Kamloops family frustrated war veteran locked away in care home because of pandemic | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops family frustrated war veteran locked away in care home because of pandemic

Harold and Sylvia Houghton can only see their daughter via a window visit.
Image Credit: Submitted/Wendy Hodgson
November 11, 2020 - 4:00 PM

Alzheimer’s and time have faded Harold Houghton’s memories of his days in the British Merchant Marine during World War II.

They live on, however, in the mind and records kept by his daughter, Wendy Hodgson, who is waging her own fight to actually get to visit him so they can share some of their memories.

At 98, Houghton, and his 91-year-old wife Sylvia, are living in the Ridgeview Lodge long term care home in Kamloops.

As Remembrance Day approached, Hodgson recalled the stories of her father almost dying at sea during World War II and she produced a letter he wrote to his own mother after his ship was sunk by German torpedoes.

It was a late night drama that showed the strength of character of the men on both sides of the battle lines.

He was asleep at 10:30 p.m. when the first torpedo shook him awake. He quickly dressed and ran up on deck.

“I was not afraid, but the shock was terrific,” he wrote from the Grand Hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone where the entire crew stayed after spending three-and-a-half days at sea before being rescued. “He gave us another torpedo so I said come on boys, let’s go.

“The second mate and I picked 21 up out of the water, when up came the sub, he said come here but we did not want to go. He went to the gun so we went. I was in the bow of our boat, so he asked me a lot of questions. The worst job was holding the boat off the sub, it was so rough.

“Mother, do not condemn the people who we are fighting, all their crew shook our hands and wished us the best of luck. They gave us cigarettes and matches. I think we all had lumps in our throats and I had tears in my eyes at their kindness, no man spoke for awhile after that.”

Houghton did make it back to England and emigrated to Canada in 1951.

His daughter moved her parents to Kamloops from their home in Burnaby about a year ago because they were struggling with health issues and were no longer able to live on their own. Soon they were both moved into Riverview.

At first they took her parents out to lunch or coffee at Tim Hortons most afternoons but, when COVID-19 hit last spring and visitors were no longer allowed in the homes, the visiting stopped.

Initially there were some visits at the ends of long tables with staff members listening in.

Since Houghton’s hearing is bad, wearing a mask muffled his daughter’s voice too much to understand. So, they opted for window visits.

“Dad can hear us better,” Hodgson said. “Physically, he see us without the mask on. It’s so much better than what they (care home operators) were proposing.”

Now she’s fighting to get permission for her and her husband to visit both parents together but it’s a long process that simply drags on.

Harold Houghton
Harold Houghton
Image Credit: Submitted/Wendy Hodgson

In October they were able to take Houghton out to get his hearing aids replaced. It was shocking after not being together for months.

“He wouldn’t speak to us,” Hodgson said. “He would just gaze out the window. I didn’t know what to do.”

As a last resort, she decided to stop by Tim Hortons for coffee and Timbits.

“The Timbits finally pulled him out of it,” she said.

She saw great improvements during a follow-up visit.

“He talked,” Hodgson said. “He was much better this time. He kept saying ‘what a lovely day,’ and asking where all the cars were going. I told him they were going to Timmy’s.”

It’s a long ways from the glory days of his youth, staying at the Grand Hotel (which he wrote was not so grand) and swimming all day.

Remembrance Day brings those memories back to Hodgson but it also comes with the frustration that her dad is now locked away after fighting to preserve everyone’s freedom.

Hodgson is trying to preserve all their history by taking in old photo albums for her mom to identify the people in them. Sylvia is legally blind so it’s a slow process that’s been abandoned over the past few months.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get it done,” she said. “Time is moving on. If these stories don’t come out then they’re lost.”

Hodgson just wants Provincial Health Office Dr. Bonnie Henry to follow recent recommendations of a report by Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie that calls for an easing or restrictions of visitors in long term care homes.

READ MORE: Increased visits to B.C. long-term care homes not likely any time soon

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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