The unhappy tree

Published on December 5, 2013

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.