Monday, 23 May 2016

Being Understood

I’m sitting here on my bed with my last nursing shift in my favourite hospital in the world looming before me. I struggle for the words to express what I’m feeling. I have loved every minute in the wards and now I’m wondering where all my knowledge on this maxillofacial specialty will go, for it is not useful in the general paediatrics ward at home where I will return to. I think one of the things that I am struggling with most as I look ahead is knowing that I walk away from a place where I am sort after for information and knowledge of my specialty. I know most of the surgeries we do and the nursing care specific to it inside and out, but I am about to walk out of that position, to be the one again who asks one hundred questions every shift until I know again. It’s not just at work though, it’s in life. After more than five years here I have built this community of the ship around me. I walk the hallways and know who has just arrived, who has been here for the last outreach or even years before me. I can greet everyone, knowing that if they are new on board how they might be feeling and I’m able to share knowledge of how to live life well in this community and soon I will be the one who needs help and adjustment. I will return home to a physically familiar environment, but feel like an alien. I already know because when I have returned home in the past years I feel out of place and uncomfortable in my own country. It only makes it worse that I have an Australian accent because there seems to be no excuse for my lack of knowledge or confusion over how to order a drink or pay for a meal (before we eat or after we eat? to tip or not to tip? to speak English or French or Malagasy?).
Once I have returned to Australia I am sure there will be memories of my travels or time with Mercy Ships sparked by a conversation or comment and I won’t know whether to pipe up and add to the conversation or just to let the moment pass, knowing maybe those I am with will not understand and my comment will require too much explanation. So I will keep it to myself but then I will feel a part of myself dying. How will I know when to speak up without making it a conversation killer when the others don’t know how to respond? How many times can I say, “When I was on the ship….” Before people start internally rolling their eyes and wishing I’d shut up?

I think living on this ship, being in this community and loving on the people of Africa has changed me beyond anything I could imagine. I have experienced the deepest feelings of my life in this place. Loving so hard that it feels impossible to say goodbye. Hurting so deeply that I feel like I might break into physical pieces. The tears have come more freely, sparked by little things like singing a song that reminds me of a patient I loved.
I have wondered how it would feel saying goodbye to this place I call home. Last week I stood in front of about 150 friends and crewmates, many of them the best friends a girl could have. They are people who understand me in my deepest part. They've seen my heart rejoice and my heart ache. I stood in front of them to be formally farewelled from the ship. As the complimentary words of my amazing team leader were read over me, I could barely look up to meet the crowd in the eye for fear of dissolving into a massive puddle of ugly tears. So instead I hugged my arms around my chest to hold myself together. I pushed all the emotion down, for another time, another place, every now and then letting a tear or two slip out.

I suppose most people have walked through periods of life like this, where they feel overwhelmed with emotion to the point of breaking open exposing a deep vulnerability. I think of my friends who have lost siblings, friends who have lost children and babies, other who have lost their parents or grandparents. Most of my friends have had a deep ache of some sort, the breakdown of a relationship or a beloved pet die. The tender part is knowing when it is safe to speak up about our deepest hurts or feelings. Just as I want my friends to be my safe place for my deepest feelings, so do I want to be the safe place for them. Can we make a pact to always talk about the hard and vulnerable things together? About the things that make our blood boil? About the things that cause us to burst into tears? To not be afraid to speak.

I tell you because I want you to understand and I want to feel understood.


  1. Incredible blog, Deb. As I stand waiting for my bus, about to go to work, the same day I've lived many times over, it's genuinely lovely to be grounded by your words.

  2. Your still young in life, and have a wealth of experience that will open doors along your spiritual journey in life.

  3. Thank you Deb for your blog. While I am longing to go back ti the ship it has been so great to read your feelings, struggles and moments of joy. 5 years is a long time but even 3 months does change a person. Bless you

  4. nice heart touching article. love this. We have a good collection of African fabrics. Visit us hope you guys love them. We will pleasure to have you guys
    Sequin Fabrics



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