Emma Teitel: The loved ones we lost in long-term care get artistic tribute in this new exhibition

Opinion Jan 14, 2022 by Emma Teitel City Columnist

The end came for Maggie Fraser at the beginning. She died of COVID-19 in a downtown Toronto long-term care facility on April 16, 2020. According to her daughter Kim Fraser, the “90-and-a-half”-year-old community volunteer possessed a terrific sense of humour, a love for her grandchildren and great-grandchild, and a fondness for leopard-print sweaters.

“I couldn’t see my mother before she died,” says Fraser, alluding to the strict pandemic protocols that prevented (and still prevent) families from saying goodbye to loved ones in LTC. “I couldn’t see my mother after she died. We were unable to hold a memorial service.”

Fortunately this month, nearly two years after Maggie’s passing, Kim Fraser will get a bit of closure, the result of her participation in an art exhibit called COVID in the House of Old.

The work of Megan J. Davies (a historian of aging and a professor at York University) and Toronto musician Hiroki Tanaka, COVID in the House of Old is a multimedia installation acknowledging thousands of Ontario and British Columbia seniors who lived and died in LTC, the staff who cared for them, and their families who were unable to.

The installation exists in two parts. There is an audio-visual piece composed by Tanaka, who designed a program that plays a musical note for every person who died in an LTC home in B.C. and Ontario between March 2020 and October 2021. The result is “Elegy for Long Term Care Homes 2020-2021”: 4,730 notes in the key of A Major displayed visually as green and orange dots travelling across a white screen, reminiscent of movement on an ECG machine.

Tanaka, who cared for his both his grandmother and uncle at the end of their lives, wanted to give people a personal way to experience raw data, “the overwhelming numbers and the sheer sense of so many lives lost,” he says.

His piece will run in conjunction with the project’s other component: an installation of seven wooden “storytelling chairs” representing seven lives altered by COVID-19’s spread in long-term care.

Sitting atop or hanging from each chair are items that tell a story about the person or people it represents, whether they worked in LTC, died there, or left of their own accord.

For example, colourful notes of gratitude sit on one chair to represent Esther, a personal support worker and registered nurse originally from Uganda who tirelessly cared for Toronto’s isolated LTC residents.

A pair of yellow wooden clogs hang from a chair to evoke Jacobus, a then-93-year-old Dutch immigrant to Canada who, fed up with life in isolation in mid-2020, left his LTC facility in Ontario and boarded a plane to B.C. to tend to his daughter’s garden on Hornby Island.

And then there is Maggie Fraser’s chair, showcasing Valentine's Day cards from her grandkids, a leopard-print sweater, and a leopard figurine.

“The figurine of the leopard recognizes her Afro-Caribbean heritage,” says Kim Fraser. “She was raised in the 1930s and ’40s in Toronto, which as you can imagine at the time was very Anglo-Saxon. Her family looked different. She experienced pretty open discrimination. One of the things I really came to appreciate as my mother aged is that as there was more public discourse about racism, she felt she could call it out and I really loved that.”

Fraser says participating in the project was restorative. It means her mother’s name isn’t forgotten. “We’re talking about her. She lived. She mattered.”

The exhibit, supported by York University and Simon Fraser University, was intended to launch this month in person in Surrey, B.C. Instead, it launched virtually on Jan. 14. The work will remain online indefinitely.

Unsurprisingly, an exhibit about the ongoing pandemic was derailed by the ongoing pandemic.

Davies, however, hopes to bring the installation to Torontonians in person when it is safe to do so — possibly to Dufferin Mall, Union Station or Queen’s Park. “I’d like to put it out where people can see it,” she says.

Indeed, it would be best if people could see it up close right now. Amid a 24-hour doom cycle in the media and a seemingly never-ending stream of variants both real (Omicron) and fabricated (Flurona), we owe it to the dead and to ourselves to step out of the chaos and into the quiet.

The COVID-19 crisis in long-term care violated “a cultural feeling about a good death,” says Davies. “This is a moment for us to get out of our panic mode and reflect on what’s gone down and what kind of road we want after the pandemic because the next five years are going to be a time of rebuilding. I want a more caring society.”

It appears those at the helm of Toronto’s proposed 2022 budget want one too. If it passes next month, Toronto’s nursing homes could benefit from an investment into so-called “emotion-centred care”: programming that puts individual resident needs above rigid scheduling, and prizes the resident-caregiver relationship. It’s this type of change Davies hopes COVID in the House of Old sparks nationwide.

The project, she says, is about recognizing the humanity of our elders. “I know this sounds so simple. But they are people.”

Emma Teitel is a Toronto-based city columnist for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @emmaroseteitel

Emma Teitel: The loved ones we lost in long-term care get artistic tribute in this new exhibition

Opinion Jan 14, 2022 by Emma Teitel City Columnist

The end came for Maggie Fraser at the beginning. She died of COVID-19 in a downtown Toronto long-term care facility on April 16, 2020. According to her daughter Kim Fraser, the “90-and-a-half”-year-old community volunteer possessed a terrific sense of humour, a love for her grandchildren and great-grandchild, and a fondness for leopard-print sweaters.

“I couldn’t see my mother before she died,” says Fraser, alluding to the strict pandemic protocols that prevented (and still prevent) families from saying goodbye to loved ones in LTC. “I couldn’t see my mother after she died. We were unable to hold a memorial service.”

Fortunately this month, nearly two years after Maggie’s passing, Kim Fraser will get a bit of closure, the result of her participation in an art exhibit called COVID in the House of Old.

The work of Megan J. Davies (a historian of aging and a professor at York University) and Toronto musician Hiroki Tanaka, COVID in the House of Old is a multimedia installation acknowledging thousands of Ontario and British Columbia seniors who lived and died in LTC, the staff who cared for them, and their families who were unable to.

The installation exists in two parts. There is an audio-visual piece composed by Tanaka, who designed a program that plays a musical note for every person who died in an LTC home in B.C. and Ontario between March 2020 and October 2021. The result is “Elegy for Long Term Care Homes 2020-2021”: 4,730 notes in the key of A Major displayed visually as green and orange dots travelling across a white screen, reminiscent of movement on an ECG machine.

Tanaka, who cared for his both his grandmother and uncle at the end of their lives, wanted to give people a personal way to experience raw data, “the overwhelming numbers and the sheer sense of so many lives lost,” he says.

His piece will run in conjunction with the project’s other component: an installation of seven wooden “storytelling chairs” representing seven lives altered by COVID-19’s spread in long-term care.

Sitting atop or hanging from each chair are items that tell a story about the person or people it represents, whether they worked in LTC, died there, or left of their own accord.

For example, colourful notes of gratitude sit on one chair to represent Esther, a personal support worker and registered nurse originally from Uganda who tirelessly cared for Toronto’s isolated LTC residents.

A pair of yellow wooden clogs hang from a chair to evoke Jacobus, a then-93-year-old Dutch immigrant to Canada who, fed up with life in isolation in mid-2020, left his LTC facility in Ontario and boarded a plane to B.C. to tend to his daughter’s garden on Hornby Island.

And then there is Maggie Fraser’s chair, showcasing Valentine's Day cards from her grandkids, a leopard-print sweater, and a leopard figurine.

“The figurine of the leopard recognizes her Afro-Caribbean heritage,” says Kim Fraser. “She was raised in the 1930s and ’40s in Toronto, which as you can imagine at the time was very Anglo-Saxon. Her family looked different. She experienced pretty open discrimination. One of the things I really came to appreciate as my mother aged is that as there was more public discourse about racism, she felt she could call it out and I really loved that.”

Fraser says participating in the project was restorative. It means her mother’s name isn’t forgotten. “We’re talking about her. She lived. She mattered.”

The exhibit, supported by York University and Simon Fraser University, was intended to launch this month in person in Surrey, B.C. Instead, it launched virtually on Jan. 14. The work will remain online indefinitely.

Unsurprisingly, an exhibit about the ongoing pandemic was derailed by the ongoing pandemic.

Davies, however, hopes to bring the installation to Torontonians in person when it is safe to do so — possibly to Dufferin Mall, Union Station or Queen’s Park. “I’d like to put it out where people can see it,” she says.

Indeed, it would be best if people could see it up close right now. Amid a 24-hour doom cycle in the media and a seemingly never-ending stream of variants both real (Omicron) and fabricated (Flurona), we owe it to the dead and to ourselves to step out of the chaos and into the quiet.

The COVID-19 crisis in long-term care violated “a cultural feeling about a good death,” says Davies. “This is a moment for us to get out of our panic mode and reflect on what’s gone down and what kind of road we want after the pandemic because the next five years are going to be a time of rebuilding. I want a more caring society.”

It appears those at the helm of Toronto’s proposed 2022 budget want one too. If it passes next month, Toronto’s nursing homes could benefit from an investment into so-called “emotion-centred care”: programming that puts individual resident needs above rigid scheduling, and prizes the resident-caregiver relationship. It’s this type of change Davies hopes COVID in the House of Old sparks nationwide.

The project, she says, is about recognizing the humanity of our elders. “I know this sounds so simple. But they are people.”

Emma Teitel is a Toronto-based city columnist for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @emmaroseteitel

Emma Teitel: The loved ones we lost in long-term care get artistic tribute in this new exhibition

Opinion Jan 14, 2022 by Emma Teitel City Columnist

The end came for Maggie Fraser at the beginning. She died of COVID-19 in a downtown Toronto long-term care facility on April 16, 2020. According to her daughter Kim Fraser, the “90-and-a-half”-year-old community volunteer possessed a terrific sense of humour, a love for her grandchildren and great-grandchild, and a fondness for leopard-print sweaters.

“I couldn’t see my mother before she died,” says Fraser, alluding to the strict pandemic protocols that prevented (and still prevent) families from saying goodbye to loved ones in LTC. “I couldn’t see my mother after she died. We were unable to hold a memorial service.”

Fortunately this month, nearly two years after Maggie’s passing, Kim Fraser will get a bit of closure, the result of her participation in an art exhibit called COVID in the House of Old.

The work of Megan J. Davies (a historian of aging and a professor at York University) and Toronto musician Hiroki Tanaka, COVID in the House of Old is a multimedia installation acknowledging thousands of Ontario and British Columbia seniors who lived and died in LTC, the staff who cared for them, and their families who were unable to.

The installation exists in two parts. There is an audio-visual piece composed by Tanaka, who designed a program that plays a musical note for every person who died in an LTC home in B.C. and Ontario between March 2020 and October 2021. The result is “Elegy for Long Term Care Homes 2020-2021”: 4,730 notes in the key of A Major displayed visually as green and orange dots travelling across a white screen, reminiscent of movement on an ECG machine.

Tanaka, who cared for his both his grandmother and uncle at the end of their lives, wanted to give people a personal way to experience raw data, “the overwhelming numbers and the sheer sense of so many lives lost,” he says.

His piece will run in conjunction with the project’s other component: an installation of seven wooden “storytelling chairs” representing seven lives altered by COVID-19’s spread in long-term care.

Sitting atop or hanging from each chair are items that tell a story about the person or people it represents, whether they worked in LTC, died there, or left of their own accord.

For example, colourful notes of gratitude sit on one chair to represent Esther, a personal support worker and registered nurse originally from Uganda who tirelessly cared for Toronto’s isolated LTC residents.

A pair of yellow wooden clogs hang from a chair to evoke Jacobus, a then-93-year-old Dutch immigrant to Canada who, fed up with life in isolation in mid-2020, left his LTC facility in Ontario and boarded a plane to B.C. to tend to his daughter’s garden on Hornby Island.

And then there is Maggie Fraser’s chair, showcasing Valentine's Day cards from her grandkids, a leopard-print sweater, and a leopard figurine.

“The figurine of the leopard recognizes her Afro-Caribbean heritage,” says Kim Fraser. “She was raised in the 1930s and ’40s in Toronto, which as you can imagine at the time was very Anglo-Saxon. Her family looked different. She experienced pretty open discrimination. One of the things I really came to appreciate as my mother aged is that as there was more public discourse about racism, she felt she could call it out and I really loved that.”

Fraser says participating in the project was restorative. It means her mother’s name isn’t forgotten. “We’re talking about her. She lived. She mattered.”

The exhibit, supported by York University and Simon Fraser University, was intended to launch this month in person in Surrey, B.C. Instead, it launched virtually on Jan. 14. The work will remain online indefinitely.

Unsurprisingly, an exhibit about the ongoing pandemic was derailed by the ongoing pandemic.

Davies, however, hopes to bring the installation to Torontonians in person when it is safe to do so — possibly to Dufferin Mall, Union Station or Queen’s Park. “I’d like to put it out where people can see it,” she says.

Indeed, it would be best if people could see it up close right now. Amid a 24-hour doom cycle in the media and a seemingly never-ending stream of variants both real (Omicron) and fabricated (Flurona), we owe it to the dead and to ourselves to step out of the chaos and into the quiet.

The COVID-19 crisis in long-term care violated “a cultural feeling about a good death,” says Davies. “This is a moment for us to get out of our panic mode and reflect on what’s gone down and what kind of road we want after the pandemic because the next five years are going to be a time of rebuilding. I want a more caring society.”

It appears those at the helm of Toronto’s proposed 2022 budget want one too. If it passes next month, Toronto’s nursing homes could benefit from an investment into so-called “emotion-centred care”: programming that puts individual resident needs above rigid scheduling, and prizes the resident-caregiver relationship. It’s this type of change Davies hopes COVID in the House of Old sparks nationwide.

The project, she says, is about recognizing the humanity of our elders. “I know this sounds so simple. But they are people.”

Emma Teitel is a Toronto-based city columnist for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @emmaroseteitel