BEING asked to pray with an old lady nearing the end of life is a privilege Angela McDonald cannot refuse.
Angela is a volunteer regularly visiting residents at Ozcare’s Ozanam Villa Aged Care Facility at Clontarf, north of Brisbane.
She’s had times when residents specifically ask for her to come and pray with them, and when diversional therapist Annamarie Garrood passes on the request Angela is not one to say “No”.
“That’s the one thing that really gives me the sign to say, ‘Yeah, God is working …’,” she said.
“And if he is working, then I’m happy.
“(Annamarie will say to me) ‘Angie, you know, so and so is very sick …’”
There was one lady Annamarie told her about who was in palliative care – “She doesn’t want to go to the hospital, she’s happy here … Can you go and visit?”
Angela had no hesitation – “Of, course I can go and visit”.
She would drop in not once but several times during the week.
She prayed with the lady and that gave her peace.
“This is one of the fruits that I find gives me great joy,” Angela said.
“Love has got to be sincere, deep from the soul, and that love will change other people … And that definitely is not my love; it’s God’s love.”
Angela, who hails from Sicily and came to Australia as an 18 year old before she was married, said she had been a community worker most of her life.
It all started when she volunteered to work with Fr Jim Smith at Brisbane’s Catholic Psychiatric Pastoral Care.
That was where she got her grounding in being a support for others.
Angela said she gained a lot of valuable experience there.
“I did (the training) course … and I enjoyed every bit of it. I really did,” she said.
“Some people reckoned it was so hard but, for me, it’s never been hard.”
It was a way of ministry that came naturally.
“I think it has a lot to do with God’s call too,” she said.
“I really believe that God called me to reach out to these kinds of situations people are in, and I think I related to myself being in another country and not having anyone, because my family came years later.
“I lived in Sydney and I was alone there. I had friends but not family and I think I was longing.
“I think it began from there that I had an understanding of people who needed a true friendship and a true love, because love conquers all these things.
“I think that’s the main thing for me – it’s love …
“The condition of the people, they’re not at fault to be where they are.
“They don’t ask for it; it’s just the condition.
“I think if we can love and understand that, I feel that that’s what Jesus did and that’s the way I lean on it.”
Eventually Angela was forced to move out of the voluntary CPPC role out of necessity.
“My husband had an accident and he couldn’t work for some time so then I had to go to work for pay,” she said.
“I needed the money and I resigned from CPPC and I got a job in community health.”
The skills she learned at CPPC proved valuable when working with people with psychiatric illness.
“So most of my time working in community health that was my job – I had all of the people with mental illness,” Angela said.
“I learned a lot actually from them, too, because they were the ones who really tell me how they really feel, that I can have some understanding.
“I learned my lesson once … This fellow, in the beginning, he said so many things – he had schizophrenia, which I didn’t really understand at that time.
“Luckily I was still being mentored by Fr Jim.
“This fellow he had so much hate in him and hurting, and all of this, and after he’d finished talking, I said, ‘Don’t worry, mate, I really understand what you mean …’
“And he hit the roof. He said, ‘Ohhh, you can’t understand me … How can you understand? …’
“And I said, ‘You’re right. I don’t really understand fully but, if you can tell me, it might give me the chance to know …’
“And off he went (telling his story) … and that’s the way I learned things, from them, trusting me enough and telling me where those hurts come from.”
Angela retired a few years ago, but didn’t stay idle for long.
“I took a little bit of time to recover myself, and rested – travelled a little bit,” she said.
“And then I thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to sit in the house and let all of this go to waste … To keep them in my memory, I’ve got to keep practising them …’
“So I prayed to God … I prayed about it. I knew there was a call there, so I said, ‘Where do you want me to be?’
“And when it eventually came, the Lord said, ‘I want you to reach out to the hungry, the thirsty and the ones in the darkness’.
“And that’s when my heart was really pierced and I thought, ‘Well, God is longing for everyone’.
“So I said, ‘Alright, Lord, I will be willing; you show me where you want me …’
“And I felt – and I know it’s hard for people to understand – but I saw that the hand of God said that way (pointing down the street) and that way was Ozcare, and that’s the way I ended up being there.
“I’ve been there now over three years.
“… I talk with them, pray with them and they accept the prayers, so that’s good.
“(It’s) nothing to do with me; I’m just available – available for God.
“God is the one who does the rest. It’s his hands and I say, ‘You created them, Lord, use them. That’s your tools, not mine’.
“That’s the way I go.”
Sometimes she takes residents “for a little walk … to get a bit of the sunshine”, and sometimes she sing hymns for them.
“I love singing. I haven’t got a good voice but I said, ‘Don’t worry about my voice, it makes a lot of noise and it’s a good noise’,” she said.
“‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord’, and that’s what I do, but, for whatever reason it is, they reckon I have a beautiful voice.
“I think I’m a little cracked pot, truly … especially since I’ve got a bad sinus …
“But, for whatever reason – I think they have trouble with their ears – they reckon that I have a ‘beautiful voice’, ‘the voice of an angel’.
“I said, ‘Oh, goodness, Lord, what have you done?’
“So, I do sing little hymns – they love that. They reckon they give them peace.”
And Angela reckons she gets back more love than she gives.
“That is my greatest satisfaction that I have,” she said.
“Everyone there, everyone, the people in there, they all love me. I feel loved, I really feel loved.”
What she would really love would be for more people to take the chance to volunteer to see what she’s talking about.
And the people at Ozanam Villa Aged Care Facility and other organisations like them would love it too.
“(Angela) is an invaluable part of our team and very humble,” Annamarie Garrood said.
“We would be lost without her.”