Harry McMahon sits in the country kitchen of the Sheridan neighbourhood of The Village of Erin Meadows, not far from his wife Margaret’s room. Outside the kitchen, a young recreation team member plays familiar songs upon a guitar; inside he and Margaret hold hands as they share the story of their meeting in west-end Toronto, decades earlier.
Harry often comes to sit with Margaret – his neighbourhood is upstairs, hers is down, so it’s not all that far to come. The separation is based on necessity, for Margaret is living with dementia and requires a little more support, whereas Harry is virtually independent, though his mobility isn’t quite what it used to be as Parkinson’s disease progresses. They both share a room with another person, and they’re hopeful that one day that will change, but for now, he visits often and awaits the Friday evenings when the two can come together in their own private space to be together as husband and wife, the way they always have.
See, one of the first things Harry took note of when he moved to The Village was The Residents’ Bill of Rights, which among many safe-guards, enshrines the right of all residents to be afforded a private space where they can spend time alone with their spouse or partner.
It’s clear they remain very much in love, and Harry moved to the village to bridge the greater separation that existed when Margaret moved to Erin Meadows, nearly a year before he did. That was a challenging time, Harry says. It’s hard to be apart when for decades, ever since he charmed his way into her family and convinced her hard Irish father he was a suitable suitor, they’ve shared everything.
As Harry talks, Margaret looks at him adoringly. The illness that is altering some of her mind’s perceptions on this day have allowed memories of their early years together to flow, and in this moment the words Harry shared earlier about how wonderful it was to reconnect with his wife make even more sense.
He had explained that after reading the bill of rights, he approached general manager Anneliese Kreuger to ask how the team might help facilitate this time alone for he and Margaret.
“We’ve always had a physical connection,” Harry says, “and we had been separated for several months.” He was pleased then, when Anneliese informed him that several team members were working together to formulate a plan that would create that space for the couple, while ensuring their safety. “She was very positive about that and it felt really good,” Harry says. “There was a means to remedying my problem.”
Sujeeva Muthulingam, the Interim Neighbourhood Coordinator for Harry’s Trafalgar neighbourhood, Pat Morris (RAI/QI) for Harry, Pam Croucher (RAI/QI) for Margaret and Chi Awadh (Neighbourhood Coordinator for Margaret) were the key team members who proudly supported Harry and Margaret.
“Harry changed the way we think about the word ‘senior’ coming into long term care,” Sujeeva says. “He had this love for his wife, but his was beyond that and we never seem to look at the intimate side of it, we never even talk about it.”
The type of support they both require means their living spaces remain separate, but after a coordinated effort by team members in several departments, from environmental services to nursing, Margaret and Harry have dedicated time together on a regular basis.
No matter how they spend that time, what matters is that they are together, Harry says, and he’s thankful the team helps to make it happen. He encourages all Ontario long-term care residents to take the time to understand their rights, for had he never done so, that special piece of his life may have remained missing.