A HALIFAX ARTIST SHARES THE STORIES OF THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE AT A LOCAL NURSING HOME

Artist’s note: Its spaceship-like chapel distinguishes Saint Vincent’s Nursing Home from the streetscape. It’s a familiar landmark on the southern end of Windsor Street. Cars whiz by it on their way home from downtown and its parking lot offers a handy shortcut for people walking to Quinpool Road.

But you probably don’t know the people who live inside. Saint Vincent’s is home to 149 people, and  has been serving the frail and the elderly for 50 years now. I got curious about just who calls it home. For more than a year now, I’ve visited regularly and simply sketched the residents, sometimes recording what they say.

It uplifts me. Every one of them is a unique person, with opinions, likes and dislikes, and points of view. Getting to know them has been a pleasure. Their disabilities fade once you know who they are at heart and see them as equals. And they deeply appreciate having  someone listen to what they have to say.

Lorraine Donovan, 80, Sydney

Lorraine doesn’t say much but she doesn’t need to. Her husband Tim is her conduit to the world. Faithfully visiting every day, Tim makes sure she has everything she needs, including meals that he patiently spoon-feeds her. He is quick to help others around the dining room and make guests like me feel welcome. Lorraine wasn’t happy to move to Saint Vincent’s and let people know. Together, Tim and the staff worked to help her become comfortable and secure. Tim is one of many spouses, partners, and adult children who visit residents daily.

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Unidentified resident

An Unidentified Resident

This daughter brought her mother flowers one day after work and wheeled her back to her room for a chat. She didn’t share her name, but I do remember the mother’s gesture. She asked her daughter to slow down so she could tell others she’d bring them back some of her flowers. Despite hearing, eyesight and mobility challenges, I notice many residents make an effort to look out for each other.

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Joyce

 Joyce Clarke, 91, Annapolis Valley 

Joyce is a team player. She’s happy with the daily routine of the floor she’s on, content to sit quietly and watch the goings-on, adding an insightful comment when she feels it’s necessary. She participates in most activities and is a pleasant conversationalist. She entertains family and friends with her stories, and enjoys a sharp memory for names, dates and the personal history of people she’s met throughout her life.

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Margie

  Margie Cameron-Whynot, 73, Bridgewater

Margie is a calm presence who likes to sit in a corner and quietly watch what’s happening in the common room. She smiles at strangers and sometimes becomes lively and conversational with a big smile on her face. Like Lorraine’s husband Tim, Margie’s wife Norma visits daily, helps Margie with her meals and brings photos and news from the family. When her wife’s not visiting, Margie, like many elderly women, will sometimes sit with a doll, a reminder of a vital and purposeful time in her life. Margie was an ordained minister with the United Church of Canada.

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Suzanne

Suzanne MacLeod (no relation), 77, Kentville

Suzanne is hard to miss. She is outgoing and positive; no one gets by her without a conversation. “Ohhhh, my husband was a brilliant man—and tall!” she says. “I used to ask him, ‘Why are people so cruel?’ And he’d just shake his head and say, ‘I don’t know. But we don’t have to be.’” Suzanne, a former nurse, likes to talk about her family ties to the well-known Montreal book store, Archambault. She’s proud of the fact she supported herself through her nursing training. “I didn’t take Papa’s money. I said to him, ‘Papa, I want to do it on my own.’ And I did.”

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Jean

Jean Storey, 90, Dartmouth

Jean is independent-minded. Most afternoons she comes into the dining room where other residents are gathered to watch an afternoon TV show. She prefers to be seated with her back to the TV and knit until supper. She has a lively demeanor and loves people. She takes her meals on a table that fits over her wheelchair and, while eating, casts a keen but non-judgemental eye on whatever dining room drama is underway. Her daughter describes her as having a wonderful personality, and staff agree.

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Nelson

 Nelson Dauphinee, 87, Lantz

Nelson is not aging without protest. He’s known to loudly express his displeasure with the physical and mental limitations he faces in sudden vocal bursts that can make the unsuspecting visitor jump. (Anyone in middle age can relate to his dismay at the insult of decline.) Nelson led an active life as a hunter and a nature-lover. His wife tells me he made beautiful flower arrangements adding, “If you needed his last $5, you would have it.” She says he had a great sense of humour and was a good husband, provider and father.

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