We're sad to say that Stephen died recently. This is Jan’s story now. It tells a little of the difference that can be made to someone’s life when a volunteer takes the time to reach out and form a friendship.
Good Neighbour Program Co-ordinator.
VALE STEPHEN born 15/4/1952 died 20/2/16
Rest In Peace.
My name is Jan Muller and I’m a volunteer in the Good Neighbour Program at Newtown Neighbourhood Centre. The program provides social support through regular fortnightly home visits for isolated older people or those living with a disability.
Back in October 2014, Susan, the program co-ordinator, asked whether I would like to meet Stephen as a potential client. We went to Stephen's place just off Enmore Road and we had an initial chat. We did hit it off - Stephen described himself as an “inner city slicker” and had lived most of his life in the Inner West. I liked that!
So I started visiting Stephen every second Saturday afternoon for a couple of hours. We would wander down Enmore and Addison Roads checking out the coffee places - Merika, Pink, Alchemy, 242 and even the community centre cafe. We talked. Stephen was wary of his family past but I understood his schizophrenia had resulted in a difficult childhood and schooling. Institutions, hospitals and sheltered workshops all featured. In his adult years, doctors finally got the medication right and some sort of stability arrived. Stephen moved into a small Housing Department flat and he was very proud of that and his independence. When I met him, Stephen had given up smoking and was trying to get his weight under control. I was impressed!
Early on in our meetings, it became clear Stephen had a fascination (if not an obsession) with public transport. Buses, trains, planes and, did I mention the light rail? We would pick a place to go for an outing and Stephen would know the bus numbers, times and connections. We went to lots of places. Everleigh Markets (bus and foot) – trying out the free gourmet samplings, the new Barangaroo Park (bus, foot, taxi and train) – a little indigenous history followed by Vietnamese lunch box rolls. Sydney Park (bus and bus) – kids, dogs and sausage rolls. Jubilee Park (bus and light rail) – more dogs and an amusing time at the doggie café, Cafe Bones. And regularly we went to Central Railway by bus for the most dreadful bacon and eggs rolls.
Stephen never commented about my transgender status and we never really felt the need to discuss it. He always referred to me as a woman which was fine but he would occasionally have a sly dig at the bloke in my past. We'd be sitting on the footpath at Pink on Addison Road having a coffee and a bacon and egg roll and he would appraise a good looking young woman as she passed and say "Nice, mate!" I could only agree but would point to the sky as a huge Qantas A380 thundered overhead and respond "QF 2 to London, mate!" We were both plane spotters as well!
Then last October Stephen was out and about and collapsed at the Mercy Arms in Redfern. I heard the news and visited him at Royal Prince Alfred. It turned out Stephen had lymphatic cancer. It had been in remission for some years but now it was back. Stephen was pretty upbeat about it all. He’d beaten it once and he would do so again. He called it "my lymphonia" – he thought it sounded better! And with that, Stephen started his ten week hospital episode of chemo and treatment.
He got on well with his oncology specialist, a Doctor Larson. He would make endless jokes about the doctor’s name in a heavy Norwegian accent – always in the doctor’s absence, of course!
I would turn up on Saturday afternoon with the papers, a Coke, a large capuccino with three sugars and a meat pie with extra tomato sauce. Stephen had moved from bacon and egg rolls to meat pies.
Time passed slowly for Stephen but we would meet weekly in Ward 7 to talk about the state of the world, to discuss the horrors of chemo and to rate the best pies in Sydney. A lonely Christmas passed and then he was transferred to Balmain Hospital for rehabilitation. He saw the New Year in – from the hospital room window where he could just see the fireworks over Sydney Harbour.
Then suddenly Stephen was home again and happy for a short while. We caught up every week but things had changed and Stephen was too poorly to go out. Early in February’16, Stephen was taken back to RPA and this time to Intensive Care. I saw him twice more – we talked about meat pies and the George Street light rail project and how we would definitely be on the first ride. But then he slipped into a coma. I saw him again and chatted anyway – you never know, do you!
Stephen died on Saturday 20th February’16 at 10.00am. A priest was with him as he passed away. I lit a candle in St Mary's Cathedral that morning – Stephen was a Catholic. Rest in Peace my friend!
Jan Muller 28/2/16