News & Events

Irene is safe at home

May 6, 2020

Since safe at home measures were introduced by the Victorian Government to stop the spread of COVID-19, Rushall Park resident Irene Renzenbrink has had time to reflect on her working life which has centred on loss and grief, as well as palliative care, and how she is adapting to this strange new world.

“The word ‘resilience’ springs to mind in terms of how we manage the social turmoil in which we find ourselves,” Irene said.

“The abrupt end to what we had considered normal is leaving many of us feeling anxious, sad and lost at times, missing important social contacts and familiar patterns of daily life,” she said.

The former social worker moved into RushalI Park in 2013. For Irene, it was the perfect place to retire to; she knew the area having lived in Fitzroy and Clifton Hill for many years in the 70s and 80s, her daughters lived nearby and she was close by to the health professionals she has come to rely on for a chronic autoimmune condition. It also ended years of uncertainty and a peripatetic lifestyle for Irene and her partner who is Canadian.

“Although we know how successful social distancing has been in reducing the risks of infection, it goes against the grain to isolate ourselves, especially in OCAV villages where friendships and social activities are so important for well-being,” Irene said.

 

She has noticed, however, a great strength and resilience in older populations that is not always acknowledged when “we are lumped in together as vulnerable elderly with underlying medical conditions.”

“There are already many examples of compassion and kindness in the village as we adjust to the new normal.  Our ability as older people to live with uncertainty and frailty may well be a strength in these circumstances. Many of us were already stopping to smell the roses,” said Irene.

Irene’s background working in loss, grief and palliative care is serving her well. Her professional life has been a world of firsts: she was the first social worker in Victoria to be employed as a grief counsellor in a funeral company and helped develop bereavement support programs throughout Victoria and Australia and later in Ireland. She served on the steering committee of Melbourne City Mission Hospice and became their first social worker in 1978. Irene is a current member of the International Work Group on Death, Dying and Bereavement, a group of world leaders in the field of loss, grief and trauma care.

Irene describes being awarded a PhD in Expressive Arts Therapy in 2018 as one of her happiest achievements.  She is convinced that  “ the creative arts have a healing power that nourishes body, mind and spirit”.

For Irene, what is palpable in the community inside and outside OCAV is the sense of loss and grief and higher levels of anxiety and stress. She says,” It is hard not to be distressed by the stories of hardship and suffering from all around the world. It’s a natural response. We all cope in different ways but we all need support and understanding when we are struggling with loss and change. We need to know that we are not alone.”

Irene finds the haven at Rushall Park comforting despite the restrictions. During the time of enforced isolation, Irene is engaged in a Zoom art journalling course and is trying to write a book about creativity as a resource in times of loss and grief. “It’s hard to concentrate but I try to remind myself of our capacity as human beings to rise above adversity. “One of Irene’s favourite quotations is from Australian artist, Albert Tucker, who said:

“I came to realise with great clarity, the points of suffering, trauma and tragedy in one’s life were the points of information in one’s life, when one got a deeper view. I don’t like suffering anymore than anyone else, but in retrospect I find it is the periods of most acute anguish and personal disorder that force one to a different level of perception. The art of living is how to turn negatives into positives and learn from suffering.”

 

Leith Park is a wonderful place for single older women because of the community and the age-friendly accommodation. I don’t think I have ever felt as safe as I have here.

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