• Sewing brings comfort for Carmel

    Sewing brings comfort for Carmel

    When Mrs Carmel Holla moved into Resthaven Mount Gambier, she was determined to continue her lifelong love of sewing.

    So it was that she set about converting part of her room at the residential aged care home into a state-of-the-art ‘sewing corner’, complete with sewing machine, overlocker, drawers of buttons and bobs, and colourful fabrics ready to go.

    ‘I’ve been a sewer ever since I was about ten,’ she explains; ‘I used to watch my mum, a qualified tailoress.’

    ‘My sister and my daughter are qualified tailors too, so even though I’m not qualified myself, I think I have enough experience.’

    Born in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Carmel says, ‘My mum was Indian, and my dad was Norwegian and in the Merchant Navy.’

    Despite the family history of tailoring, Carmel decided to become a nurse, beginning her training at age 16, in 1965.

    ‘There were some interruptions to my career though, and I got my veil and stripes in 1980.’

    There certainly were interruptions; Carmel has not had an easy life.

    Married for the first time at age 18, Carmel and her first husband, Harris, went on to have five children, three boys and two girls. Sadly, all three boys died soon after birth. Whilst Carmel was pregnant with their fifth child, Harris developed a brain tumour.

    At age 26, following the birth of her fifth child, a son who lived for just a week, Carmel developed septicaemia and required a hysterectomy. Whilst she was in hospital recovering from surgery, Harris was also in hospital undergoing chemotherapy. He died not long after.

    In these hard times, Carmel raised the children as best she could, and went on to meet her second husband, Ron. Unfortunately, Ron would eventually die of a heart attack.

    In 1988, Carmel broke her back whilst making a bed at work, causing paraplegia; ‘I’ve been in a wheelchair for 36 years,’ she says.

    In 2011, Carmel moved to South Australia to be close to her daughter and grandchildren, moving into a local retirement village in Mount Gambier. She lived there for seven years.

    ‘I’d lost three sons and two husbands, and I said I’d never marry again – but then I met John,’ she says. ‘We were both widowers, and he was so good to me.’

    Carmel and John moved into Resthaven Mount Gambier in June 2023. She explains, ‘John was sick, and I couldn’t live on my own. ‘But as soon as we moved in, John settled down really well. Our love was amazing.’

    Sadly, John died in January 2024.

    Carmel now finds comfort in her sewing nook, where a large photo of John hangs on the wall beside her colourful cottons and yarns.

    ‘We would have been married for four years this year,’ she says. Turning to look at his photograph with a wry smile, she adds, ‘And then you went and died, didn’t you!’

    ‘I’m sure he’s watching,’ she says, waggling her finger at John’s smiling portrait, ‘and I’m watching you!’

    Despite her many trials in life, Carmel continues to maintain a positive attitude that is cherished in the Resthaven Mount Gambier community – along with her beautiful sewing projects.

    ‘I make girls dresses, dolls clothes, Bible bags, knitting bags, all sorts. I give a lot of things away, but people also buy them.’

    ‘People ask me to make things for them when they’re having a baby, or need a gift. I just love sewing.’

    Carmel also enjoys a thriving social life in the home, with a large group from her former retirement village moving in at around the same time.

    ‘I moved in and brought all my friends in with me!’ she says. ‘I’m so happy here. I’ve never been treated like this.’

    ‘I’ve always been the one doing the hard work, and now I’m being looked after for the first time in my life; I don’t have any stress or strain. No one understands how much I appreciate what they do.’

    Whilst enjoying the comforts of being looked after, it’s hard for Carmel to break the habit of a lifetime, and she still insists on cleaning her own room.

    ‘They do everything for you, if you want them to,’ she says, ‘but I love to clean my own room. I also like to clean the banisters in the hallways, and dust the tops of the doors and the paintings.’

    ‘But I do let the staff clean the floors,’ she concedes.

    ‘The carers and nurses and Belle [Manager] are so wonderful to me.’

    ‘I struggle of course, like everybody does at my age, but you can’t change anything by grizzling. It’s been a bit of a traumatic life, but it must’ve been meant to be somehow.’

    Questions? Call accommodations on 08 8373 9113