UNVEILED 10 Masthead
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The problem with being a Good Person and Working Hard

Kristen Holzapfel

Like many, I grew up believing that if you were a Good Person and Worked Hard, everything would work out in the end.

It was a concept that seemed time-worn and sensible. Both my parents were both of these things and, over the years, they managed to grow a comfortable existence for themselves. Dad is a retired RAAF Group Captain and, throughout several relocations throughout Australia and overseas, he and mum worked their butts off to create a comfortable, happy life for themselves and their three children. Throughout the thirty-one years of his military career, dad called in sick only three times.

Both mum and dad make friends everywhere they go and their large, diverse band of friends use words like ‘generous’, ‘patient’, ‘wise’, ‘gentle’ and ‘kind’ to describe them.

Almost two years ago, a few years after he earned his status as ‘self-funded retiree’, a stumble down an unfamiliar flight of stairs left my dear dad a partial quadriplegic. His history of working hard ramped up several notches as, over the coming months, he attended to his recovery with unending patience.

Following surgery, he endured unrelenting months on his back staring at the ceiling and several more months of rehabilitation. His progress was encouraging and, as he thankfully had good use of his arms and hands, he learned to manoeuvre himself around in his wheelchair like a pro, exercise, cook and, with some help, swim. From the diaphragm and below, however, his body remained heartbreakingly inert. I have been blessed with two amazing parents and am proud of them both. Throughout these last two years, the pride and admiration I have for my dad has grown astronomically.

Throughout the latter half of the noughties, I struggled with a workplace related illness; a trauma-related injury necessitating two hospitalisations and tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of treatment. I was a social worker, engaged in the crisis work that assists those most vulnerable within our society. I made a career out of being a Good Person and, boy, did I Work Hard. Perhaps if I hadn’t dedicated myself into my career, body and soul, I wouldn’t have sustained the injury I did. But I thought that was how it was done.

In January 2012, I began writing a book about my experiences of ‘frontline’ social work and was startled to realise just how common trauma-related injuries are amongst helping professionals.

By mid-2014, I’d completed two years of research and writing and was finishing the final chapters. In the next year or so, I’d realise it was unlikely I’d make a long-term return to my chosen profession. I began shifting my focus away from the traditional workforce and towards developing a live-in and drop-in petsitting business. This was when dad had his accident.

Like everybody in the early days of starting a small business, money was tight enough for me to bite my pride and apply for Centrelink benefits. I would have given anything to help my dad finance his rehabilitation, but I had nothing left to give. I’d even sold many treasured possessions online, in order to keep paying my bills. After all my years of careful saving, it stung that I now had insufficient funds to do what I wanted to do most of all.

Dad’s family and friends came through for him, becoming his golden network of rescue-angels. Their kind assistance helped to pay for the renovations needed to modify mum and dad’s family home into a wheelchair-friendly haven and pay for myriad other items of required equipment. Mum’s quilting friends created beautiful quilts, other friends participated in house-cleaning working bee’s or dropped by with meals. It was a most beautiful and generous demonstration of love and dad will always be thankful for their many kindnesses.

Today, both dad and I are getting on with the business of living. While I try not to compare our experiences (how could anything possibly compare to what my dad has lost?) I often feel both of us are silently uttering a similar lament.

It’s not fair!

How could this happen?

This wasn’t my fault!

Why are there other people – people who aren’t kind and hard-working – still walking around without a care in the world?

Those in the know would say I am struggling with the fact my “World View” has been altered so abruptly and comprehensively. I hate the feelings of anger that frequently bubble to the surface and worry I will become a jaded and bitter old lady.

Dad is also quietly angry, but is loath to admit it. Only during the occasional private moment does he allow himself to voice any shard of resentment. I wonder if he feels anger tighten around his throat most days and whether he, too, wonders when its grip will lessen.

I remind myself that grief will take whatever path it will and, in the meantime, all I can do is make space for it. I’ll continue being a Good Person who Works Hard. I’m just not going to expect the universe to bestow any extra favours upon me because of it.

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Kristen Holzapfel

Kristen Holzapfel is the Owner/Operator of Canberra’s Friendly Petsitter. She is also the author of “Selfless: a social worker’s own story of trauma and recovery”. This book, published by Collaborative Publications, was launched in March of this year. More about the Author

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