“Let me tell you about Fern.”
A skilled conversationalist, Bruce Pennycook can entertain for hours about anything: his hard work as a youth in the depression or his travels, but when he discusses Fern, his wife of 66 years, who he visits every day at Cedar Hill long-term care home at Langley Memorial Hospital campus, he beams with appreciation for the beauty she brings to his life.
Like beautiful music, for instance: Fern played mandolin in an orchestra for 12 years.
Like art, and gardening: even with a full-time job, Fern took the time to garden, surrounding their home with dozens of varieties of flowers, which she captured on canvas in bright paintings they mounted on walls throughout their home.
Nearly every day for the last six years, Bruce has brought fresh or bought flowers, as a symbol of who they were, and continue to be.
“We have roses around the building I live in — white roses and some are pink, white and yellow,” says Bruce. “I started bringing roses to her nearly every day. I visit every day, and every day she thanks me for coming.”
“She Was The One I Was Supposed To Marry”
Bruce and Fern met on the dance floor in December 1955 at the Normandy Dance Hall in Winnipeg.
“I’d had a few drinks. I saw Fern sitting there and asked her to dance and she said no. Then I went and asked her seven more times and she said yes. And we’ve been dancing through life ever since. She was the one I was supposed to marry.”
They shared a lifetime of work, travel, and having fun – they went to shows and orchestra concerts, travelled to Europe and across the U.S., including Las Vegas and Reno, Miami, California and Arizona. Close connections to a niece brought the couple to Richmond and then Langley, where Bruce worked in management while Fern was employed at Agriculture Canada.
But Fern has long suffered from the impact of a fall on the sidewalk in 1972, during a workday in downtown Vancouver.
The accident left her with chronic pain and exacerbated arthritis that worsened with age.
Bruce, still relatively strong and mobile and six years her junior, became a caregiver as she gradually lost mobility. But over the years they were forced to look for new living options.
“I told her, ‘I can’t lift you, and if I fall, how am I going to pick you up?’”
Comfort, Caring and Connection
Today, Fern lives at Cedar Hill, as one of about 200 older adults living in four long-term care residences on the Langley Memorial campus. Given the community’s aging population, care homes like Fern’s stand at the heart of LMH Foundation’s long range vision to expand and replace facilities on the hospital campus.
In 2015 Fraser Health recognized that Langley Memorial Hospital was in dire need of replacement and growth in its long-term care facilities and capacity.
The need has only grown since that time.
Seniors care has changed dramatically over time, shifting from an institutional model of caregiving to a more social model of care that focuses on the physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual aspects of the person.
This social model of care respects each senior’s cultural background and recognizes their personal physical and mental health history. In short, it encourages care workers to see seniors in a holistic way, as unique and valuable members of the community who prefer to live independently, at the place they call home.
Newer, more modern facilities will live up to the LMH’s priorities of “comfort, caring and connection,” allowing seniors who need 24-hour care to enjoy larger living areas that provide more opportunity for socializing and take part in programs, and activities that encourage enjoyment of life and keep residents stimulated.
For LMH’s care staff, that means recognizing the importance of helping residents maintain and strengthen close connections among family members, other residents and caregivers.
That commitment proved to be a lifeline for Fern and Bruce.
Connecting through Crisis
Nearly every day during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bruce continued his daily visits, though they carried on their conversations through a window. “The visiting was outside, and if it was raining or snowing, I came.”
The experience brought them even closer, but Bruce couldn’t help but notice the impact of the pandemic on other residents of the long-term care houses. “There should have been someone at every window with a visitor in those days, but sometimes I was the only one.”
After 66 years – and counting – of devoted marriage, Bruce has some wise words about keeping the spark alive.
“Just love each other, and don’t look for anyone else,” he advises.
“Sure, Fern and I argued now and then, but you forget it. You say your piece, you argue a little bit, but you forget it.”