Letters to Nonna

Letters to Nonna: Gloria

This letter is part of a series, ‘Letters to Nonna’ written by Sam Meikle.


Dear Nonna,

You’ve always told me that you can tell a lot about a person by their eyes – and as you can see from her photograph here, Gloria’s eyes radiate warmth and kindness.


I met Gloria by chance at a hospital I was visiting in Manchester, which is about five hours drive northwest from where I live in London. We only spoke for ten minutes during her lunch break, but our conversation still stays with me. It filled me with hope, but also a little worry.

Gloria works as a hospital housekeeper. Her job involves ensuring the hospital wards are clean, safe and attractive for people receiving care there. When we think of a traditional role of a housekeeper, we might just think about cleaning and tidying, but for Gloria, this was just a small part of it: “I love working with people. I love people”.

Treat them as normal and don’t let them feel that they’re different from anybody else.
— Gloria

Gloria shared her belief of making sure people are OK when they were in the hospital and they are treated well. She told me, “whatever their condition is, you have to make it look as normal as possible. Treat them as normal and don’t let them feel that they’re different from anybody else.”

I came away feeling hopeful that there are people like Gloria, who notice the little things, like making sure a patient can reach their drinking water and their phone is near them so they can keep in touch with loved ones. These are the little things that matter and make a difference to people.

At the end of our conversation, I asked Gloria what working at the hospital had taught her about people. She replied, “oh there are so many different characters - you learn a lot about people. Some are very nice. Some are not very nice. And you have got to be the person to be able to cope, with them. Whatever their personalities. So it taught me a lot really. If somebody’s not very nice, you have to cope with that. If somebody is nice, that’s a bonus.”

This still makes my chest feel tight thinking about her words now. That somebody treating her nicely “was a bonus”. I can imagine your face and response when reading this, ‘that’s not right Samantha. It only takes a second to smile and say thank you.’ I know you believe that even though we might be feeling sad, or scared, or in pain in the hospital, we should always treat each other nicely.

I’m not sure what the answer is for people to feel this way too? I worry that sometimes we can get so caught up in systems and process that we forget it’s all about people at the end of the day. How can we support staff to keep connecting with the reason many of them started: their love of people? How can we support patients and members of the public to see staff as people too, not just a uniform? How can we always treat each other nicely, even in some of our darkest moments of needing care?

I know the answers to these questions won’t immediately appear, but truly - meeting people like Gloria makes me feel a little more hopeful that the answers aren’t very far away.

As always - I’m thinking of you Nonna, and hoping that this note finds you well.

Much love,

Samantha xx

Who is Nonna? You can find out here

Who is Nonna?

Nonna means grandmother in Italian. So, Nonna (pronounced Non-nah) is my grandmother.


I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with her when I lived in Brisbane, Australia. She would always graciously humour my requests to “PLEASE PLAY WITH ME NONNA!”.

Now aged 93 years old, she still lives in her own home. She does her own cleaning (“they wouldn’t do the floors like I do”) and potters about in her garden with her prized roses (some 30+ rose bushes, with a few being half a century old).

Her grace, strength and resilience never cease to amaze me. She moved to Australia from Italy over 63 years ago, “not with one word of English”. She and her husband raised four children in Australia while working on their own farm. He died unexpectedly, 45 years ago now. She continued farm work to ensure all four of her children went through university.

Nonna chooses to see the goodness in people and her wish is for people to be happy and to look after each other. Her best days are when all 23 family members are together in one place (eating!).

Nonna is the only one who calls me ‘Samantha’, as this is my “proper” name. She pronounces it 'Sa-man-ta'.


Why ‘Letters to Nonna’?

Over the past two years, I have spoken to many wonderful people who give and receive care. Their stories have made me laugh and made me cry.

I have never been sure of how to best share their words of wisdom and their remarkable stories.


But, whenever I shared them with Nonna, either on the phone or sitting around her kitchen table in Brisbane, I found my words came more easily.

These Letters to Nonna are the kind of conversations that we would have together around her kitchen table.