“Grow Where you Are” – Remembering Bronwen Meredith
Ann Zubrick, West Australia Regional Meeting
Awakening and beginning the day with silent reflection the phrase “Grow where you are planted” arose strongly within me. Why this invocation? I recalled the context in which I first heard the phrase.
Bronwen Meredith—a Tasmania Regional Meeting Friend—used these words in a conversation we had some fifteen years ago. I was at The Friends School for an AGM in May. My TRM host family invited Bronwen for Sunday lunch following Meeting for Worship.
I had recently completed a degree in Ageing and Pastoral Studies and was teaching some units. I was interested to here of Bronwen’s experience as a resident in an aged care hostel. Bronwen was then in her late 80s and had lived in the hostel for five years. Leaving the family home after more than 50 years was a wrench; family members had moved from Hobart, and she now needed daily assistance.
She told me: “As a teacher I reminded students that life wasn’t always ours to control as we wished but that we could always grow where we were planted. I continue to reflect upon what that means for me.”
After moving into the hostel, she quickly made the assessment that the diversional therapy assistant “needs encouragement to do the job well. But she’s quite young, so there’s time.” She regularly provided “ideas” to this young woman “as politely as I can”. However, finding her ideas ignored, Bronwen spoke to residents about their interests, phoned the library and arranged a fortnightly drop off/collection of books, videos and CDs.
Some residents had significant cognitive changes. She commented “it’s hard to find people with whom to have conversation for very long.” Her solution to this dilemma?
Well, I now have staff seat me at different tables for lunch and dinner each day so by the end of each week I’ve managed to talk with all the residents at least twice. It’s hardest with a resident who’s deaf and blind, but I make time in between to see her on her own and then introduce topics to share. We are coming to know one another. I convey the conversations back to her later, in our time together. We do not need to remain strangers.
She recognised that “the care workers—most of whom come from different parts of Africa—receive little encouragement or support and they need this to continue to care for us, as they do. So I make time to listen their stories.” Bronwen astutely monitored and chose times in the day when the workers were less busy and while they washed her hair, gave her a manicure, or were engaged in the daily care routine in her room, she invited them to share their experiences—past and present—and offered her perspectives. She apologised for the ways in which some residents and family members spoke to care staff. She sometimes offered a “thought for the day” to staff and residents she encountered —”something positive for people to think about as they go about the day”.
Learning of an unmet need—a care-worker who cannot afford football boots for a fifteen-year-old wishing to play soccer; a child who needs someone to hear them read English; a resident who has no family visitors—she might email someone in her network to explore assistance. One of Bronwen’s gifts was seeking and asking for what she needed.
“The residence provides me with my work in the world. And I am embraced with love: the love of family and Ffriends, and most of all Divine love. Love so immense it surrounds me, strengthens me and grounds me.”
There are many faces to loss and loneliness. I encounter it often in my pastoral work in aged care. The glaze in lonely eyes that once beamed with delight. And I remember Bronwen and her delight enabling new pathways and deepening connection.
There are experiences of loss and also opportunities for transformation as the pandemic unfolds.
While preparing for YM21, I wrote a quote in my diary. Foolishly, I did not note at the time from whom or where the offering came. And I’ve not been able to find it.
There’s a gift in practice that can help us know what we can respond to; know what is beyond our control; know what is manageable; and figure out how to survive along the way. It is the gift of vibrant attentiveness – epiphanies of a vital presence: what the mystics called “the sense of heaven.”
Can I, can we, harness this gift as we plan for our next Yearly Meeting?