Margaret Romans of Hants Border had a huge day recently. She celebrated her 90th birthday with between 130 and 140 friends in attendance.
People came from as far away as Spain and South Africa, she told me. No wonder the day was so large for this nonagenarian. In my mind, folks turned out in droves to honour Margaret’s birthday because she is an exceptional mother.
Margaret began parenting again after her daughter, Audrey Walsh, became severely disabled from the effects of multiple sclerosis. Audrey returned to the family home and totally relies on others for assistance with daily living.
The family had a written funding agreement with the Municipality of West Hants from 1994 that provided funds for homecare. When the province took over that responsibility four years later, the support that totaled $1,400 a month was terminated. The funding disappeared during the last year of the Liberal government in 1998.
At one point, I remember the family and a group of friends stood outside a Kentville radio station while Premier John Hamm was giving a campaign interview. He promised to read about their plight, but nothing changed.
Audrey’s brother Bill, who had moved home to help, tried his darnedest to reverse the situation through three subsequent Tory and NDP governments. In 2001, MLA Jerry Pye raised the situation in the Legislature. Nobody was willing to open the flood gates and there was no appeal process.
I cannot imagine the financial, physical and emotional strain on Margaret’s family since these jurisdictional woes began. Audrey is unable to move her limbs.
We are about the same age, Audrey and I. Over the last dozen years or so, I’ve gotten gray, while her face has no lines in it. She has learned, like the Zen mystics, how not to stress over things she cannot change. She also quietly refuses to complain, saying no one would come visit if she projected negativity.
Her mother, who tenderly cares for her, fiercely believes Audrey’s life would not be better in an institution. Margaret repeats to me, as she did when we first met, “We have an agreement and they (the government) just won't honour it.”
Sitting by Audrey’s bed recently, this trim and smiling woman matter of factly stated, “I won’t live forever.” Meanwhile, slim supports in the form of a small amount of personal care and VON nursing will not replace Audrey’s old, hollowed-out bed, her borrowed wheelchair or her much-mended lift. It just doesn’t seem right, but at least the 130-140 folks who came to Margaret’s birthday party understand her gift of parenting, her ability to give well past the age of most mothers.
There was a deserved fuss lately about the
Harper government removing a national volunteer award named for a female Canadian icon and replacing it with a similar award that bears the prime minister's banner. The Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award was created in 1982 to honour Canadian activists until it was eliminated without any announcement by the federal government several years ago.
At her age Margaret Romans deserves public recognition for her 24/7 contribution for so many years, but most of all her family ought not to have to face severe challenges for wanting to keep a loved one at home.