Uncle Keith writes up a storm

Everyone will get old one day, but no one knows if it will be smooth sailing or a rocky road.

This is the sentiment of a poem written by Douglas Murray Home resident, Keith Snyman, 74, describing life behind the brick walls of the home, in Retreat.

The words touched the heart of young mother Michelle McLachlan, 34, a member of the Faith Hope and Charity NPO.

The poem called The Douglas Murray Home brought tears to her eyes because “the way he puts it across, speaking from the heart, summed up life in the home.”

Three years ago, Ms McLachlan started reading to the senior citizens at the home and she loves interacting with Mr Snyman. “I enjoy his intelligent conversations and his talent for writing poems.”

She lost her mother three years ago so seeing how the seniors seldom had visits from family made her sad. “But Mr Snyman is positive and I wanted Southern Mail to get to know the man behind the writer,” she said.

Mr Snyman said for him, writing poems came naturally.

“I’ve been writing poems since I was divorced about 20 years ago.

“I was living alone in Crawford and writing poems about anything that inspires me. I used to be a factory manager in a clothing industry.

“Then I worked at Cape Mental Health as an instructor for the handicapped. There were two phases. One phase was patients who needed to be taught how to wash, brush their teeth – lifeskills. I worked with residents who needed work skills. I held workshops to teach them how to find a job.”

Mr Snyman was proud of himself when he saw two women he had guided get jobs as cleaners at the home.

While working at Cape Mental Health, Mr Snyman found love again, with Devi Pillay, who worked with him.

“We were so happy and we went to eat out a lot,” said Mr Snyman.

But one day sad news hit him when she told him that she had cancer. “But what shocked me the most was one day when I was sitting in a meeting, my manageress, who was not aware of my relationship with Devi, told the meeting that Devi died.

“I was so shocked. I was very sad because I didn’t get to say goodbye to her.”

Mr Snyman said he was inspired to write a poem called, Alone.

His poems are about many things. “I write about people. I am also inspired by Rudyard Kipling.

“In 2010 I entered a Valentine’s Day poetry competition and I got second prize.”

When he came to Douglas Murray eight years ago it was a devastating time for him at first. “I came to the home after I had a stroke.

“I thought I came here to die.

“After three months I realised that “I didn’t want to die. I threw myself off the bed, on purpose. They put me in a cot, and eventually in a wheel- chair.”

He said he wouldn’t give up. “I forced myself to walk. I pushed the wheelchair and then I started to walk again.”

Mr Snyman, who has four children, three sons and one daughter, said they will come to visit him at Christmas. “The residents here are my family. I play bingo with them and I also work with the frail care and help them understand the game.”

He said he organises prizes for winners, such as chips and sweets.

Two years ago another tragedy hit Mr Snyman again as he lost a part of his leg. “I felt pins in my right leg due to poor circulation.

“Then I had gangrene in my toe. Eventually they put off my leg above the knee.”

He wanted a prosthetic leg but it was too expensive.

Being in a wheelchair has not put him off from being active in the home. “I was the chairperson of health and safety for the residents.

“I am still the co-ordinator of disaster management and I have a deputy at the control centre. I can’t do the evacuations in an emergency anymore so I will ask my deputy to take over.”

Mr Snyman said he could never sit around and mope and decided to have his poems published.

“I have to submit 40 poems to the National Library of South Africa Centre for the Book.

“My deadline is April 30 and I have yet to finish. I have 25 poems, already, but need some inspiration to complete the rest.”

Meanwhile, Mr Snyman, who said he can never be alone, found a new love again – Theresa Braaf. “She is my special friend, but you can call her my girlfriend,” he smiled shyly.

* Ms Mc Lachlan contacted Southern Mail last week to say that Mr Snyman has reached his quota of poems and are now waiting to see his compilation in book form.