Time to act on se­niors’ hous­ing needs

No one should live as a stranger in a strange town where they have no fam­ily

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - DEIRDRE PIKE

There are many steps to mak­ing Hamil­ton the best place to raise a se­nior. Let’s start by let­ting them age in place.

My best friend is home this week from the land that stole her, a.k.a. the land down un­der, a.k.a. Aus­tralia. She left us here back in the 90s when her love and life changed di­rec­tion and she has been liv­ing it up down there with the love of her life, Ste­wart, ever since.

She is the best Grade 2 teacher ever and in the Catholic sys­tem that means the best First Com­mu­nion teacher too, plan­ning life-giv­ing litur­gies for the chil­dren and tol­er­at­ing, with love, the par­ents who still in­sist on dress­ing their kids as brides and grooms of Christ and re­ward­ing them with money for do­ing some­thing they will, sadly, for­get the mean­ing of far too soon.

She car­ried that vo­ca­tion on when she left Canada but now she teaches all those lit­tle Aussie kids who have been blessed to have her about her home coun­try and beavers and Maple Leafs (both tree and sport) and Robert Mun­sch and Land of the Sil­ver Birch folk songs and so many other won­der­ful trea­sures we some­times over­look af­ter Grade 2.

Leisa taught me many folk songs and she even taught me how to play them on the gui­tar through a les­son of for­give­ness and un­der­stand­ing on top of chord­ing and strum­ming.

I told the story of my first gui­tar les­son with her when I gave the toast to the bride af­ter her sweet, sweet mom and dad walked her up the aisle at her wed­ding in Owen Sound — the wed­ding that should have taken place in a Catholic Church but wouldn’t be­cause of her beloved spouse’s mar­i­tal sta­tus and an an­nul­ment process that, more of­ten than not, marginal­izes in­no­cent lovers in a dan­ger­ous time.

We met the first day of New Tes­ta­ment The­ol­ogy with S. Marie-Anne Quen­neville at Bres­cia Univer­sity Col­lege, Lon­don. We rec­og­nized im­me­di­ately we were the fun­ni­est peo­ple in the class so that was that — bonds of deep and abid­ing friend­ship that would never end. Not long af­ter we sat on the bed in her dorm room, find­ing out about each other’s mu­si­cal in­ter­ests when she asked me if I knew how to play the gui­tar.

“Sure, I do,” I lied. I did play pi­ano and trum­pet well enough. I’d also of­ten picked up the sparsely-strung gui­tar left be­hind by my step­brother, Billy, who moved away when I was a tod­dler and had died by sui­cide just two years be­fore I made it into univer­sity by the skin of my teeth and my mother’s fierce love and tenac­ity.

When I pro­claimed with cer­tainty I knew how to play the gui­tar, there was no in­stru­ment in sight. Upon my pro­nounce­ment, Leisa reached un­der the bed to pull hers out and said, “Great! Let’s play!”

I held it like I’d seen on TV and mim­icked in my base­ment all those years ago but had no clue how to make it sing. I was caught. I told Leisa the lie. She smiled and said, “Well, let’s make sure you never have to lie about that again! Hold your hand here and that’s a C-chord.” Un­for­get­table lessons in life.

Leisa has come home reg­u­larly over the years. She came home to visit her dy­ing dad and re­turned soon af­ter for his fu­neral. She came home to stand be­side me while I pro­claimed my mar­riage vows to Renée. This time she is home be­cause her 97-year old mother has moved into a long-term care fa­cil­ity.

Genevieve El­iz­a­beth Wat­son and Melville Ste­wart Henry bought their first and only house in Owen Sound in the 1940s and turned it into a home over­flow­ing with milk and honey and muffins and faith, love and char­ity, and Leisa and four other kids to soak it all in.

Gen stayed in the house un­til 2013, 10 years af­ter Mel died, but even­tu­ally had to con­cede safety con­cerns meant her days of in­de­pen­dence were done. She moved into Kelso Villa just a few blocks from the shores of her beloved Sound.

Now in need of greater care, Gen’s faith­ful kids fol­lowed the process set up by our Min­istry of Health and Long-Term Care and found the only bed for their mom was in Kin­car­dine. Gen now lives, and ul­ti­mately will die, as a stranger in a strange town where she has no kin.

These are painful times for Leisa and her fam­ily and for thou­sands of fam­i­lies in the same sit­u­a­tion across our prov­ince. It’s es­pe­cially true here in Hamil­ton where the pop­u­la­tion of se­niors is grow­ing at a faster rate com­pared to the rest of the coun­try ac­cord­ing to new cen­sus data from Stat­sCan.

There are many steps to mak­ing Hamil­ton the best place to raise a se­nior. Let’s start by let­ting them age in place.

Deirdre Pike is a free­lance colum­nist with The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor. She longs to make Hamil­ton the best place to raise a se­nior, a les­bian, an Indige­nous per­son, a child … You can reach her at dpikeatthes­pec@gmail.com or fol­low her on Twit­ter @deirdrepike.

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