Jean Repath’s story of Gwendolyn

24 - Gwendolyn forest Jean Redpath crop

“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, hold the horse ’til I get on…”
(Mom’s chant one day, at age 56, during a particularly intense episode)

 1919: Gwendolyn was born in Brandon, Manitoba, youngest of eight children.

1924: Age 5: Mom’s next-oldest sister died of polio.

1929: Age 10: Mom’s siblings lived at home until they married contributing their wages to the family.

1940: Age 21: Worked as secretary to the Editor of the Hudson Bay Company magazine The Beaver using her excellent spelling, typing and shorthand skills.

1943: Age 24: Mom and Dad look happy in their wedding photos – he in his army uniform, she in a stylish suit.

1944: Dad went overseas, working as a surgeon in field hospitals.

1947: Dad returned from Europe and the family moved to Flin Flon, Manitoba, population 14,000, where he began a career as a general physician.

1949: Child number three – the first son was born.

1950: Age: 30: The family moved to “Willowvale” (a suburb of Flin Flon) owning a house upwind of the mine’s smelter smoke.

1951: Child number four was born. He weighed more than ten pounds and the doctor didn’t realize he was breech. The attending nurse ignored Mom’s sense that “something was wrong”. In trying to turn him, they broke his arm. His cord was around his neck and brain damage occurred.

1953: Age 34: Mom had her first “breakdown”. One snowy night she heard noises and thought someone was trying to break in. Since Dad was out of town, Mom called the police and they found us all bundled in snowsuits, crouching inside the front door. We (the kids) got to ride in a police car and spent the night in a hotel in town. Mom “went away” for a while and a housekeeper moved in until Mom was ready to come home.

1955: A decision was made to put child number four (age four) into an institution for “retarded” children in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. Mom never talked about him again.

1956: We moved to Winnipeg, so that Dad could do an internship in radiology. It would be easier on his health than being a GP.

1958: We moved to Richmond, B.C. hoping the temperate climate would be easier on Dad’s health.

1959: Dad retired at age 40.

1960: Dad’s MS progressed rapidly. He became bedridden. Support workers came in to help with his physical needs. It was a hard time for Mom, because she had needs of her own.

1961: Dad was transferred into extended care – in the Veterans’ Wing of Shaughnessy Hospital. He lost his ability to speak so communication was difficult.

1967: Age 48: Dad died of pneumonia. He was 47. My younger sister was ten, my brother was seventeen; I was nineteen; my older sister was 22.

1971: The first of seven grandchildren was born. The grandchildren called her “Nana.” She was welcoming and generous with them and they loved visiting her.

1972: My older sister was welcomed back home when her first marriage ended.

1974: Age 55: Breakdowns continued – some were quite bizarre and public. We could tell when a breakdown was imminent but there needed to be a crisis before police or hospital authorities could intervene. During such crises ambulances and/or RCMP officers would transport Mom to the UBC Psych ward where she would stay until her medications brought her back to “normal”.

1976: Mom welcomed my brother with his wife and two young sons back home while they were waiting to move into their own house.

1981: Mom welcomed me and my children home without question when I left my husband. I was about to give birth to my third daughter. We stayed for over a year.

1988- 1996: Ages 69-77: More stable years with fewer breakdowns.

1997: Mom had a serious stroke and this time she almost died. She was moved into a care home.

1999: Before we sold Mom’s house we took her there for a last visit. She had no sense that she had lived there for over 40 years.

2000: Age 81: Mom died peacefully in her sleep.

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