Craft For The Soul Nice Life Reminders Pip-Life

The light in our eyes

February 11, 2016

I was reading about something that makes a lot of sense to me. (You should read it too!)

It’s a piece by a writer my friend Ella recommended to me – Atul Gawande. Weirdly, I stumbled across this and bookmarked it to read later because of the subject matter, not realising it was by Mr Gawande.

Life can be like that. Stars align, kinda thing. You find the right things at the right time.

The piece was about a physician named Bill Thomas. Bill loved looking after people, working together, keeping it local, making a difference, home, animals, learning, being self-sufficient. All great things.

He’d worked as an emergency doctor in a hospital for a while and then, keen to swap nights for day work, started a new job as medical director of a nursing home. He was pretty mortified by what he saw when he took the job. Depressed and unwell residents. Hushed rooms. A place for people to hang about for a while, as they wait to die.

Bill wanted to change things. He figured out the ‘Three Plagues’ of life in a nursing home – boredom, loneliness and helplessness and knew that MORE LIFE was the remedy for them all.

Two dogs, four cats and one hundred or so birds were what LIFE looked like to Bill. Then he added rabbits and chooks. Next were hundreds of indoor plants, a beautiful flower garden and vegetable patch. In a nursing home. They also added on-site childcare for the staff of the nursing home as well as an after-school program.

I can hear you wondering how this could actually work, and I’m here to tell you that there were many, many teething problems and hurdles to jump as all this came to be. For sure. Bill pushed on anyway, revolutionising the nursing home for both staff and residents – bringing it to life.

Then some really good stuff started to happen.

Death rates fell, drug costs/usage fell (to something like 38% of what’s used in similar facilities).  Residents simply didn’t need to be medicated as much/often. People were happier.

The lights turned back on in people’s eyes.’ Bill said.

Some were confounded by the amazing shift, but not Bill.

‘I believe that the difference in death rates can be traced to the fundamental human need for a reason to live,’ he explained.

Of course.

Dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hens, plants, flowers, growing vegetables, children. Very good reasons to live.

An indifferent, almost non-responsive resident’s life was transformed when he was offered two parakeets. In place of boredom, they brought spontaneity. In place of loneliness, they offer companionship. In place of helplessness, they provided a chance to take care of another living thing.

This got me thinking a lot. About how people like you and me live and deal with life.

You might know, my lovely sister-in-law passed away recently. Another friend is having a very, very tough time. Someone else’s best friend’s son is terribly ill (and only 3 years old.)

When I think of all those things together, I feel pretty horrible. But I know that we must all go on, and I know that we’ll get used to this new normal, that we don’t know the ending, but that we’ll be okay if we just hang tight.

And then I thought about what we hang tight to.

Dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hens, plants, flowers, growing vegetables, children.

Partners, dear friends, blankets, cosy rooms, beautiful trees, nice soup, delicious tea, dawn chorus.

And I thought about what we love to feel and do a la the parakeet man – spontaneity, belonging, companionship, kindness, compassion, connection.

And then I wondered about you.

When it all seems a bit too much, or unfair, or endlessly unright… what do you hang on to?

What are your steady, go-to comforts? What gives your life meaning?

What do you love to feel and do, if we’re talking ULTIMATE feelings and doings.


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  • Reply Faye May 28, 2017 at 10:42 AM

    As I get older I find a smile in the little things like a flock of red tailed cockatoos flying over or when a rad song from my youth comes on the radio. Also the delight in the silly games my kids make up. It’s definitely not such a focus on the big ticket items like holidays or birthdays anymore.

  • Reply Emma March 19, 2017 at 8:46 PM

    I have a special teacup that I brought home from my Nanna’s house when she passed away. It is cream and covered in green stars. It is nothing fancy, but I loved it and used to admire it in the glass cabinet in Nan’s lounge room every time we visited. I had so many happy holidays at my Nan’s house, with many cups of tea around the table.
    Now, whenever I feel really low and in need of comfort, I get my starry teacup down, boil the kettle and have a cup of tea with my Nan

  • Reply K November 15, 2016 at 10:30 PM

    I don’t know what keeps me going. I exist without meaning in my life, I wake up a little sad that I have to go through another day without real purpose. The last three years have been a series of heartbreaks but I keep going on for no particular reason except maybe habit. I think I’m like the old people just waiting to die but I don’t know why I’m waiting. I just am.

    • Reply Meet Me At Mikes November 16, 2016 at 7:37 AM

      That sounds really hard. 🙁 I am sorry you are going through such a tough time. xxx

  • Reply Kate Nansparrow May 16, 2016 at 11:19 PM

    My love and admiration for you as a fellow human bean is as deeply crocheted as the stitches in your beautiful blankets. I’m hooked on you, Pip Lincolne. You write the right stuff, Lady.

  • Reply Sarah February 24, 2016 at 6:34 PM

    pip, I pretty much love you. you are just wonderful. I love reading your blog. That’s all!

  • Reply Bec February 12, 2016 at 10:33 PM

    “the recipe for happiness is to have something to do, someone to love and something to hope for”
    Hunter ‘Patch’ Adams (the real one, not the very excellent Robin Williams version 🙂

  • Reply Anna February 12, 2016 at 10:51 AM

    Thanks Pip, for posting this and for link to original piece. I have shared with my brother who has always liked to challenge bureaucratic ways of dealing with issues of humanity and caring. He is now studying nursing, and in a palliative care placement. This makes so much sense! Having responsibility and meaning beyond one’s own day to day existence makes people connect and I’m sure makes life more worth living! x

  • Reply Little White Dove February 12, 2016 at 9:36 AM

    Oh Pip that’s such a beautiful story! What an angel on earth Bill is, bringing happiness and a reason for being to the dear elderly in that home… wouldn’t it be a wonderful world to see all aged care facilities adopt such practices? My hubby works at a retirement village and he enjoyed reading your post too, thank you so much for sharing this.
    I’m so sorry for your loss too Pip, losing your sis in law must be just awful for you and your whole family… I read this yesterday on grief that you may find helpful/interesting ( … what a tricky time for you when there is much heartache surrounding you… in answer to your question what do we do? I cry… I’m a bit of sook and trying to hold it in and soldier on just doesn’t work for me, I gotta let it go. Then I usually try to do something grounding, meditation, gardening, crochet… I don’t have a magic solution though and find myself flailing sometimes as there are times when really nothing works, you just gotta tread water and get through feeling crap til the next day …. it’s the duck thing, you know all calm on the surface of the water, but paddling like crazy underneath… I hang on to my beautiful family and connect with them, I remind myself of all the tiny and seemingly insignificant things in my life that are going well, I focus on my dream and daydream about living the dream, I read uplifting blog post about giving joy to the elderly! Sending big hugs to you, I hope there’s some happier moments on the horizon for you and your comfort ‘things’ are at hand… x

  • Reply Jen February 12, 2016 at 9:13 AM

    That’s a great story. Sorry to hear that there’s been a lot of sad happenings, it’s always hard when they start to feel overwhelming and dominant. For me, the things that make me feel whole and lift my spirits are at opposite ends of the spectrum. One is spending a night in the wilderness with my partner, which pulls me back to a calm place and just connects me to something bigger than my own life. The other is a night at the pub with friends (usually female) who share a passion for changing the food system, where we get together and drink wine and touch base about our lives and get into a frenzy of talking over each other about all the ideas that are bursting out of us, and scheme projects that will make things better than they are. Actually, and gardening. Time spent growing vegetables resonates a lot! Or turning the compost 🙂

  • Reply Lise February 12, 2016 at 3:12 AM

    What a lovely story! I always think people need to be needed. For me, it is children, family, books (and books and books), walks, growing food, crafts, good friends and good food.

  • Reply thelittleredhen February 11, 2016 at 7:42 PM

    Lovely reflections on a great story-I’ve forwarded this on to 3 people already. I like-need-to feel connected to myself if that makes sense? I have quite little children at the moment and sometimes feel far away from the core of what makes me…me. I need regular thinking time, drawing time, making time to feel ‘right’. I also like to feel connected to other people who need the same sorts of things-even reading about or listening to podcasts etc of people making small differences in the big picture. Much like Bill the physician in this story. Thanks for the best thing I’ve read all week Pip!

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