which he’s thoroughly enjoyed.

After discovering that his brother-in-law was diagnosed with the same cancer that claimed Dan’s life, Joe asked if I’d be willing to speak with his sister-in-law. Being able to be of service in that way felt like I was coming full circle in giving back to the group that had supported my father’s needs. I have even praised Social Health Australia in submissions in several parliamentary inquiries, including a recent one on loneliness and social isolation.