When retired English teacher Deirdre Dunstable suffers a stroke, her world implodes.
Once feisty and independent, she finds herself trapped and vulnerable in an aged-care facility.
Deirdre finally manages to convince one of the carers to help her leave.
A young Tamil asylum seeker, Selva has escaped from a regime far more brutal than that of the care home.
Terrified at the prospect of being returned to the care facility, and fearing that she may be resuscitated against her will, Deirdre and Selva try to navigate the last stages of her life and the beginning of a new life for him.
Sharing past traumas, they come to understand that
‘It is only in the shelter of each other that the people live’.
“One of the things a writer is for is to say the unsayable, speak the unspeakable and ask difficult questions.”
… I have tried to do this with help from Deirdre, Selva and their closest friends.
Say the unsayable:
In times past, when people became old or sick enough, it was accepted that they would die. Then came medical technology and intensive care units that enabled doctors to keep people alive for longer. This was sometimes great news and sometimes not so much.
When people can’t speak up for themselves, doctors often find themselves using cutting-edge technology to treat them, while worrying whether this is the right thing for that patient.
Intubated, sedated, fed through tubes and surrounded by unfamiliar faces, did the patient wish for such treatment? They hadn’t said anything earlier - and now they couldn’t say.
Their family may see or sense their loved one’s distress – but what could they say if they didn’t know for sure what their loved one wanted??
Deirdre knew this and went to great lengths to say what she wanted, and to alert others and make sure her wishes were understood and respected.
Speak the unspeakable:
‘I would hate the indignity. Let me die’.
‘I would never have wanted this. If I get very infirm, just push me over a cliff’.
‘I don’t want to end up being a burden on my family – I’d rather be dead.’
It's difficult to even think about these matters, let alone speak about them, but speaking is a good way to start.
Speak with your family, tell them what you would want – ask them what they would like if they became sick and unable to communicate. Promise to help them and to observe their wishes, and ask them in turn to respect yours.
Deirdre spoke about this with Selva, who was caring for her, with her lawyer who was helping her organise her affairs, and most importantly with her GP, who helped her to write an Advance Care Plan.
Ask difficult questions:
‘What would you (or I) not want to happen to us at the end of our lives?’
‘How will others know when it’s time to stop trying to keep me alive?’
Deirdre didn’t want to be resuscitated and returned to a nursing home, neither did she want to be treated in hospital. Selva had to learn to respect her wishes.
MEDIA & TESTIMONIALS
What a wonderful, wonderful book!
Deirdre could be anyone - or anyone's mum, grandma or auntie. She is brave and feisty, confronting issues many are too scared to even contemplate.
Ali Corke's lovely characters help us to re-evaluate our
I didn't know anything about the Sri Lankan civil war, or conscription in Vietnam, or aged care homes ... yet this readable book introduces these subjects in such a compelling way.
I couldn't put it down.
Our Book Club members thoroughly enjoyed 'Take Shelter' because as well as being a really good read, and providing us with lots of food for thought and discussion, it also helped kick-start a conversation in a safe and friendly setting for those of us who wondered how to begin. Much more than a work of fiction!
Hello, and welcome to this website designed to support 'Take Shelter'.
Many people have asked me why I chose to write this book - it's because I am unable to walk past anything that I feel is unfair or wrong. Of course, this has led to many tricky situations where I have protested situations, or tried to take matters into my own hands, and come unstuck. But as Edmund Burke observed:
'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.'
Past and present government policies concerning refugees and asylum seekers have been so draconian that people who came here peacefully, seeking only freedom from harm, have been left damaged and re-traumatised, with many imprisoned and detained for years and years. Australia's record in this area of human rights is disgraceful.
But there are many people who work tirelessly for change. When I came across Rural Australians for Refugees and Grandmothers for Refugees I really felt I had found my soulmates. And there are many other associated groups offering support and practical help. Yet in spite of our best efforts, government intransigence means innocent people are still incarcerated without medical attention or any prospects of salvation.
Another area that concerns me is the treatment of vulnerable and elderly people in our aged care facilities. While heartened when a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was established in 2018, I have been extremely saddened by the lack of response to its findings and can't help contrasting this with the enormous coverage given to the Banking Royal Commission. Are banks and financial institutions more worthy of attention than elderly vulnerable people? Surely not.
There are many wonderful aged care facilities observing best practices and offering excellent care, and it's a shame these have suffered from the bad publicity given to the 'rogue' homes and carers, but we must remain vigilant and continue focus on those that do not.
Medicine has undergone a stunning transformation, with the last few decades seeing progress in technologies that have changed medical care to a level almost beyond imagination. Treatments thought to be too risky to contemplate have now become standard, offering many patients extra years to spend with their loved ones.
While this is wonderful news, like everything, it comes at a price – the inability to die a timely and dignified death without intrusive technology. These days, if we do not actively plan for our death, we may find ourselves kept alive, and our families agonising over decisions they must take should we become unable to speak for ourselves.
Don’t be alarmed, there are many useful publications that can help us to decide (like Deirdre did) what we would like for ourselves. It’s not maudlin or depressing, just a sensible response to a situation that can help our loved ones navigate a tricky time. So, in the reference section, I am including some excellent books and resources that you may find useful.
The characters portraying Selva and his friends are loosely based on the many Tamil asylum seekers who came by boat to Australia, fleeing the vicious and brutal civil war that raged in Sri Lanka for more than 25 years. In 2009, I became pen friends with one of them, a young man called Paheertharan Pararasasingam (Para). Our friendship grew, and together we wrote his story, ‘The Power of Good People’ www.thepowerofgoodpeople.com
I have included a list of books that will help you to understand the Sri Lankan civil war - as much as war can ever be understood – and the effects the war has had, and continues to have, on the thousands of innocent civilians caught up in it.
Profits from the sale of 'Take Shelter' will be directed to 'Yarl Aid' - a charity in Sri Lanka that helps people affected by the war.
Useful links and books, and a documentary film.
Rural Australians for Refugees: https://www.ruralaustraliansforrefugees.org.au/
Grandmothers for Refugees: https://www.facebook.com/GrandmothersforRefugees/
Excellent website to help us identify, consider and communicate our wishes about medical treatment we want for ourselves in the later stages of our lives: www.myvalues.org.au
Advance Care Planning in Australia: www.health.gov.au (search for 'Advance Care Planning / Directive')
Some books relating to Sri Lanka, the civil war and the Tamils.
Anuk Arudpragasam, The Story of a Brief Marriage, Flatiron Books, 2016
Commodore Ajith Boyagoda, A long Watch: War, captivity and return in Sri Lanka, Hurst and Company, 2016
Benjamin Dix and Lindsay Pollock, Vanni: A Family’s struggle through the Sri Lankan conflict, New Internationalist, 2019
Trevor Grant, Sri Lanka’s Secrets: How the Rajapaksa regime gets away with murder, Monash University Publishing, 2014
Frances Harrison, Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s hidden war, Portobello Books, 2012
Rohini Mohan, The Seasons of Trouble: Life amid the ruins of Sri Lanka’s civil war, Verso Books, 2014
Para Paheer and Alison Corke, The Power of Good People: surviving Sri Lanka’s civil war, Wild Dingo Press 2017
Rajith Savanadasa, Ruins, Hachette Australia, 2016
Shyam Selvadurai, The Hungry Ghosts, Telegram, 2014
Samanth Subramaniam, This Divided island: Stories from the Sri Lankan war, Penguin Books, 2014, Atlantic Books, 2015
Roma Tearne, Mosquito, Harper Press, 2010
Gordon Weiss, The Cage: The fight for Sri Lanka and the last days of the Tamil Tigers, The Bodley Head, 2011
No Fire Zone. https://nofirezone.org
Directed by Callum Macrae, No Fire Zone tells the story of the final months of the Sri Lankan civil war.
‘The story is told by people who lived through the war and records direct evidence of war crimes, summary executions, torture and violence. Harrowing to watch, it was recorded by both victims and perpetrators.'
Books relating to Advance Care Planning and end of life issues:
These books are uplifting and interesting, providing much information and food for thought. And they are not scary!
Charlie Corke, Letting Go: How to plan for a good death, Scribe Publications, 2018
Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and what matters in the end, Profile Books, 2014
Ken Hillman, A Good Life to the End, Allen & Unwin, 2017
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air, The Bodley Head, 2016
Ranjana Srivastava, A Better Death: conversations about the art of living and dying well, Simon & Schuster, 2019