MiCare invited the talented artist to set up a permanent creative space at one end of the building’s multi-purpose area. ‘We said to Helga, "Feel free to paint all night, if you want. Just let us know where you are, so we don’t worry," house manager Margaret said. ‘This is home for our Elders, so we want them to know that they are free to live their lives.’
Helga deeply appreciates it. In fact, she does not take any of her surroundings for granted.
‘I feel so safe here,’ the 10-year resident says. ‘I feel so looked after. Nothing is ever too much trouble. I feel secure.’
Helga’s need for security is a deep-seated thing. She arrived in Australia from Holland as an eight-year-old fleeing the building storm clouds that would become the Holocaust. She found herself married to a man with a drinking problem before divorcing and meeting the love of her life, Gilbert, at the Truth and Liberation Concern headquarters, while socialising with the God Squad bikie gang, with whom she has a long association.
A series of migraines turned out to be a brain tumour, which led to surgery that appeared to have gone well right until the second day when she suffered a massive haemorrhage and fell into a coma. Doctors told Gilbert that she would never wake, but he never lost hope, reportedly visiting her bedside every day for three years to read the paper and tell her what was going on in the world.
Not that she had any idea, locked in her coma. One day, she woke, wondering why she couldn’t move her limbs, why all her muscles were weak and wasted. ‘Excuse me,’ she tried to say to a nurse, who was walking past. She says the nurse screamed and ran. Gil’s reaction, when they called him to say she’d woken, was more positive.
The coma left Helga in a wheelchair (until recently, when she managed to reclaim walking as a skill) and with some short term memory issues but she remembers the 12 months she and Gil enjoyed before cancer claimed him, more than a decade ago now. Life continued to be precarious as she wasn’t sure where to live, and found herself in aged care homes that she didn’t like, or were impersonal. A friend at the God Squad mentioned DutchCare (the former name of MiCare) and asked if she was originally from Holland? That eight-year-old war refugee turned out to be the connection that gained Helga a place at MiCare’s Kilsyth facility, finally finding the safety and security she craved.
‘I can’t get my brain around anything I would complain about,’ she smiles. ‘I’ve even learned to pick my language up again.’
Helga continues to be an enthusiastic and vibrant member of the MiCare community, even crocheting dozens of blankets for her fellow Elders, after crocheting more than 40 for a nursing home in Sydney that had burnt down. Now she’s hung up her crocheting needle to concentrate on her art.
The carers are right behind her. As Helga explains: ‘The thing about this place is that they don’t look at the disability of the Elders – what they can’t do. They look at the ability – what can you do? And they work from there. It’s wonderful.’