Barb Brittain’s smile is wide and her eyes kind as her husband Ross discusses the talent she had for warming a church and its congregation with the beauty of her skills upon a piano. She had a gift for music and for connecting with people, Ross says. When they retired and moved to Waterford, Ontario, Barb was quickly entrenched in a local church as the in-house pianist and organist and they would eventually organize the annual community Christmas Carol event, which filled the church in ways that hadn’t been done in many years.
Though Barb now lives with the progressing nature of dementia and no longer converses, her smile and her eyes speak volumes. Ross is the one now who connects with neighbours they’ve met in the Village at University Gates, where the moved in January. From their suite on the 10th floor, they overlook the city they’ve felt most rooted in since they first moved to Waterloo in 1976.
They moved back from Waterford following the quick progression of Barb’s illness so they could be closer to their daughter. Ross, ever the devoted caregiver, supports Barb in so many ways and says the independent suite they are in in the Ailsa Craig neighbourhood is ideal, especially because as care needs change, there are supports available.
Sometimes the supports are a little unique, Ross says, describing how some of the team members helped him prepare for a “Back to the Prom” event in late May. He and Barb have always been social so when he saw the event flier, he thought it might be fun to reach in to his closet and pull out the tuxedo from his days in a barbershop chorus.
Barb was never one to miss an opportunity to dress up and she has many lovely dresses to choose from but, as Ross says, “I’ve never had a to put a dress on her.” Did she need a slip or nylons? What are the fashions these days? Ross didn’t have a clue how to help Barb look her best, but two team members were happy to come and help.
When Barb and Ross arrived to the “prom” they lit up the Village. “We were King and Queen of the Prom,” Ross says with a smile, and Barb laughs along with him.
Community is created in many ways and Ross says the prom is but one example of what he and Barb have discovered since moving to university gates. They feel the kindness of the team in every interaction; the Ruby restaurant is just down the hall, which means if Ross doesn’t feel like cooking, he can place the simplest of take-out orders and have a quality meal in minutes. They are close to family and they feel safe knowing if they need support, it’s there.
“When you come to retirement living, it’s almost like you’ve got a melting pot of all kinds of people from all walks of life and you have to make a village or a community out of it,” Ross says. “We’re all here for different reasons but it’s a common spot to be and now you’ve got new friends that you hadn’t known all your life, with all varied backgrounds and interests.”