Remembering Aunt Doris By J.M. Frey
J.M. Frey was kind enough to be a guest blogger today in support of the Authors Fight Alzheimer’s book signing fundraiser. She is an honoured participate in the fundraiser and comes to the event with the memory of her Aunt Doris, who passed away in 2008 from this horrific disease. Her great-uncle, Doug Gilmour, is also attending the book signing with his memoirs, which touch on the difficulties of his wife’s decline with the disease. Please take a moment to read J.M’s reflections of Doris and a lovely excerpt from Doug’s memoirs. Doris is one of millions of people who have suffered and been lost to Alzheimer’s disease and it’s vital that they are honoured and remembered for the people they once were. Thank you J.M. and Doug for sharing!
Remembering Aunt Doris
Doug A. Gilmour* is J.M. Frey’s great-uncle – her grandmother’s brother. The love of his life was a spitfire named Doris, a star ladies softball pitcher who had been invited down to the United States to join “A League Of Their Own” during the war, but had declined to stay home and look after her friends and family. She was a warm, no-nonsense woman who, though not farm-breed, took to the farming lifestyle and community with aplomb and enthusiasm.
Aunt Doris was one of J.M. Frey’s particular favourite family members. As neither had been graced with any sisters, they decided that despite the age difference they would be each other’s sister. At every family reunion, party, or gathering, Doris and J.M. would gossip and trade sisterly barbs, keeping and entrusting secrets to one another in a corner. Doris especially loved J.M.’s singing, and J.M. made a point of learning a new song to sing to her Aunt each time they met.
The last time J.M. saw her sister, it was at the 2007 Ord Reunion, a large family gathering that happens annually in Puslinch, Ontario, and celebrates the descendants of Andrew Ord, one of the first Scotsman to emigrate to Canada. J.M. is a 7th generation descendant of Mr. Ord, and the day-long picnic usually attracts over a hundred cousins from all over the country.
At the end of day, J.M. wished her Aunt and Uncle a safe journey home. Aunt Doris said: “What a lovely party that was! Why were we here? Who are all these nice people? They were very kind.”
“I know,” J.M. replied. “They’re all your family and they love you.”
“Isn’t that nice!” Doris replied.
J.M. waited for their car to pull away and vanish down the dirt road of the county line before retreating to the washroom to cry. This was the last thing J.M. ever heard her beloved sister say.
In 2007, Doris Gilmour, Doug’s wife and the love of his life, succumbed to Alzheimer’s.
Below is two excerpts from Doug Gilmour’s memoir, “A Successful Life: Overcoming Adversity with Persistence” (General Store Publishing, 2011).
The first section is from the chapter “Doris”, in which Doug meets and woos Doris. The second is from the chapter “The Shadows of Death”, which details the decline in Doris’ health and eventual passing.
Excerpts reprinted with the permission of the author.
*Not the hockey player, though they are probably distantly related.
My sisters Helen and Evelyn played ball for the Guelph Royals. They and their teammates were very successful, and the team had a large following of fans. While I was working in Hamilton, I attended their games when shift work permitted. They frequently played teams from the Rochester area in the United States. It was common to listen to them describe their games and spectacular plays. Often, someone they referred to as “Butch,” their catcher, was one of the stars. She certainly had enthusiasm, played hard and well, and inspired the others. I played ball for our local team in Badenoch, first as shortstop, then later as catcher; however, my capability was much more limited.
One time, the Morriston ball team — our local competition — invited the Guelph Royals to play a game against their men’s team. They exchanged pitchers; the men’s pitcher threw for the ladies against his team, and the Guelph Royals pitcher threw for the men against her team. It was an interesting game, and a lot of fun. Later, they had a party in the Forrester’s Hall in the village. Butch was encouraged to participate in the program. My sisters discovered that their catcher was also an accomplished acrobat and tap dancer. How envious I was of the Morriston ball club. If only Badenoch had thought of doing something like that. But then the girls might beat us. What a humiliation that would be! Anyway, besides feeling a bit inferior to such female athletic ability, shift work made it difficult to organize any kind of game.
Helen and Evelyn became good friends with Butch. It was not long before she was invited out to the farm. She was introduced to me as Doris Butler, but my sisters still called her Butch. I was over-awed. I was not in that girl’s class. She was an exceptional ball player, an acrobat, and an excellent tap dancer. Besides that, she was extremely good looking, had well-groomed curly brown hair, with deep, dark brown eyes. She was enthusiastic about everything. I mused, “She puts me to shame. She is such an accomplished city girl. How did someone acquire so much talent?” It was much later that I discovered her dad and his family were raised on a farm in Oxford County. Doris loved the country.
A few weeks later, Doris and a couple of other girls, whose names I have long forgotten, decided to ride their bicycles from Guelph to the farm. Cruising around in my Model A, I stopped at MacDonald’s store in Puslinch. I found the three girls, including Doris, resting there. Slightly out of breath, they were a bit uncertain how to get to the farm from the village of Puslinch. I mounted the bicycles between the front fenders and the hood of the Model A. Fortunately, this car had a rumble seat. Then everyone squeezed in for the three mile ride to the farm. Doris was very appreciative of the ride. After, we all played a game of ball out behind the barn and had a lot of fun. I thought, “For such a talented girl, she can be a lot of fun out here in the country playing ‘pick up’ baseball.”
The work at the railway car shop became very boring. The war was over, and working in a factory in late summer was not agreeing with me. I longed for the country and outside work. Help was still scarce in western Canada to help with the harvest. Our government was encouraging people to go west to work, by giving them free train fare. The harvest was complete in Ontario, so I quit my job and Charley “Chuck” Cook and I applied at the local employment office. It was soon was time to catch our train to once more work in western Canada’s harvest. To be as cost effective as possible, my sisters prepared food to eat on the train. We had no meal or bunk tickets. Doris Butler was visiting, so she helped my sister Helen to kill a chicken and roast it for me to take on my journey.
When I arrived home late in October, I was anxious to rejoin the fellowship of my friends. Popular activities were the Friday night dances in the township hall in the village of Aberfoyle. Doris was there, and I found enough courage to ask her to dance. She was a good dancer, and at intermission, with my courage bolstered, I invited her out to the Model A to talk about the weather. Hah! I rediscovered what a nice girl she was and I even had the nerve to suggest that there might be a future for us together. She did not run! She seemed to like me. Wow!
We began seeing each other regularly. My dad liked Doris very much. When I began to bring her home more frequently, he was ecstatic. I was working at Didero’s, trimming and waxing turnips, during the winter of 1945–46. This was a business situated just west of Brock Road about five miles south of Freelton. Our country roads were cleared of snow only intermittently, so I boarded with my sister Jean and her husband Ray. They had two children, Terry and baby Lynne, and lived on the west side of Highway 6 at Beechgrove. It was time to become more serious about my future.
I had never formally asked Doris to marry me. It just seemed to be a mutual understanding for our future.
Now I wonder — how did she feel? What did she expect? What would she have liked? We never discussed this! Nevertheless, one evening we visited a jeweller on lower Wyndham Street in Guelph. Inside, we examined several sets of engagement rings and matching wedding bands. I could not afford to spend a lot of money. Doris understood, and between us we chose a beautiful, petite pair. It was an extremely meaningful and emotional evening.
Social functions included visiting our good friends Susie and Bob Scott in Guelph. Doris helped complete Bob’s income tax returns. On occasion, her brother Doug accompanied her. He entertained with his guitar, sang and/or accompanied himself with a harmonica. We attended local ball games and community programs that were held in the auditorium of Guelph City Hall. On warm summer Sunday evenings, we would park in Exhibition Park and listen to band concerts. We enjoyed several Sunday dinners as Grandma Butler (Florence) entertained her whole family. We enjoyed many a rousing euchre game, either with Doug and Mabel Butler, or at Aberfoyle with my brother Dick and his wife, Vanora.
One evening, when I was returning Doris to Guelph in my 1928 Durant car, the left rear axle broke. With a jolt, the rear driver side of the car hit the roadside. The wheel and tire then rolled past us into the ditch of the opposite side of the road. Luckily, the occupants of the car following us stopped and then helped push the car off the roadway.
Doris and I were given a ride to her home, where I stayed until the next morning. The next day, a replacement axle was acquired, and repairs were completed at a recently opened garage operated by brothers George and Don Pentelow.
Our future occupation was a frequent conversation topic between us. Rural Ontario was becoming supplied with electrical energy. Transmission lines needed to be built and farm buildings wired for electricity. Since I had no trade or formal education, Ontario Hydro seemed a likely future employer.
Doris liked the thought of farming, and I was raised on a farm. Dad offered to sell us his farm, where I was born and raised. I declined his offer, mainly because of my dislike for picking the numerous stones and the difficulty in working steep hillsides.
My work at Didero’s often involved loading turnips purchased from local farmers. One day, we were loading turnips at Fred Mast’s home. Fred knew I was engaged to be married and was pondering my future occupation. He offered to sell me his farm. I was a frequent hunter for rabbits, pheasants, grouse, and sometimes deer, so I had walked over this farm on numerous occasions. It did not have as many stones as Dad’s, and the hills, except at the barn, were not as steep. The soil had less clay in its composition, so was easier tilled. It also had a stone house similar to, but larger than Dad’s. That was the clincher! A few weeks later a deal was made.
We now had a place to live but had not set a date for our wedding.
Doris was working at Hammond Electric, and I was busy finalizing the farm purchase and acquiring livestock and machinery. We were also learning more about each other. Occasionally, we became upset with each other, and relations were strained. Doris was a city girl, and I, a country guy. Sometimes our personalities clashed, mostly because our city/country perspective varied. I felt uncomfortable in the presence of her urban friends and co-workers. She was an accomplished bookkeeper, doing payroll at work for Hammond Electric. Her girlfriend was engaged to a chap training to be a chartered accountant. Doris did not understand or appreciate the demand a sick farm animal placed on my schedule.
Work on the farm affected my ability to attend some of her social functions and ball games. When our schedules matched, I felt outclassed, rubbing shoulders with white collar associates, me with my sunburned nose and work-stained, calloused hands. Our relationship deteriorated. It appeared to her that I was not completely devoid of feeling for a former girlfriend. When Doris challenged me on this, I was unable to truthfully identify our problem. Did I really still care more for the other? Was it my discomfort with Doris’s many abilities and her sophisticated friends? Was our mutual attraction for each other real and sincere? My confused, uncertain answer to her challenge was, “I don’t know.”
I quickly discovered another aspect of Doris’s character. She gave absolute loyalty and devotion to her betrothed and expected the same in return. With my uncertain answer, “I don’t know” barely out of my mouth, her engagement ring was placed in my hand, and she got out of the car and left. Luckily, we were parked in front of her mom’s house. (I have since learned, as I am sure all our children have, that their mother was a loyal, devoted person, who expected the same in return, with an uncanny ability to detect insincerity or deception.)
As one might suspect, we were both devastated. It is not for me to attempt to describe Doris’s feelings. No doubt they would have been somewhat similar to my own. Our relationship was strained; our plans awry. Explanations seemed impossible. I had a farm and livestock to look after, and a house that, when the former owners vacated, would be empty. How do you begin to develop new relationships, or do you really wish to? It was a long, difficult summer. I do know that Doris confided in my sister Helen, who was her good friend, as did I. I learned later that, unknown to me, Doris and I were once both at Helen’s house at the same time. Later that year, Doris agreed to a date with me. After picking her up, we went to the farm, where the house was now vacant. After exploring, we stopped in the front hall. The afternoon sun was shining through the side windows of the front door. We stopped where the sun was shining through some cobwebs. I mentioned that I was not a very good housekeeper, took her engagement ring out of my pocket, and asked if she would wear it. She said yes!
We married the following year on February 22, 1947, in Dublin Street United Church. I was excited and apprehensive. The only weddings I had attended were those of my uncle, Jim Ord and Helen Grey, then my sister Helen to Jim Martinson. Both were small; the Ord wedding was in the bride’s home. My sister Helen’s was in a Hamilton church. What was my role? What was required of me? My future mother-inlaw, Florence (whom I was already calling Mom) assisted me. We went shopping together. With her guidance, I bought a pearl necklace for Doris, and a suit and matching shirt and tie for me. I cannot recall who arranged for f lowers, corsage, and boutonniere. Doris and I arranged and paid for the photographer.
Her mother arranged the reception in the church hall. On the Christmas prior to our wedding, my gift to Doris was a large cedar chest, lined with British Columbia cedar. I borrowed my neighbour Charley Cook’s farm trailer, hitched it to my 1928 Durant car and transported it to Guelph.
The sun shone brightly the morning of our wedding. Dad was excited. He thought quite highly of Doris. He was not convinced that the wedding we had planned should be so large, but was accepting. Soon the weather changed. By noon, we were experiencing a howling blizzard, and my car was undependable. My best man, Roy Winer, was driving us in his car. My usher (and brother) Dick brought his daughter Joan as a f lower girl. Doug Buttenham and Chuck Cook, the other ushers, had their own transportation. The matron of honour, Helen Martinson, travelled from Hamilton. She was nursing her firstborn son, Andrew, so he came along.
The roads were beginning to drift. We became stuck in a drift at the corner of Wentworth County Centre Road and Mountsberg Road. Eventually, as some of us got out to push, we cleared the drift. We chose this route to Highway 6, since the most direct route was impassable. Arriving at the church in time, we were dismayed that Doris had not arrived. It was a long wait. What could have happened?
Her home was only a few blocks away. Everyone else was here. Only later did I learn that Doris’s brother Doug forgot that it was his duty to bring Doris to the church. She was about to call a taxi when Doug remembered to drive home to get her. Whew! I was nervous!
To sign the wedding register, we had to walk along a narrow passage behind the front of the church, walking single file. I repeatedly stepped on the train of Doris’s wedding dress. The wedding pictures were taken at a portrait studio in downtown Guelph.
The reception in the church hall was catered by the Dublin Street Church ladies. I do not remember much about the meal. Guests were mostly aunts and uncles from both sides and a few close friends of Doris’s and mine. We went back to Doris’s home for her to change into travelling clothes, and then we caught the evening train to Toronto.
My brother John, at seventeen years of age, looked after farm chores until we returned.
We had hotel reservations at the Walker House Hotel in Toronto, close to Union Station. We stayed there for two nights. We attended a radio station to see a live performance of the “Happy Gang.” This was a very popular wartime noon-hour radio show, featuring Bert Pearl and his Happy Gang with Kathleen Stokes at the organ. We also visited Mr. and Mrs. Thorne Cook, the brother of our neighbour Charley.
My friend Chuck and I had stayed at their home when we went to Maple Leaf Saturday night hockey games. Doris and I travelled by train to Detroit to stay a week with her Aunt Alma and family. We also visited her Uncle Fred and family. They were all gracious hosts and showed us many attractions there. In later years, Doris and I, while very much appreciating their hospitality, agreed it would have been better to have spent a more private, intimate time together.
We arrived back in Guelph to find that all the country roads were blocked with snow. We had arrangements with my brother-inlaw Lloyd Cummins to move our furniture to the farm when we returned. Township employees were attempting to clear the roads, so we stayed for several days with Doris’s mother. Finally, we decided we must move. Lloyd arrived and everything was loaded in his truck.
The roads were still blocked with snow, but the road crew promised to send the snow plough. They kept their promise but could not move the drifts. We stayed with Lloyd and Doris for two days, to the delight of their children, Audrey, Doris, and Joyce. Finally, I arranged with Charley Cook to help me with his team of horses and sleigh. I walked from the highway to the farm and got our team and sleigh. We met Lloyd, his truck, and our furnishings at the highway. Transferring everything to the sleighs, we started for the farm. The roads at the two hills were impassable. We detoured around them through the fields, finally arriving at the farm. Before entering the house, I picked Doris up and carried her across the threshold.
Coincidentally, Dad was there. “Oh,” he exclaimed, “Had you not been in yet?” We did not answer. I picked Doris up in my arms, carried her into the large farmhouse kitchen, and then set her down. Dad took it all in with a pleased look on his face.
We soon completed unloading and placing our furniture. Then Charley advised us that his wife, Rose, had supper prepared. We were invited to their house. Doris was delighted, as was I. We enjoyed a delightful dinner and visit. So began our life together at the farm. There was no snuggling together in our new home that first night.
Doris was too tired; I was not. Was this the first hint of our marriage adjustment? I could write much more here about Doris, but will include it in later chapters. Doris was always there. She was very capable of questioning disagreement, and sometimes determined resistance. Often as advisor, and always loyal, Doris was my mentor.
Farming practices continued much the same as I was used to while growing up, so I was familiar with them. We both needed to adapt to each other as well as familiarize Doris to the farm, but she was enthusiastic.
With the help of Jim Cook and my brother John, I cut trees for next year’s firewood. In early spring, we had a “wood circling bee” and neighbours came to cut the wood into stove lengths. The meal that Doris prepared for the hungry men was a success. My brother Dick was still farming, so we shared implements and labour and worked together during planting, haying, and harvesting. He acquired a W4 International Harvester tractor, plough, cultivator, and a drop-head hay loader. His land was ready earlier than ours so we planted his spring crops first. In haying time, we alternated each year about who started first. Harvest times at each farm were determined by the ripeness of the grain.
Doris offered to continue working to supplement our income. I was uncomfortable with this, mostly because she would be associating with the people in whose presence I was uncomfortable. We also needed time to improve our farmhouse living space and become accustomed with living together. We both agreed to have children, and Doris wished to continue playing some ball games. We agreed she would not go back to work. I found it unsettling when she left early in the afternoon for a ball game. I was home alone, just starting evening chores. I began to wonder: Had I made the correct decision to farm? If I had no evening chores would I have joined Doris and her friends? In late June, I did join them and travelled to a game in New York State. When we returned, we were walking in the lane together, talking about our trip. I was concerned about leaving evening chores, and our mutual desire to have children. She chose that occasion to reveal that we were expecting our first child.
The Shadows of Death
Doris and I were changing, Doris more than I. It was not readily obvious at the beginning. I had to help her remember past and future events. Anticipating this to happen as we aged, we were not overly concerned. She worried a little more than I about changes in her health; she experienced frequent headaches and irregular bowel movements. Visits to her doctor were made as required. These were frequently unsatisfactory because she forgot to disclose all of her symptoms. Similarly, his diagnosis and prescribed corrective measures were forgotten. We corrected this by making a list of her health concerns and a list of all of her prescribed medications. Use of Metamucil was not included in her medication list. The list and the doctor’s diagnosis were filed electronically and updated as necessary. Doris kept a paper copy of this in her purse. I attended her appointments with her to ensure all her concerns were disclosed, and then directly received the doctor’s diagnosis. For several years, Doris regularly used Phenobarbital as protection from potential epileptic seizures. We were concerned this was affecting her memory. Dr. Upton, neurologist at McMaster University Hospital in Hamilton confirmed the dosage level. Other testing (care needs) revealed the initial stages of dementia. Doris and I were advised there was no cure. Its progression could be delayed through regular exercise, especially walking, but it was difficult to get Doris to exercise regularly.
She took a long time to do things and was always “too tired.” In 2004, I had the opportunity to go to Nicaragua on mission work from Duff ’s Church. Would Doris be able to care for herself? A plan was devised where each day I was away would be marked on the calendar with a large X. This would ensure she knew what day it was. I prepared several casseroles and stored them in our freezer, and noon meals were available at the nearby seniors’ centre. With meals taken care of and good neighbours close by, I was assured she could manage.
The walk to the seniors’ centre for meals and playing shuffleboard would provide some exercise.
In 2005 on a hot July day, Doris became lost. I was late picking her up from her hairdresser. We frequently walked together to and from there, taking a shorter route through Woodlawn Cemetery.
She decided not to wait for me, turned the wrong way as she left the hairdresser’s, and then became confused. I drove all around the area without finding her. Police were notified, and an alert was sent out. About two hours later, she found her way home, very hot and upset. Police were notified and came to speak with her. Their recommended cool bath, followed by a long nap, revived her.
It was taking Doris longer and longer to look after personal hygiene, dressing, and eating meals. She had extreme difficulty choosing clothes to wear and food to eat. Volunteers at the seniors’ centre were very patient, but I was becoming impatient. It was very trying for me. I tried to ensure she arrived on time for her various activities, including shuffleboard. She did not realize that when she was late she was inconveniencing others. Paradoxically, she was a very good and competitive player. When we did arrive to play, she was cheerful and recognized everyone. She was much admired and highly respected.
Irregular and difficult bowel movements became frequent problems, and she took more and more time in the washroom. When we were at home, I could investigate. Away from home, I sometimes asked a female friend to check for me. We wondered if Metamucil, a fibre supplement to develop regularity, might be accumulating in her system. Her doctor recommended drinking plenty of water, using a different laxative, and eating more high fibre food. Doris did not like the laxative he suggested, although we did begin eating more of the proper vegetables. The problem continued and required several professional interventions.
Doris had two fused vertebrae in her upper spine. Her left wrist did not function normally following a severe fracture in December 2000. She also had osteoporosis. Besides chronic tiredness, her body ached. We arranged for regular massage treatments, which relaxed her and made her feel better. One day, I was again late in arriving for her following a treatment. She decided to walk to meet me but went the wrong way. After wandering for a half hour, she returned to the massage parlour. Staff there telephoned me as I was about to, once again, report her missing.
Doris had another “care needs” test. She rated only as “low” — fifteen out of thirty. We were relieved, but shortly after that I noted her taking a wrong turn when walking alone to the seniors’ centre. Because I was watching, I was able to call out the correct direction. Awakening one night after midnight, I found her gone and our exterior door unlocked. I entered the hall and met her returning from attempting to discard garbage in the garbage room that was locked at night.
I encouraged her to not lock the bathroom door when she was looking after her morning personal hygiene. One morning, I heard her fall. She had forgotten and the door was locked. I used a short section of stiff wire to stick through the door knob to release the lock.
Fortunately, she was not lying in front of the door. She was semi-conscious, so I called 911. Several tests were taken during the five hours in the emergency ward. Everything appeared normal, and she was allowed to go home. Early in September, we were spending a few days at our trailer north of Durham. Needing to use the bathroom before daylight one morning, she went out the outside door. I felt the cool air, awakened, and discovered her on the ground outside. She was unhurt, and I was able to help her up. Those events concerned us, so the Community Care Access Centre agreed to another “care needs” test.
Doris did not do as well this time. Her needs were rated as high! We both agreed — she reluctantly — that we should investigate retirement and/ or nursing home care. Together we visited the services offered by the village of Riverside Glen. If I would not be staying with her, secure facilities were recommended. We completed the tour, and Doris emphatically said, “I do not want to be here!”
Thursday, October 18, was “hair day.” It was still difficult to get her there on time. I picked up a copy of the Wellington Advertiser while waiting for her. When she was finished, we went to the seniors’ centre for lunch. Friends and acquaintances greeted her cheerfully and complimented her on her appearance. That night, we were late going to bed. Doris’s bowels were still irregular. We disagreed on treatment, differing about her doctor’s suggestion as opposed to her regular regime. To my continuing regret, I retired without waiting for her. About three twenty a.m., I was awakened by a loud noise. Doris was lying in the fetal position on the bedroom floor.
Thankfully, she was conscious. As I attempted to help her up, she complained of pain in her hip and pelvic area. I dialled 911, and soon she was being examined in the emergency area of Guelph General Hospital. X-rays did not reveal bone fractures; however, she could not bear weight on her left leg. She was admitted to the hospital shortly after noon.
The hospital physician requested additional information about Doris’s medication list. I neglected to tell him about her regular use of Metamucil. That evening, they were about to prescribe Tylenol Two to relieve Doris’s pain. I objected because it contained codeine, a contributor to constipation. I now regret suggesting morphine because Doris became disoriented. Extra prune juice was provided, and the nursing station alerted that Doris required this regularly, and that they needed to pay close attention to avoid severe constipation. She was still in pain.
Further x-rays revealed no fracture, but she was still unable to put weight on her left leg. A pelvic area ultrasound examination revealed two hairline fractures; one in the cusp of her hip, the other in the pelvis. Guelph Wellington Community Care Access Centre staff conducted another test to determine Doris’s need for care. She rated twenty-six out of thirty — very high need. I was surprised they would do the test while she was sedated. Were it not for the confirmed hairline fractures, she would have been considered ready for alternate level of care. The next day, Doris was unable to eat. She was very, very constipated. Nursing shifts changed just after being advised of Doris’s need for special attention to avoid this. Her irregularity and use of Metamucil was not listed in her medication file, so her special needs were not revealed to all involved. She endured a very painful, humiliating experience to partially relieve this condition.
Doris began to improve. Gradually, she could bear a little weight on her left leg, using a walker and help from a nurse. I received another visit from a CCAC social worker. Doris was well enough for alternate level of care. That meant, first, we must begin paying for her time in hospital at a rate based on her annual income. Second, we must choose three nursing homes to apply to for residency. This was a complete surprise to me. We had previously considered the possibility of a nursing home. Now I was anticipating her transfer to a rehabilitation centre. The social worker argued that Doris’s dementia was such that she did not qualify. I was devastated. Another shock was to learn that if there was no room in the nursing homes we chose, the Ministry of Health, via the CCAC, would decide on the home! There was no room in any of the nursing homes we chose. On November 21, Doris was transferred, as a transition patient, to the Grand River Hospital in Freeport. “Transition” I later learned, meant transition to a nursing home when space became available. More surprises were to come. The first surprise was that new patients to Freeport must bring their own hair shampoo and hand soap. No one had told us that. Also, the CCAC head office was in the region of Waterloo. Guelph/Wellington CCAC was a subsidiary of Waterloo, so the region of Waterloo CCAC now had jurisdiction over the nursing home placement.
The transfer of Doris’s medical history while in Guelph General was incomplete. She was still showing signs of constipation and was unable to eat very much. I needed to be insistent. With help from a sympathetic nurse, I was successful in obtaining all the records and eventually discussing them with the house doctor. With the co-operation of the resource nurse, I successfully had both hospitals’ medical history of Doris provided to our home doctor. We reviewed these in his office early in January. No one affirmed it, but all alluded to the probability that dementia was responsible for Doris’s condition.
I acquired a very good paper entitled “Understanding the Dementia Experience,” by Jennifer Ghent-Fuller, BA , RN , and M.Sc.N. of the Alzheimer Society of Canada in Cambridge, Ontario. I found it through searching the Internet. This helped me understand what was happening to Doris.
I was very disappointed that Doris was not receiving walking rehabilitation. Sue and Bruce [Doug and Doris’ daughter and son-in-law] brought Doris a wheeled walker. With their help, and others, Doris became much more mobile. Assistance was still needed as she did have difficulty remembering how to use it. She had difficulty chewing and swallowing food. Food preparation was changed frequently from all liquid to minced food. Doris never could tolerate minced food, always finding that it scattered inside her mouth and made it more difficult to swallow. I was very concerned. She was unable to digest food however prepared, and then was sick to her stomach. Bowel movements were difficult, infrequent, and painful.
We did enjoy quality time together. Early in December, hospital volunteers prepared and served Christmas dinner. Patients’ spouses or other family members were invited, and the meal was delicious. I insisted that Doris be given her food as normally prepared. She did not eat very much but seemed to enjoy it. Entertainment followed. The next day, I became ill with a severe chest cold. I was afraid to visit and missed eight days. Shortly before Christmas, we were granted permission for Doris to go out to help celebrate George Pentelow’s eighty-fifth birthday. We celebrated Christmas Day at Nancy Dickieson’s, and then Doris was permitted to be home overnight. In February, we helped celebrate Karla’s birthday. We enjoyed a lovely visit with Karla’s Grandpa Dickieson and other family members at Twin Oaks Nursing Home. I was pleasantly surprised at how well Doris participated in these activities. She was weak from eating so little, but we caught mini glimpses of her vibrant personality.
They held musical entertainment with a sing song that Friday afternoon, and Doris enjoyed it. Her feet were always moving, keeping time with the music. They had a bingo game and Doris needed help with the bingo cards. They had slotted covers to move over the number as called instead of little tokens, and she could not learn that new method.
The CCAC worker advised us that this section of the hospital would close at the end of February. Doris’s care would be transferred unilaterally back to Guelph/Wellington, and she would likely be moved to Arthur. Sue was aware there would soon be room available in Maryhill, where Bruce’s father and other relatives were. A lively discussion ensued with an unhappy Guelph/Wellington social worker.
I reluctantly agreed that Doris would go to Arthur, unless Maryhill became available. To our relief, room did become available in Maryhill, and Doris would be transferred there on February 25.
I was becoming excited. I obtained permission to bring Doris home to spend the next day at home. It would be February 22, our sixty-first wedding anniversary. I hoped Doris would be feeling well and alert. We needed to talk about her move to Maryhill. Susan and Bruce had left the day before to go to Australia for a holiday. Karla [Doug and Doris’ granddaughter] and I had a lunch date in St. Jacobs. Before going to the hospital, I planned to purchase a corsage for Doris. I was late leaving Karla so did not have time. I hurried to visit. When I arrived, Doris immediately confided, “I am not feeling very well!” I had heard this expression before, but as we visited and talked, she frequently felt better. Today I noticed more emphasis in her voice. I had some mixed fresh fruit with me and offered her some. She usually enjoyed it, but this time she declined.
Just then, Isabel Crow and George Pentelow arrived for a visit. I suggested she use her walker and we all go to the lounge for privacy. Before we reached the lounge, Doris collapsed on the floor. Nurses quickly appeared to assist, and soon she was back in her bed. She had suffered a massive stroke. We previously had given each other power of attorney for health. Neither of us wished to be kept alive in the absence of substantial recovery or improvement in the quality of life.
Karla obtained a corsage and brought it to the hospital. Judy came home, and Sue and Bruce cancelled the rest of their holiday and came home. I remained two nights with Doris until they arrived. Late one night, Scott, Karla, and Krista [Doug and Doris’ grandchildren] serenaded Doris with lovely singing.
The lady in the next bed enjoyed it and joined in. Doris did not regain consciousness. She died in my arms early in the morning of February 26. Judy and Sue had been with Joanne when she died. They both assured me that Doris was relaxed from the sedatives administered, but I was apprehensive. Just before dying, Doris managed a long mournful moan. It troubled and grieved me greatly.
I recalled the biblical record of the last questioning words of Jesus from the cross, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” I knew that God had not forsaken her. I pondered, and it has remained with me, the mystery of the depth of our awareness as we pass from mortality into immortality.
A frequent stressful time for Doris was after the evening meal. She would beg me to stay with her. Holding hands soothed her as we watched the evening news. She loved watching Wheel of Fortune. When it came on TV, she was more relaxed, and I could go home. I was holding her hand as she was dying until I let go to swab her dry mouth. I lay beside her for several minutes after her last breath. As I finally left her side, I discovered both her hands firmly wrapped about the stump of my left arm.
Reverend Marty and his wife, Barb; Krista and Scott; and Sue, Judy, Karla, and Ian [Doug and Doris’ grandchildren] were all there. Over the last several years, Doris, aware of her increasing dependence upon me, repeatedly warned me, “You must not die before me!” Her wish was granted. As long as I live, I shall remember our grandson Ian’s comment, “Until death us do part.”
Doris’s funeral was held on March 1, 2008. Duff ’s Church was filled and overflowing. It was a fitting tribute to a wonderful woman, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, neighbour, and friend.
J.M. Frey is the author of TRIPTYCH (Dragon Moon Press), and “The Once and Now-ish King” in WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME (Dragon Moon Press, August 2011), THE DARK SIDE OF THE GLASS (Double Dragon Publishing, June 2012), and “Whose Doctor?” in DOCTOR WHO IN TIME AND SPACE (McFarland Press, Fall 2012). She holds a BA in Dramatic Literature, where she studied playwriting and traditional Japanese theatre forms, and a Masters of Communications and Culture, where she focused on fanthropology. She is active in the Toronto geek community, presenting at awards ceremonies, appearing on TV, radio, podcasts, live panels and documentaries to discuss all things fandom through the lens of Academia, and has lectured at the Pop Culture Association of America’s Annual Conference (San Francisco), at the University of Cardiff’s ‘Whoniversal Appeal’ Conference, and the Technology and Pedagogy Conference at York University. Frey’s pie-in-the-sky dream is to one day sing a duet with John Barrowman.
Doug Gilmour has lived through the better part of the twentieth century and on to current times. He wrote his memoirs, Throughout A Successful Life, to record memories of his mother, experiences of rural life and wartime during the twentieth century and to prove that experiencing adversity and challenge need not discourage or deter one from achieving success in many ways. The challenges that Doug and his wife, Doris, met and conquered throughout their life together are poignantly chronicled, including Doris’ fight with Alzheimer’s disease. A Successful Life: Overcoming Adversity with Persistence is a wonderful record of one ordinary man’s extraordinary journey through life.