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You WERE THERE FOR ME: Discover the flipside of the coin from her time in a Long-Term Care Hospital

You WERE THERE FOR ME: Discover the flipside of the coin from her time in a Long-Term Care Hospital

Автором Gilbert Vachon

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You WERE THERE FOR ME: Discover the flipside of the coin from her time in a Long-Term Care Hospital

Автором Gilbert Vachon

245 pages
3 hours
Dec 17, 2020


This book tells the story of a benevolent mother who, once placed in a LTCH, died as a result of the neglect to which she was subjected. It's also the story of a loving son who, in addition to having supported her to the end, decided, by all means, to piece together the pieces of the puzzle in order to understand the situation and do justice to his mother, who died in unusual circumstances.

This novel, sometimes denunciatory, sometimes inspiring, is based on a true life experience and written with heart, in all authenticity and simplicity. Discovering the flipside of the coin and the implications of certain choices made at LTCHs in the past regarding the quality of our seniors' lives will leave no one indifferent. This book is intended for anyone interested in the reality of the seniors who built Quebec, but especially for caregivers, health care professionals and people working closely or remotely with this clientele, including the public service.

Everyone knows that the wear and tear and wrinkles on their faces and hands are like a map that reveals the paths they have taken over time. Together, let's use this story to learn from our past mistakes, but more importantly, let's use it to build a better future so that our wise elders can be treated with dignity until their last breath.

One step at a time, if family, staff and government work together, we can make it happen!

Or at least, that's my most sincere wish in sharing her story with you...

You were there for me

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Dec 17, 2020

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Gilbert Vachon, a Saint-Eustache native, now lives in British Columbia. A caregiver to his mother, he conducted a long personal investigation to try to understand why she died as a result of the negligence she suffered in a LTCH. Today, he is a natural spokesperson for all those who, like him, were confronted with this sad reality.


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You WERE THERE FOR ME - Gilbert Vachon

Chapter I

Faced with Injustice, Alone Before my Keyboard

It all started on January 20th, 2020. I was watching television, sitting in my living room with my wife Danielle, the woman who has stood by my side throughout this entire adventure. We had just enjoyed a delicious lasagna with, as an appetizer, succulent garlic gratinated snails, made with love by my endearing other half. As soon as the dishes were done, we had settled comfortably on the sofa to relax and digest our divine meal, a small cup of herbal tea in hand. As usual, our two cats, Toby with his black and white semi-striped fur, and Taiga with his tabby coat and white legs were giving it their all as they ran from one end of the house to the other, making us laugh heartedly.

As per our little tradition, we were watching the evening news when they suddenly spoke of the Bloc Québécois’ former leader, Gilles Duceppe, who was underlining the one year mark after his mother’s death, formerly a resident of an elderly center. She was found dead, completely frozen, outside the facility where she lived. But how could such a thing happen ? On the screen, I could read :

Gilles Duceppe's mother agonized in a Siberian cold for six hours following a series of mistakes made by the seniors' residence where she lived. How sad¹ !

Eight days after hearing the terrible news, I sit and write these words in absolute confusion. I can’t fathom why there hasn’t yet been a criminal investigation. According to the media reports, the family is likely to take civil action, but it will inevitably come at a cost.

The heartbreaking news inevitably awoke distant, painful memories within me - memories that I thought were buried forever. My mom had passed away from an equally horrifying and dramatic situation which triggered me to write. At my keyboard, day and night for many years, I wrote my haunting story, putting words to paper, black on white. One of my main objectives was first, to free myself from a little from the emotional grief I felt inside, to help ease a part of the nightmare but also, through sharing my mother’s memoir, to inform the general public in order to prevent such a disastrous event from ever repeating itself to yet another family. Let these words open your eyes to the reality of what many of our seniors live and become more vigilant toward your loved ones that you care for so much.

As far as I am concerned, my mother passed away at the age of 83, in horrific circumstances, on April 1st, 2011. But before any of that, in order to present everything accordingly, let me first dive into my memories 20 ! I’ll begin by going back to a wonderful day where we spent quality time together, a moment I will never forget !

1 Radio-Canada, Death of Gilles Duceppe's mother: a criminal trial would be possible, (article in french) https://ici.radio-canada.ca/premiere/emissions/le-15-18/segments/chronique/122498/helene-rowley-hotte-duceppe-residence-lux-gouverneur https:/www.journaldemontreal.com/2019/06/18/la-mere-de-gilles-duceppe-a-tente-par-tous-les-moyens-de-se-rechauffer-1, July 3rd, 2020.

Chapter II

Rendezvous with Her Past

One day, when I was 38 years old, I asked my mom if she’d like to spend a whole day together, just the two of us, talking and getting to know each other better. Being curious by nature, I asked myself all kinds of questions about her youth, her education, religion, her relationship with her parents, what it was like in the neighborhood where she lived, and so on. To my delight, she willingly accepted. It was a wonderful summer day in 1998. At the time, she must have been almost 70 years old but was still self-reliant and active. We were set to meet in St Eustache, a town located in our beautiful Laurentians. We had gone to lunch together at her favorite breakfast restaurant, where she regularly went. The place was in a small plaza, just across from the hospital. After eating, we had hit the road around nine o'clock in the morning to live our back to the past adventure. The timing was perfect to head for Montreal, avoiding morning congestion on the roads and crossing the bridges, allowing us to enter the city without too many complications.

At the time, I had a wine-red 1990 Dodge Caravan. I loved that van. It was a seven-passenger and I had taken the bench out of the middle to better imagine that I was driving a limousine. When I would pick up my two daughters in Gaspésie with my son, who still lived with his mother in Montreal East, we would put all the luggage in the middle which was very useful. They had room to stretch their legs and enjoy chatting while contemplating the scenery. It made me happy to make my three children feel important. I hadn’t always been there for them, but I'll probably get into that another day¹.

Today though, I want to honor as I haven’t always shown her the importance she’s had in my life. Only much later as an adult, looking in the mirror, did I realize that my parents had given me the best of themselves while reflecting on the education they had received. I really have a lot of love for them.

In short, I felt excited and happy that she went on this little getaway with me. I had just lowered the window a little to get rid of my cigarette smoke (at the time, it was normal to smoke in the car) and our chat started while I drove toward her memories.

Ready for a pleasant adventure, via St Eustache Highway 640, we had taken Highway 13 southbound. We had no real choice because Highway 13 was never completed northward, as was originally planned by our governments of yesteryear.

After crossing the Vachon Bridge, we entered the beautiful city of Laval. For your information, this bridge has no relationship with our family as far as I know, but it was nice to drive upon a bridge that had my last name, especially on such a memorable day¹.

My mother seemed really excited to go back to her childhood home. We took Highway 440 and then took the 15 South. At the end of the 15th, it was now the Metropolitan’s - the 40, with its high lane - to welcome us onto its roads. As a rule of thumb, we were slowed down by the infamous orange cones² that caused us to change lanes, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left. Even back then, Quebec's roads were in constant repair. Despite being far from rush hour, we found ourselves in a traffic jam at the Metropolitan’s entrance. We crept along for a while before finally getting back to a normal and pleasant driving speed a little further down. My mom didn't seem bothered by the situation at all, and I was taking full advantage of the moment. We had headed East to the exit leading to Frontenac Street. We were going downtown, to the heart of Montreal. My mother used to tell me how many times she'd taken this road. Her father's convenience store was once on Frontenac Street. She looked thoughtful but didn't seem at all sad. I thought she was happy, which equally filled me with happiness. When we got to Masson Street, we turned left. While driving in that direction, she told me how much the place had changed. At that moment, she told me she was happy we were both in the environment where she had lived her youth. We’d eventually arrive on 4th Avenue and park there. My mother sparkled with joy, for it aroused in her many memories. I had climbed out of the car to open the door on her side, reaching out to her like a real gentleman. Once on her feet, I closed and locked the doors for safety. We were parked in front of the house where she was born. Turning back to her, I had been able to see, without her saying a word, all the admiration she had for the old building to which she was particularly attached.

My mother was born in Montreal on November 15, 1927. She had lived her childhood in Rosemont, on 4th Avenue, between Masson and Dandurand streets. I’m not capable of talking about her entire childhood, but I’ll do my best to tell you what she told me, among other things, that day.

Her parents, my grandparents, were Augustin Lemieux and Alma Carignan. Her father was a tall and solid man, her mother, a beautiful and respectable woman, well coated with a slightly severe expression. Among my four grandparents, I only had the chance to know my grandmother Carignan. She died when I was in my younger years. The others died before I was born.

She had two half-brothers from her father's first wedding, Lionel and Louis, as well as four sisters: Gertrude, Philomena, Therese, and Cecile. Mom was the penultimate of this large family, so one of the youngest. Therese died as a result of her epileptic seizures, or something of the sorts. As we speak, all her brothers and sisters have lost their lives. Her half-brother Lionel was my godfather, but he died of I don't know what when I was only six months old. Her sister Therese passed away before I ever arrived in this wondrous world. Everyone else though, I knew well and of course, we were united like a big tight-knit family !

As far as I know, her father Augustin Lemieux was a home builder. He built the three-story family home, nestled at 5542 4th Avenue in Rosemont. In front of this house, I contemplated the final result: a three-story red-brown brick siding, a wrought iron staircase rising to the second-floor balcony and, from there, an internal staircase to the third floor, also with a small balcony. This same red-brown brick also fashioned the back of the house. The three balconies, overlooking the alley, were all equipped with a clothesline. It was in this little courtyard at the bottom, and in the alley, that she had fun with her brothers and sisters. At the latest news, even today, the house is still firmly supported by its foundation, but I don’t know the proud owner. As I mentioned earlier, her parents owned a convenience store on Frontenac Street in Montreal. The children worked there to help them as best they could.

My mother told me that she had to drop out of school in grade 8 to work with her parents at the convenience store. I don't remember exactly how old she was, but it must have been around 14-15. Mom would have liked to continue her studies, but, out of obligation, for the well-being of the family, she had to submit to her mother's wishes. A practice that was common in those days, unlike today.

The convenience store looked much like a general store. Large shelves, glass counters, candy canisters and a bakery counter furnished the space to welcome its most loyal customers. All amenities were accessible, like any old-fashioned store ! Mom was telling me about the cash register she used to, putting in and counting money. With big buttons, every time she rang up an item, she had to turn the crank to the side until a ding was heard before she could move on to the next item. She was smiling. I think she liked the feeling of all her memories coming back to her, which probably seemed so distant.

In 1943, she found herself another job at the Viau biscuit factory, a well-known Quebec company located on the corner of Ontario Street and Viau Street in Montreal. She was 16 when she first took to the job market. Her job was to pack the cookies into the boxes. She told me that day that if you didn't produce enough, your time with the company would be quickly run out, or in other words, you’d be fired. I've always known my mother to be a strong performer. I’d even go to the point of saying that all women from this time were in the resilient category, which created a world of strong and enterprising ladies. Heads of families, that's what they were ! When I look at a few pictures of her working at the biscuit factory, I can only tell myself how beautiful she was, as were her co-workers. She almost looked like a nurse, with her white attire and her hair pulled back in a little cap above her head. If you’re wondering, the Viau biscuit factory was founded in 1867 and the Viau family subsequently sold the business to Imasco in 1969. Later, it was Culinar who bought the biscuit company in 1983 and finally sold it to Dare in 2001, who still owns it if I believe.

When I reminisce back to all the memories we created that day, I think, What a lovely and unforgettable day we spent together ! I felt at peace with myself. I was happy and filled with gratitude for what she had brought to my life, but equally found appreciation for all those who had lived through this sometimes difficult, sometimes joyful time. That day, she had confided to me, a little shyly, that she was an attractive teenager. With her knee-high skirt, beautiful white blouse and white ribbon in her hair, she turned the heads of many neighborhood boys. According to her, it was the good old days: snack bars, Coca-Cola and great bike rides. For a mid-August day, it wasn't too hot nor too cool, making this souvenir getaway a perfect mother-son moment. We were now walking down 4th Avenue. I can't remember everything she told me, because she explained her past in every detail. She had a lot to say. On my behalf, I listened religiously to every detail knowing full well that this moment would remain forever engraved in my heart. In front of the house, she pointed to the main floor and explained : We lived down on the ground floor . It was with her sister Cecile that she hung out the most. She talked to me about the neighborhood, her friends, gossip³, and we laughed together. For example, she told me that there was always this old lady, on the other side of the alley, on the second floor, who didn’t appear to be completely sane and who’d yell out the window. More often than not, they laughed at her, but at the same time, she also confessed feeling rather frightened by the woman’s scowls. In hindsight, I tend to believe that the old lady must have felt terribly lonely and found a little amusement in scaring the neighborhood children, but then again, maybe she just wanted to annoy them. I must admit that my mom wasn’t much of a teaser⁴ later in her adult life. Let's say she was quite the gossip, though. I felt so good with her by my side that day that I wished it could last forever. It seemed as though time had stopped, that we were alone in the world. She even told me that I had given her a nice gift with my presence, but with what I was going through then, it’s safe to say that the gift was reciprocal. We also went for a walk down a rather narrow alley. She was holding me by the arm. I liked the physical closeness, something that I pushed away from during childhood. Due to the uneven path, it was also safer given her age. I remember in my younger days when my mother and I would go grocery shopping, she’d hold my hand and I wouldn’t want to. At the time, I was ashamed to hold my mother's hand. What would my friends say if they saw me clutching onto her like this ? I couldn’t help the remorseful feeling that bubbled up as I regrettably can no longer do such a thing. Today, I want nothing more in the world than to have her here with me and to embrace her for everyone to see. In short, during our walk, she explained to me that virtually all the backsides of houses had tin and wooden sheds at the time. On that particular day, however, very few remained, if any at all because of the many fires they had caused. She mentioned that people would go smoke secretly inside the sheds, but weren’t paying much attention. I wonder what else was happening in these sheds ? ! As a guy, I can’t help but imagine… Hmm… let’s just say there must have been a few hugs and a little petticoat lifting out there, in secret, of course. ☺

As we continued forward, she divulged into the highlights of her history. She took me back to the past, in 1932, 1933. She spoke about the rags, the person who’d walk down the alley shouting, Rags for sale ! Rags for sale ! Not to mention the ice dealer, who’d walk the roads with his cart and horse, selling to those who had coolers to store and food to conserve.

At receptions such as Christmas or other important events, the house was crowded. At such parties, everyone went about their respective tasks, notably the young girls and women who served the men and children. The men drank, smoked and had fun while enjoying a good time. My mother wasn’t complaining, that's just how it was back then. Men brought money to the household and mothers managed the house, finances, health and education of the children. According to my understanding, by listening to it, religion also had a say in how one should raise their family.

She confessed, among other things and without naming anyone, that she had been groped⁵ by uncles and say, not too Catholic⁶ family friends. Following her tearful confidences, we continued our walk silently for a short while. Albeit being unable to confirm it, I do believe that there was much more than just touching, and perhaps she was reliving the scene in silence. I did dare ask if she had told her mother or anyone else and, as a reason, she told me that such things weren’t to be disclosed in her time.

Quite depressing, but thanks to these victims, we’ve been graced with evolution. Little by little, abused women and men, were given the confidence to come out of their painful silences and denounce the terrors and exploitation allowing the next generations to benefit from some form of protection. However, such monstrosities are unfortunately still committed within our modern societies.

Through walking and talking, she brought me back to a different time, one where life was sometimes hard and had its fair share of challenges, sacrifices and where the law of silence could be very heavy to bear. In the course of our conversations, I paid close attention to her silences and her expressions that spoke volumes about her state of mind. It is often in silence that one can hear another’s truth and suffering. Let’s never forget…

Our feet took us toward Masson Street. We walked around and she told me about the facts of her life, memorizing the little snack restaurant where she would have fun with friends. I deeply regret not taking more notes or photos of this unforgettable day to help me remember everything we discussed. In

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