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Peter: artist, husband, father, grandfather

Peter Shalby and painting web

Peter has a wonderful sense of humour. He has an expressive face that switches between extreme emotions within moments. The easy relationship he has with annecto Case Manager Mickey Huckstepp is a delight to watch. The two share a deep understanding of the sadness Peter holds due to the loss of his wife, Sabah. Yet they use laughter as an embrace, and the conversation meanders from one joke to another, into sadness again and back into humour.  

The youngest of Peter’s three daughters, Ruth, lives with him for now. Ruth is a young woman, who decided to put her University studies on hold when her mother was ill to help Peter care for her at home. Sabah’s wish was to die at home, and it was this decision that propelled the family into action to make sure that Sabah could be cared for at home, instead of being confined to hospital. annecto worked closely with Peter, Sabah and their three daughters, to make sure everyone in the family had what they needed to ensure Sabah’s comfort and care.  

“It’s important that family members get the chance to retain their relationships with one another when someone is receiving palliative care at home,” explains Mickey.  

“Personal care needs can cause these relationships to break down, for both the person being cared for and the family members caring for them,” Mickey explains. “We wanted to make sure that Ruth could still be the daughter, Sabah the mother, and Peter the loving husband.”  

Peter landscape painting

Peter is an artist. It’s not uncommon for him to paint for 8-10 hours a day. “I don’t want to stop, I just keep painting… because I have to… I miss her so much,” Peter tells us.  

Peter’s wife Sabah passed away in August 2015. Sabah was Peter’s world. Sabah’s strength and love still fills the family home.   

Peter and Sabah married in Egypt in 1973; they migrated to Australia in 1974 and had three daughters, Teresa, Rosemary and Ruth. Teresa and Rosemary are married with three girls each of their own. It’s clear that Peter adores the women who surround him, and they adore him.   

When I ask Peter if he likes living in Australia, he answers, “Very, very, very rich country. If I compare it to Egypt where my brother and sister still live, it is so much better here.”  

So he paints, in his light filled kitchen. He paints scenes filled with colour, happiness and activity from a time in Egypt, that he recalls from when he lived there as a boy, and from the stories he knows through the Holy Bible. A deeply religious man, Peter’s life is teeming with stories. He knows the First and the Second Testament by heart. The stories have a meaning for Peter that are still relevant and rich. He is asked to speak every Wednesday at his local Coptic Egyptian Church, not because of his knowledge of the Bible, but because of how he relates to it and can connect others to the stories within it. He hands out handmade cards, with the stories from the Bible written in impeccable handwriting and lovingly decorated. This community is his family, and he loves being around them each week.  

Peter handmade cards

Mickey and another annecto Support Worker, Grace, were in regular contact with the family, and together, with other organisations such as Mercy Palliative Care and Peter MacCallum Cancer Hospital, Sabah was lovingly cared for, at home, until she passed. Sabah had been confined to the home for some years before she died. Yet on the day the family buried her, over 500 people from the Egyptian community turned up to pay their respects.   

The relationship annecto shares with the family has taken many different forms over the years. As Sabah’s Case Manager, Mickey realised that Peter was having some difficulty too.  With the constant driving required to take Sabah from one treatment to another, he would often become quite anxious while driving and black out at the wheel. Mickey organised for Peter to be assessed and he was approved for a Level Two Home Care Package, for some in-home cleaning support and transport assistance. Now when Peter has to attend his own medical appointments, or visit his three beautiful daughters, he can safely get there by taxi.  

For Mickey, working with the family has been rewarding in so many ways. “Peter makes me cry every time I meet with him, however we also have lots of belly laughs. I love his vulnerability, openness and his sense of humour. He is an amazing person and I love the love Peter and Sabah shared, and how they complemented each other. I am so fortunate I got to see a small part of that while I was their Case Manager,” explains Mickey.  

“I am very privileged to meet and spend time with many people like Peter, Sabah and their family as part of the work I do with annecto,” adds Mickey.  

Grace, the Support Worker who cared for Sabah twice a week for an extended period of time, has stayed on to help Peter. The relationship between them is easy, and one that Peter looks forward to each week.  

“It gives me life when I paint…” Peter chuckles as he hobbles around us in the kitchen, clutching a sore hip, caused by sitting and painting for long periods of time.