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Caring until the end

Sue Manton

A caring heart: Gympie’s Sue Manton, awarded an OAM in 2013 for her work for Little Haven Palliative Care. Photo: Gympie Times

IN her calling’s darker times, Gympie palliative care business manager Sue Manton often recalls the words of her former parish priest.
“Father Joe (McGeehan) used to say: ‘We have no right to ask God ‘why’ when we see suffering, if we don’t do the same every time we see joy or wonder’,” she said.
“I believe in a loving God and, despite seeing sadness and suffering often in my work, I’m mindful of these words.”
Last year, Sue’s dedication over many years as business manager of Gympie’s Little Haven Palliative Care saw her awarded the Order of Australia Medal.
At the time, with typical humility, she gave credit to her co-workers and the Gympie community.
“Congratulations Gympie on our OAM,” she said, “awarded for a community that respects the need for quality end-of-life care and support for our family, friends and neighbours.”
Nearly a year later, Sue told The Catholic Leader about new opportunities her OAM had opened, of her Catholic upbringing and its ongoing influence in her life, and gave an insight into the sorrows and satisfaction of her palliative care work.
“Every patient leaves an imprint but some etch a lasting sadness,” she said. “I’ve had to care for two much-loved former teachers.
“Then there was the husband and wife who died within a month of each other, leaving behind five beautiful children.
“Yet that family’s love and courage in such terribly hard times were an inspiration to us all.”
Sue also spoke of those “special moments” on the journey with a patient towards acceptance of impending death.
“I remember the sheer relief and joyful     revelation of one patient,” she said.
“He told me he was no longer afraid of dying after seeing his mother beckon him ‘home’ during a deep relaxation treatment.”
Sue was raised in the parish of Salisbury, Brisbane, and attended Our Lady’s College, Annerley.
“I’ve stumbled often on my own personal faith journey since then,” she said. “However, my Catholic upbringing is at the core of my being and the example of Jesus walks with me every day.
“I also greatly admire the work and teachings of Mother Teresa and her absolute selflessness in caring for others.”
In her adult life, Sue said she thanked God daily “for the hand I’ve been dealt”.
“I have three beautiful, talented, hilarious children, loving family and friends around me, live in a wonderful free country and have a great passion for my work,” she said.
“I’m very grateful to have raised my children in a community like Gympie and for the wonderful experiences each of them has taken away from their 12 years at St Patrick’s (College).
“This shaped them for their lives ahead.
“I regret that in recent years my commitment at Little Haven has been quite overwhelming.
“However, I have always tried to get to the important times in my children’s schooling life, particularly their school Masses which have been a wonderful balm for the soul.”  
Sue remembers a significant event, which sparked her interest in palliative care.
She was around 10 when her grandmother who was sick came to stay at Sue’s house.
“My grandmother actually died in my bed while I was staying with my aunt on the Gold Coast,” she said.
“My parents were afraid to tell me this and said she had died in hospital.
“I used to think it was very sad she had died away from home and was happy to hear the real story when I was much older.”
Sue also recalls not long after arriving in     Gympie as a registered nurse supporting a     neighbour caring for his dying wife.
“I came to believe even more in the importance of people being able to spend their last days in the support and love of their family and close friends,” she said. “In helping my neighbour, I also came into contact with Little Haven.”
Sue described her role as business manager of Little Haven         Palliative Care and Cancer Support for the past 10 years as “a great blessing”.
“Started over 30 years ago, the organisation today provides palliative nursing care and specialised equipment for more than 170 terminally ill patients a year,” she said.
“It also provides bereavement counselling, cancer care and emotional support for the patients, their families and carers.
“Little Haven’s support, provided free of charge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allows families the freedom and dignity of remaining in their place of choice until the end of their life.”
As Sue did on receiving the OAM, she is quick to dodge any congratulations on the achievement.
“I’d like to think I don’t need public recognition for doing something I love and feel passionate about, but I feel honoured on behalf of Little Haven,” she said.
“Although I have the privilege of steering the organisation, I’m just a small part of a great service.  
“The award really belongs to our truly special nurses who give their all and have their sleep (and often their hearts) broken by distressed families in need of their help.
“It also belongs to our hard-working volunteers who line up day after day to help out wherever they can, both raising money and saving money at every opportunity. And the award also belongs to our community.”
The OAM’s value also lies in the doors it has opened to expanding her mission.
“I’m looking forward to taking up a position on the Palliative Care Qld State Council this month and providing input from a regional context,” Sue said.
“I’m heartened that palliative care in Australia has grown in stature, gaining the recognition and respect it deserves. In time maybe we’ll even see the funding it deserves.
“To be honest though, my greatest achievements are my three beautiful children, of whom I couldn’t be prouder.
“I hope I have passed on to them the example my parents set for me: That in lightening the burden of others you gain more than you’ll ever give.”

Written by: Staff writers
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