Top News

PAM FRAMPTON: Harold and Barbara — a fork in the road

The 1969 engagement photo of Harold Hefferton and Barbara Nugent. —
The 1969 engagement photo of Harold Hefferton and Barbara Nugent. — Pam Frampton/The Telegram

Alzheimer’s brings a St. John’s couple’s plans for the future to a screeching halt

Part 1 of 2

“This road that I’m on is still unwinding
Somewhere beyond the horizon…” — “This is Not Goodbye,” Johnny Reid

Harold Hefferton met Barbara Nugent through a mutual friend at a jitney stop in Corner Brook, a place where private cars picked up passengers in the days before the public bus system.

It was 1968. He offered a lift and their journey together began.

He worked at the Bank of Nova Scotia and she in retail. He was smitten. When he transferred home to St. John’s to help his mother after his father had a stroke, he would make the 689-kilometre trek to Corner Brook in his Volkswagen Beetle every weekend, hitting the highway Friday afternoon and driving back on Sunday.

“She was sweet. She was good looking. She was fun to be around. And she put up with me…,” says Harold, remembering how Barbara caught his eye.

“I knew what I wanted.”

Indeed, she’s a beautiful woman with lovely skin, lustrous hair, and eyes and a smile that hint at a mischievous streak.

She was — and is — crazy about music and dancing, and loves to laugh.

I’m looking at their engagement photo from 1969, but there are several photos of Harold and Barbara in their east-end St. John’s living room. He’s dapper and proud and she’s radiant in every single one.

It’s a welcoming room made uniquely theirs by an eclectic collection of possessions gathered over years of travel. On this January day, it’s flooded with bright winter light.

Harold and Barbara married in October 1969 and settled in St. John’s, welcoming first a daughter, Mary-Beth, and then their son Stephen. Barbara stayed home with the children while Harold advanced his career, leaving the bank for Newfoundland Telephone, then moving on to the federal government.

Harold Hefferton holds a photo of he and his wife, Barbara. — Pam Frampton/The Telegram
Harold Hefferton holds a photo of he and his wife, Barbara. — Pam Frampton/The Telegram

At the height of transoceanic travel, the Heffertons were in Gander, where Harold was manager of commercial services at the airport and they crossed paths with kings and queens, celebrities and revolutionaries.

Related on his mother’s side to John Alcock of Alcock and Brown fame, he has a passion for aviation.

The Heffertons touched down in St. John’s again in 1981, when Harold went to work at YYT, eventually becoming airport manager in 1985. It was commercialized in 1998, and he worked for Transport Canada until he retired at age 60.

After her diagnosis seven or eight years ago, the Heffertons grappled with their new, unfamiliar reality, their vision of the future distorted like a carnival mirror.

He and Barbara had plans for a bright future.

Then they went to Malaysia for a family wedding, and all the niggling hints that something wasn’t quite right with Barbara came to the fore.

“She kept repeating,” Harold recalls. “We thought it was her hearing.”

Barbara did have some hearing loss, but that wasn’t the problem.

She had Alzheimer’s.

After her diagnosis seven or eight years ago, the Heffertons grappled with their new, unfamiliar reality, their vision of the future distorted like a carnival mirror.

“Then we began the roller coaster ride…” Harold recalls. “I migrated from being a husband to being a caregiver.”

Barbara’s independence eroded till she needed care around the clock. Harold would bathe her and help her dress in the morning, make breakfast and care for her throughout the day.  

Once she was settled for the evening, he’d have a couple of precious hours to relax.

“Every now and again, she’d have a cognitive moment and your heart would break,” Harold recalls. “(Once at bedtime), she said, ‘You’re going to go and have a drink, aren’t you? Well, you deserve it. You’ve got some patience with me.’ And then I’d go and cry.”

He found a nurse willing to spend her days off helping with Barbara. Still, Harold was exhausted, and his grown children, family and friends urged him to get Barbara into long-term care.

A room came available at Pleasantview Towers Dec. 27.

Bringing her there and then having to drive away was the most excruciatingly painful thing he has ever done.

“Absolutely terrible,” Harold says, as silence settles around us.

“I’ve lost her twice now — once to dementia and now, physically, from our home.”

Monday: Separate lives

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

Recent Stories