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Walter and May: A Love Story (Part 1)

July 25, 2009

Good morning, everyone!  Welcome to my first ever blog entry.  There’s a story I’ve wanted to write for a long time, and I’m going to share it with you here in installments over the next three hours.  This is a true story, only the names have been changed.  It’s quite long, but I think to do it justice the whole story needs to be told, hence the installments…I hope you enjoy it.

 

One of my early lessons in the power of friendship came from Walter, a man I met in 1989.  Walter was 50 years old and had lived at Woodlands School in New Westminster since he was a child, his mother reluctantly placing him in the institution at age ten when he became too difficult for her to handle on her own at home.  After a few unsuccessful visits to see her son (which would leave her traumatized and bed-ridden for days afterwards), Walter’s mother had made the heart-wrenching decision to stop seeing him – a decision urged on by the institution staff, who told her the visits were too upsetting for Walter.  From that day forward, there was no further contact.  Walter’s step-father would drop off gifts for him at the ward door on his birthday and at Christmas, and leave without talking to anyone.  Walter’s mother never saw her son again.

We met Walter 40 years later, when Spectrum was awarded a contract to develop housing and 24-hour supports for eight people moving out of Woodlands as part of the provincial institutional downsizing projects.  These eight people – four women and four men, including Walter – lived on what was described to us as the “lowest functioning ambulatory ward” at Woodlands.  This was three years into the downsizing projects, and the most controversial ward closure thus far because of the high support needs of its residents.  The nurses and staff on the ward made no secret of their opposition to the closure, telling us at every opportunity that it would never work:  “…These people cannot live in the community…this is the only home they’ve ever known…we’re their family.”

 To be continued…

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