Every morning when Shirley Klinge looks out of her window at the Tabeel retirement village at Laidley, she gazes at the hills at Cunninghams Gap, a pass over the Great Dividing Range connecting coastal Brisbane to the Darling Downs, in southeast Queensland.
Visible from Brisbane on a clear day, the mountains are a reminder of her favourite psalm, and the source of her strength: ‘I look unto the hills, that is where I get my strength from’ (Psalm 121).
Shirley’s home in the picturesque Lockyer Valley, nestled between the peaks of Mount Cordeaux and Mount Mitchell, is perfect for where God has placed her.
‘God’s given me gifts, so why not use them to the best of my ability?’, asks Shirley, who turns 74 this month.
So, she has done just that through a lifetime of care for the people of her community.
Shirley’s passion for caring for others has touched people through all life stages, from children as young as two, to elders as old as 108 years.
The trained nurse spent a decade from 1985 as director of nursing at Tabeel aged-care home at Laidley – in the same location where she and her husband of 52 years David have since moved into the retirement village.
She’s also run a childcare centre, worked in a hospital casualty department, been an in-home nurse, and a voluntary parish nurse, and provided chaplaincy support to the valley’s Faith Lutheran College.
‘I’ve gone where the need has been and then paid work often followed’, Shirley says.
Despite several failed attempts to retire from 2013, she is hoping her current attempt will allow her to spend more time caring for the member groups of the West Moreton Zone of Lutheran Women Queensland, of which she is president.
‘I do love my guild work, it’s women supporting women in the church’, Shirley says. ‘Until COVID hit, I visited every parish in the zone, and in August I will start again, just to let them know they are not on their own, that Lutheran Women of Queensland care for them.
‘That’s what I want retirement life to be about, but I haven’t quite found it yet.’
What she has found in her lifetime of caring is the skill and sensitivity to be a caring companion.
Since finishing work at Tabeel, Shirley has previously been called back to serve as chaplain, and now does paid relief work when the current chaplain, Pastor Noel Burton, is on leave. Shirley often also volunteers in palliative care chaplaincy in a role she finds very rewarding using her nursing skills.
‘There’s no greater privilege’, she says. ‘Many a night I have gone in to stay with them, especially ones with no family around to support them. It’s all the little things that can provide that last special touch, a back rub, sharing Bible readings and their favourite music.
‘I ask God to please give me the gifts and inspiration I need to give them what they need in their last hours.
‘To me, it’s just special. It is beautiful, peaceful, and it’s just a privilege, especially in the early hours of the morning.’
From when she was a little girl, Shirley knew she was going to be a nurse.
Born in Kingaroy, in Queensland’s South Burnett region as the second eldest of five, she grew up on a peanut farm in nearby Kumbia, before going to boarding school in Warwick.
‘When I finished school, I did dental nursing until I was old enough to do my nursing training from 1966 to 1970’, Shirley recalls.
Her future husband David, a diesel fitter, was working across the road from the hospital. They wed just after she graduated, and they moved to Mt Isa for work. That is where they had their two sons, Nigel, 50, and Nathan, 48, and where she became director of the St Pauls Lutheran Church Child Care Centre.
And, after a life of caring, what is Shirley’s secret ingredient? ‘God loves us, so you’ve got to love everyone else’, she says.
‘Mum and Dad were both caring, and community-oriented. Dad used to say if you are going to live in a community, you work in the community or you don’t belong there.’
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Now, in her (most recent) retirement, Shirley is an elder in the Laidley church, president and treasurer of Redeemer Lutheran Women’s Fellowship and convenes the congregation’s funeral catering group. And she loves her roles with Lutheran Women of Queensland.
Shirley’s also been awarded life membership of the Lutheran Nurses Association of Australia for her volunteer pastoral nurse role.
Her tip for lending a helping hand? ‘Do what makes you feel comfortable’, Shirley says. ‘You’ve got to be comfortable with what you do … other than running a mile the other way!’
Just look to the mountains!
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