06 Jul Life gets better with age
Mary reflects on her 92 years of friendships, family and travel, and talks about how getting older and moving into aged care is how she discovered herself and found the happiest days of her life.
I was born in a tent in a sugarcane plantation in northern Queensland in 1923. My parents had arrived from Greece only a few years earlier. When I was five or six we all moved to Sydney, and I’ve never lived anywhere else since.
My parents only spoke Greek, and they raised my sisters and me in the Greek culture. We weren’t allowed to go out. We weren’t allowed to date. I left school at 14 to work in the family’s fish restaurant in Oxford Street. I met my husband there when I was 22. He saw me in the café and asked my parents if he could marry me – and three weeks later he did. It was an arranged marriage, there was no romance. I didn’t know him at all, but I didn’t know any better then.
If I had my time again, I’d tell myself not to be so disciplined, to be myself, not to just do as my parents wanted. I should have adapted to the Australian way of life. But I guess I don’t know how that would have turned out.
My husband was a gambler – I found that out on the honeymoon – and for 17 years we lived with his mother. I had to do what she said, and like any mother-in-law she thought I was just there to look after her son. We had four children, and I looked after them as well as working full-time to support us all. It was hard, but I don’t think about it much these days.
My husband had a heart attack and passed away when he was 56. I’d been married for 23 years, our children were nearly grown up, and I was only 45. I’d never been out of Australia then, and I thought, well, I’m going on holiday! So I went to Italy.
It was when my husband died that I became myself. I’ve travelled so much since then. I’ve been to Greece, Italy, the UK, and to Bali many times. My son Lui works at Qantas and he helps me get cheap tickets. Bali is wonderful; I’m going there again later this year. The food is delicious – fresh eggs straight from the chicken! And the shopping – I’m good at bargaining!
Being able to travel is lovely. I feel very lucky to have that. I’ve met so many people. Thirty-two years ago I met two American girls in Italy, and they still ring and write to me. They’re air hostesses and we once met for a week in Bali, and they came to visit me in Australia and stayed with my daughter.
Lui got cancer a few years ago. That was a big shock. He’s in remission now, and when I ask how he is, he just says, ‘I’m all good, Mum’. He is married to a wonderful woman who is a registered nurse and looks after him well. When I sit on my balcony and see a plane fly overhead, I think of him working with Qantas, and say, ‘God bless’.
One of my daughters, Lynn, is blind now too, but she doesn’t complain, and she still does things for herself. Her husband helps her too, he’s very good. My youngest daughter Jo picks me up almost every weekend so I can stay at her home. We have a lot of fun together, and she takes good care of me. My other daughter, my Carol, lives six months in Australia and six months in Greece.
I’ve got 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, and they give me a lot of joy.
Before I came to Uniting Ronald Coleman Lodge I was at a different aged care home for 10 years. It was alright, but the rooms were half the size they are here, and didn’t have en suites, there was no kitchenette, and everyone complained about the food. Before I went there I had been in my own unit for 30 years, but I sold it to help one of my daughters, and then I had a heart attack. I went straight from the hospital to the aged care home. It was bewildering to start with, but I knew I had to go. So I thought, well, this is what has got to be.
That place closed seven years ago, and I came here. I’m much happier now I’ve moved. I have more freedom here, and we have lots of activities – gardening, tai chi, and there’s a hairdresser too. It’s just like being at home.
The best part of being here is being me. This is the happiest I’ve ever been. I sit and think how lucky I am, I have all I need, and I don’t want anything else … except of course to travel more!
By Mary Hadji
Watch more of Mary’s story below