The unhappy tree

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As Christmas approaches we are inundated with opportunity to give of ourselves to the less fortunate, the in-need, and the sick.  Whether it be the legendary Happy Tree or the iconic Salvation Army collection points,  we have the resources and time in our “have” province to always dig a little deeper and spread some charity around. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to support these valued initiatives.

They all do so much good for the people involved.

Some time ago, I was interviewed by The Telegram in regards to the care of my father at the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex.

During my discussions with Bonnie Belec, I elaborated on the fact that the problem in this province, and I suspect the rest of Canada, is a general malaise and indifference in regards to the care and treatment of the elderly or those with mental disabilities at young ages.

Grim reminder

This is when I mentioned what I refer to as the Unhappy Tree.

Since my father was diagnosed with dementia, I am approaching my fourth Christmas visiting him in the facility.

Every year during the holidays, visitors and staff are greeted in the entrance with a lone Christmas tree inconspicuously standing to the left of the second doorway.

Scattered throughout the dusty ornaments and festive decorations are pieces of paper.

On each piece of paper is a list of gifts for people in the facility with no family. No loved ones. No visitors. Alone for the holidays. Anyone who is there as a visitor or staff member is encouraged to pick up a nameless piece of paper and collect the Christmas articles to be given to them on that magical day of wonder and hope.

But read the list.

Seriously look at this list of Christmas needs for these people.

People who once were friends, neighbours, parents, co-workers, employees. Each list has items on it such as: medium T-shirt, toothbrush, shaving cream, body wash.

The first time I saw these lists I was shocked: I had no idea the magnitude of isolation that exists for some of the residents.

This simple list put it in perspective for me.

Humanity forgotten

With all the talk of budget cuts and staffing levels, I fear the humanity of the facilities is being forgotten.

We all forget the ones that are in need. I was as guilty as anyone else. I drive by these facilities without as much as a passing thought.

I challenge the decision-makers in the health-care machine to pick a facility and take a list and fill it.

Then I ask them to really think about the lost soul that they are buying for.

Forget the layers of complications of budgets, staffing, unions, policies and other commercial abstractions, and think about that one individual.

That one person who needs just a bar of soap for Christmas.

Take a name

I would be delighted to see the following people publicly commit to this simple holiday effort for the residents of the facilities by visiting and taking a name: Premier Kathy Dunderdale; Health Minister Susan Sullivan; NDP Leader Lorraine Michael; Liberal Leader Dwight Ball; Eastern Health president and chief executive officer Vickie Kaminski; Eastern Health board of trustees chairman Michael J. O’Keefe; Eastern Health vice-president (regional long-term care/community support services, rehabilitation, continuing and palliative care) Alice Kennedy; Eastern Health chief performance officer Sharon Lehr; Eastern Health vice-president (corporate services) George Butt; Eastern Health vice-president (regional children’s and women’s health, mental health and ethics) Beverley Clarke.

I do not feel that any of the decision-makers I have listed are void of humanity or compassion — I feel the opposite.

I suggest this despite the recent callous statements of budgets, staffing and facilities.

I believe that everyone, especially those closest to the administration of these programs and facilities, should stop for a minute and really take the time to abandon the complications and operational complacency of the health-care world and then, by their own hand, obtain these simple items for someone.

Step up

Most of us need a reminder to better care for the elderly and the forgotten this holiday season. I am going to do it for at least one person.

I hope the leadership of this province and Eastern Health will take the time to bring some attention to this effort and help break the general attitude of our society to forget those that are easily abandoned.

I would like them to have this in their mind during every discussion of budget or policy.


Jason Dawe writes from Conception Bay South.

Organizations: Eastern Health board, The Telegram, Hoyles-Escasoni Complex

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Jason Dawe
    December 09, 2013 - 09:29

    So many initiatives have been kicked off from this. Companies, Individuals, Members of government. I am very happy to see that we all just needed a small reminder. Maybe its not a malaise or disregard. Perhaps its just the fact that in our need to protect the privacy of the residents that we have placed a wall between them and us. Segregating the populations. Please forward this link to this letter. Share it. Forward to your MHA, MP, Church Minister... anyone of influence. Keep these people in the hearts and minds a little higher than usual.

  • Kristen Finlay
    December 09, 2013 - 08:04

    So heartbreaking, as I have seen it firsthand while working at a Govt. funded complex here in GA. Looking through the care plans, It listed living relatives/spouses & I couldn't believe that families had just forgotten about their loved ones, no visits & with bare minimum necessities, left them there, alone to die. This isn't just during Christmas, this is all year long. Well written article and kudos for making a difference

  • Mary Burke
    December 08, 2013 - 22:17

    My mom was at Hoyle's, Im shocked to tell you how many seniors have no one to visit them and at times are just left in a chair to drop their heads and sleep sloped over a table. Some are left in their beds or in the meal room and not checked on for some time. We kept a very close eye on our mother until she passed in Sept. It is a very lonely place and the least we can do is give. That is the least we can do. Your letter should be sent to Government heads by all who read it. Hats off to you for writing it. I will forward it, and I will give as I never knew about the lists. My God soap and other personal things should be supplied to these people who enriched out society all their lives. We had to supply everything for our mother as well.

  • Tom
    December 08, 2013 - 11:56

    Yes Anna, there are families out there that can not afford a turkey even at that price. I do believe, however, that we can help both groups and more. Some can help only one "group" while others can spread the wealth to several people or families. The important thing to remember is to help. If not through a gift or a turkey, then by the gift of time.

  • Lyndon
    December 07, 2013 - 19:34

    Bravo for this letter Jason . One of the most poignant pieces of writing I have read in regards to our seniors . It broke my heart . These people contributed to everything that we have now and deserve every bit of compassion and humanity we can give them . I visited the Escasoni complex for the first time this morning Because I read your letter, searching for that tree . All the notes were gone from the cards place upon it. I was glad to see no notes left but saddened by the reason they were placed there in the first place . I asked a nurse if the Hoyles building had one and she said this was the only one. Kudos to those who took the initiative to grab those notes and make a difference to these lonely souls .

  • CS
    December 05, 2013 - 14:14

    Jason you are well spoken and what an excellent article to be written at this time of year. I have forwarded this to my MHA as well as all MHA as those in power are so quick to forget as does our society. Issues of the elderly and the plight of those in LTC rarely get the attention it deserves when we have a society that invests so much in other areas. While justified, we cannot forget those who have gone before us... our success as a civilized society is reflected directly on how we treat the most vulnerable and that includes the elderly.

  • Jason Dawe
    December 05, 2013 - 12:54

    As the author of this article I would liek to follow up on something. There have been some very generous people and companies stepping forward to do some good for these poor souls. For those nameless benefactors... Thank You. My father has us. Many have no one and are nearly forgotten. Along with other charities that silently make the efforts to do some good for our elderly and disabled, you all have made a difference. Keep it up. My challenge to the people noted in the letter stands. I still want each of them to - by hand- pick out the simple items these people need and deliver it to the facilities. Forever have it etched in their minds and hearts when they discuss budgets and policies. As a society we need to remember that we are all going to be here one day. Old. Sick. Just in need of human compassion and love.

  • Anna
    December 05, 2013 - 08:34

    This is so very sad. I will make sure I will go over to pick a name. We never seem to remember the seniors around Christmas, even the turkey run by CBC is out of control. Turkey is on sale now for $0.99 a pound, you can't tell me people can't afford to buy one for their families. Everything is geared around single parents while it is our seniors who should be the first priority.