Sign of kindness

Annie, who is profoundly deaf and lives at Uniting AgeWell Rosetta Community Strathaven has a new zest for life thanks to Chaplain Marianne Pauls learning Auslan to communicate with her.

And this sign of kindness has left Anne not only beaming, but feeling more valued and included – and as an added bonus, she’s made the first real non-deaf friend she’s ever had.

Wind back the clock to the start of February this year, when Marianne moved back to her roots in Tasmania and started as chaplain at the Rosetta Communities of Strathaven and Strathglen.

Marianne’s daughter and granddaughter live in Launceston, so the move from Sydney to Hobart made perfect sense. Her husband is still working in Sydney until he can find a job in the Apple Island.

Marianne, who worked in chaplaincy at an aged care concern in Sydney, had a mid-career change from photography to pastoral care. She has always been drawn to age care. “It is a privilege to walk with older people on their life journey. I want them to feel that life is beautiful, that their life has been worthwhile, and that they are special and loved,” Marianne says.

She takes two services a week – on Mondays at both of the sites. And after a few months, Anne, who turned up for the services, approached Marianne and asked whether she could have an interpreter through the NDIS to sign the service to her.

Anne is 67, is not verbal and has some cognitive challenges and has been in the facility for 13 years. Her parents are both dead but her brother and sister-in-law regularly visit. Anne does not lip read.

Marianne started investigating and an interpreter started signing the church service for her. Marianne also worked with Anne’s family to learn more about her.

Then Marianne asked Human Resources whether it was possible for her to do an Auslan course. Not only did they agree, they opened it up to staff, with five enrolling. This has dwindled to three, but Marianne and two caregivers are all quick learners, and still have one module of the course left to go.

“I started signing the church hymn numbers and Anne was all smiles! And we have coffee club every Tuesday morning, and I spend time sitting with her signing away. She appreciates it so much!” Marianne explains.

But it was only when the NDIS interpreter told Marianne exactly how Anne felt, that the chaplain realised that this was more than just communicating in sign language. It made Anne feel included, appreciated and valued. “Always before she was a silent bystander, now Anne felt part of the action. She was very touched that we had gone to all this effort for her.”

Marianne says more good news is that Anne has made her first hearing friend. She was on a bus outing, and was involved in a misunderstanding with another resident who has dementia. A 90-year-old Strathaven resident witnessed what unfolded and reached over and gave Anne a hug.

“Anne normally does not like her personal space invaded – but she responded with joy!” Marianne explains. “And now the older resident gives Anne a hug when she sees her, and they have become good friends.”

Now Marianne wants to extend the Auslan course to residents eager to learn sign language. A sign language revolution! “It’s wonderful how kindness spreads,” Marianne says.

Uniting AgeWell offers care that respects personal choice and individual expressions of spirituality, and encourages connectedness and community. A variety of opportunities are provided to encourage the finding of meaning, purpose, connectedness, hope, and to transcend loss.

Read more chaplain stories and find out more about Spiritual Care Week