Maman’s last lesson

Posted on 19/12/2016

Photo of flowers close up by Nisreen Elias

By Jeannine Lafrenière, Founder and President

When I created the Foundation in 2012, it was clear to me that my aim would be to help children and seniors. These two groups are often the most vulnerable members of our society and the most in need of the benefits of Nature. Natural surroundings would allow them to forget, even if only for a few moments, the fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and, for some, the loneliness of their lives. I did not realize then that the day would come when I would be confronted with the true extent of the fragility of the aged.

At that time, my mother was still living in her home and it had never occurred to me that, one day, she would need to be placed in a retirement home. In fact, I didn’t even want to think of that eventuality. She loved her home, so why would she leave it? Perhaps it was naïve of me, but who truly recognizes that their parents are getting on and that, one day, we will lose them?

In 2015, Maman turned gravely ill and the doctors and the social worker made it clear that she needed constant care and could no longer remain alone in her home. My brothers, my sister and I had to find her a retirement residence. We visited all kinds of homes and I was stunned to realize the sad reality that many elderly of our society are simply abandoned. They work hard all their lives, hoping that they will be able to enjoy their later years. Instead, they are often left alone and lonely. It was at that moment that I realized how beneficial it would be to have Nature inside retirement residences.

Maman, who loved the plants and greenery that flourished all over her house, no longer had the luxury of living with her beloved plants and, more and more, she dreaded each coming winter; there was no greenery, with only a few plants here and there. Canada’s winters make it very difficult for the elderly to enjoy the benefits of Nature. They are afraid of slipping, falling or fracturing a limb, so many just resign themselves to patiently sitting and waiting for the arrival of spring and the re-awakening of nature.

I am very grateful to the Outaouais Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSS in French) for approaching our Foundation to see if we would be interested in building a living wall in one of its long term or chronic care facilities. These residential homes are geared to people who are no longer able to care for themselves. They may have special needs, be in need of constant supervision and monitoring, or they may pose a risk to themselves or to others if they continue to live alone. Since a project of this type fits well within our mission and vision, we decided to look into this possibility.

Very soon, in January 2017, the residents of the Bon Séjour long-term care home in Gatineau will, for the first time, be able to enjoy Nature from close, without risking a trip outdoors and, despite the rigours of winter, they will get the benefits that nature brings every day. Winter will be different this year, and for all the years to come.

Maman, unfortunately, will not be able to benefit from such an environment; she passed away a few weeks ago. However, my experience dealing with her situation made me realize the importance of bringing Nature into seniors’ residences. This is why I am proud to say that, even though we originally planned to install our first living wall in a children’s hospital, our Foundation decided to go ahead with the request of the Outaouais Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSS), and so our first living wall will be in just such a residence.

Life is our best teacher and, sometimes, the decision is made for us!

Finally, I want to underscore the fact that this project could never occur without the help of all the volunteers who support the Foundation. A particular mention is due to the professionals who agreed to build this first living wall free of charge, and to the businesses who donated the materials. I give my sincere thanks to them all.