The privileged journey of palliative and end-of-life care

By Annie Carrett 

3 October 2017 General Interest

Nives Vuchich has a gentle, warm voice and the most delightful laugh. Perhaps they have grown through her years of caring for people across all walks and situations in life, but more than likely it is the gift of herself.

It is this very gift of person that she shares with people and their families at one of the most precious and difficult times in their lives – in their dying. Nives works as a Community Care Worker with HammondCare in their Palliative Care Home Support Program, delivering a range of personal care services to patients according to their needs. It is a service framed around mission; as we are all made in the image of God and loved by God, so we are called to show that same love with compassion, respect and care for all people in need regardless of their circumstances.

“I consider what I do as a ministry – not a job,” says Nives. “When I am doing this work, and sometimes it is really intense, I am not Nives. There is something that takes over. It is my faith, and I am guided by the Holy Spirit. At first I found this a bit fearful – how come I am doing this? But something takes over and there is real guidance.”

Nives has been working in this particular area since February this year. She also brings more than 30 years experience to this ministry through work with agencies like St Vincent de Paul, especially in case management around domestic violence, child protection and grief counselling.

“I got in to administration very recently, but there was just something missing. I had worked with HammondCare before and I just thought that this is something that I would really like to do – my heart is at home now.” For Nives, the path to this vocation seems to have been laid well and truly from earliest years.

“When I was in High School, Years 11 and 12, I did some voluntary work at Sacred Heart Hospice in Darlinghurst. I wasn’t fearful, and just went in and talked to the patients.

“I also looked after my mother who was terminally ill and I kept her at home as long as I could. For a period of around 20 years I looked after both my mother and father, and at present I look after a friend.

“When I think back now there must have been a seed that God planted in me so that it could develop and I can be doing this now.”

This strength of character is grounded in her faith, and sees Nives connect in special ways with her patients and families, even when there are many faiths and none.

“My mother and father had a strong faith. They were so important to me and to my faith and spirituality. They are with me now.”

“It is important though to have cultural sensitivities, not just for people from overseas, but within family structures as well. You really need to connect.

“I find out what people’s needs are, and what their spiritual needs are. Some choose not to talk about faith, and that is alright. One patient was of the Buddhist faith and I couldn’t connect easily with her because she spoke Cantonese, but she did chant for 24 hours. One day I started chanting with her, and her daughter – and you should have seen her eyes light up. There was a connection. From then on, every time we saw each other, the patient would indicate for us to chant.”

“Sometimes there can be laughter and funny moments that people outside the situation cannot understand. These special times cannot happen in a hospital. This is where, with a service like HammondCare, you find 24 hour support. This personal care is not just for the patient, but embraces the family as well.

“We do it together. The patient is first, but then when they are sleeping my time is with the family. We might wash dishes, or talk about something that concerns them. They are always very much in my heart, as much as the patient.

“Being with patients and their families is as if they are in the quiet eye of the hurricane and all around them is noise and things going around. This is a peaceful moment where nothing else matters. Whether it is a mortgage or something – it doesn’t matter. The real focus is with that person. That’s how it is. That is where your heart is at home.”

Nives carries all those she knows with her. Clutched close by at all times is a purple diary (purple – the colour of love, she says). In this book is carried the names of those she cares for; those who are dying, those she is helping, those who have passed. The diary comes with her to Mass.

“Because I am doing this work in palliative and end-of-life care, the Mass now has a greater impact on me. There is a unity at the moment of receiving Eucharist with all these people, my parents, those who give me support. I can get quite emotional.”

“You know that you cannot do this role alone, you need support. You go through grief and loss as well – we all do that. We are all vulnerable. Support is about faith, friends, family, my team and my Parish community… and a lot of rest as well.”

When asked could she see herself doing this well into the future, she says; “I think so. It is like looking after your neighbour – neighbourly love. This type of work is part of a community and I feel very much at home…. that I am part of a family.”

Catholic Diocese of
Broken Bay

Building 2, 423 Pennant Hills Road
Pennant Hills NSW 2120

PO Box 340
Pennant Hills NSW 1715

Phone 02 9847 0000
Fax 02 9847 0001

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