'You are like a daughter to me'
14 November 2017
When Salvation Army hotel chaplain Susie Wallace first met Percy, the elderly resident of a small upstairs room of a Western Sydney pub, he didn’t want anything to do with her.
“I’d been called by the venue manager of the pub who was concerned about an elderly gentleman who was living there,” she recalls. “I remember the first time I met this dear old man; he basically wanted nothing to do with me.”
Percy was 86, had no support from family or friends, and had become frail and forgetful. Hotel staff had been forced to break into his room when he left the tap running one evening before he went to bed. They opened the door to find Percy sound asleep, while the rest of his room was flooding!
“He had lived there for many, many years,” Susie says. “But sadly he was becoming quite forgetful and, as the manager said to me, ‘a liability to himself and other residents’.”
After convincing Percy that she was there as a friend and to help him, Susie made appointments for him to see his doctor, get an ACAT assessment (for aged care) and make out a will. She managed to secure Percy a bed at The Salvation Army’s Macquarie Lodge Aged Care Plus Centre in Sydney’s Inner West. When he moved, Susie continued to visit him.
“In my role as a Salvation Army hotel chaplain, I visit 40 pubs in Sydney and three in Wollongong and support staff as well as patrons,” she explains. “But that care extends far beyond the walls of the hotel. It has taken me to courts, to support patrons facing charges, Department of Community Services meetings and even the Coroner’s Court.
“Continuing to visit Percy was a natural extension of my ministry, which is to support, love and care for people with whatever they are going through.”
Susie’s relationship with Percy was, for her, a pure blessing. She watched as he blossomed. Once a lonely, old man, Percy thrived at Macquarie Lodge Aged Care Plus Centre.
“You see, Percy had attended The Salvation Army when he was 19 years old, but life pulled him away from church,” Susie says. “He married and had children and I found out that his wife left him for another man when the children were young and he just let them go, never trying to contact the children as he thought ‘they were better off without him’. It just breaks my heart to think of him being so lonely!”
At Macquarie Lodge, Percy rekindled his relationship with Jesus. He attended chapel twice a week and made new friends. “He found a completely new life,” Susie says. “He was loving life!”
When Percy turned 86, Susie visited with a cake and candles. He said he hadn’t had a birthday cake in 40 years. “Sadly, Percy got sick and ended up in hospital,” Susie says. “I visited him at St George Hospital and then I was given the sad news by the doctor that there was nothing more they could do for him. The dear old soul asked if he could ‘go home to the Lodge’, so I arranged for him to be discharged.”
The next day as Susie visited Percy for the last time, he told her that she was “like a daughter to him”, and that the last seven months had been the happiest moments of his life. He died the next day.
“I thank God that he didn’t die alone in a cold hotel room – he died with dignity, loving Jesus again with people around him who loved him,” Susie says.
“It’s times like this that I feel that my job is so worthwhile. Although Percy passed on, I wish he’d had more years of happiness, but that wasn’t to be. But even seven months of happiness is more than he would have had if I hadn’t met him. So I thank the Lord for that.”
By Lauren Martin