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Lessons to learn in sadness of tragedy at seniors’ home

I was visiting family in Quebec when I discovered that L’Isle-Verte was less than an hour’s drive away. So on the spur of the moment, I decided to drive there to pay my respects to a community devastated when a three storey addition of a seniors’ complex went up in flames on January 23rd. The town has just 1,500 people. Everybody had a connection of some kind to the victims of the fire.

I found the local town hall. The closeness of people in Quebec was evident as I noticed the Lac Mégantic banner on the town hall wall, right above the L’Isle-Verte banner, in remembrance of the horrific train derailment in that town just seven months earlier.

What remains of the seniors complex. The sign asks people to slow down and watch out for residents. Jeanette Arsenault photo

What remains of the seniors complex. The sign asks people to slow down and watch out for residents. Jeanette Arsenault photo

I made my way to a huge stone church to pay my respects at a community mass and witnessed the crowds file in with heavy hearts.  Photographs and names of the people who lost their lives were displayed at the front on the church. An empty rocking chair was displayed as a symbol of those who died in the fire. The official death toll is 27 victims and five others are missing and presumed dead.

In the quiet before the mass, I looked around at the hundreds of people honouring the lives of 32 victims of the fire.  I wondered about people who regretted not visiting the seniors while they were alive.  I think this is an issue in all communities.  We know we should visit people in nursing homes and hospitals more often but we find there is just so much to do in our lives that we don’t get around to it.

So out of about 900 people at the funeral mass,  how many of them put off visiting their family members or friends when they were alive?

I think in the sadness of the tragedy, we can all learn the lesson to make time to visit more often, call, reach out, hold your loved ones tight, and close to your heart.

I spoke to a nurse who said she knew many of those who died in the fire.  She was born in this town and she is not sure she will ever get over this experience.  She is considering moving because the grief she carries is overwhelming.  She also expressed great concern about a government that continues to cut back on care for its senior citizens.

This is not just a problem in Quebec.  How well are we taking care of our seniors here at home and across Canada?  Those at home, and those in long-term care, and especially, those who are the most vulnerable.

Life is precious and our concerns need to be expressed with more than just words.
To start with, we can all give the gift of our time.

-Jeanette Arsenault

Filed Under: Letters and OpinionNews from Everywhere Else

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