Today we welcome guest blogger, Sharon Wells, who shares her touching memories of the time when her mom was Lotta Hitschmanova’s caregiver during the years (1983-1990) she was tragically afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease.
“My Mom, Jean Lacelle, was a personal care worker in Ottawa. In 1983, at Sterling Place, she was assigned a new client who had Alzheimer’s disease, and that client was Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova.
Of course, Mom and our family were already aware of this remarkable woman and her work. As a young girl myself in the 60’s, I recalled seeing Lotta on television. She was a most impressive, dedicated woman speaking on behalf of the Unitarian Service Committee, 56 Sparks Street, Ottawa.
I knew that my mother, a capable, loving, and compassionate woman would be a good companion for this compassionate, dedicated, and remarkable woman. And I was correct, as Mom’s weekly calls to me were filled with news about Lotta.
She was still able to converse with Mom for their first year together and they became friends. With permission from Lotta’s guardian, Mr. Harry Bolster and Lotta’s sister Lilly, Mom would bring her home for holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, her birthday and for special weekends — to provide Lotta with a change of scenery and to enjoy a family environment.
Lotta also accompanied Mom on visits to my aunt and cousins’ home just outside of Ottawa, and her eyes would light up when she saw the children. In photos of those occasions, I loved to see the joy on my Mom’s and Lotta’s faces.
Sadly, when Lotta could no longer have conversations, Mom said that the only word she could speak for years was “very,” which she would repeat for minutes and sometimes for hours, no other words.
Mom had such patience with Lotta, telling me that she just sat quietly until Lotta finished whatever correspondence she was dictating in her mind. And I recall thinking that just as Lotta had devoted her life to helping the less fortunate around the world, my Mom had devoted herself to this benevolent, good woman. They were together for seven years, until Lotta died in 1990.
Over time, Lotta became like a mother to Mom in many ways. And in the absence of conversation, there was still a very tender, sensitive and emotional connection, as Mom continued to talk to Lotta in hopes she could hear her words. One day, out of the blue, Lotta took Mom’s face in her hands and said, “Thank you, Jean.” Mom was very moved by that.
I know Mom continued to carry her love, respect and admiration for Lotta until she passed in 2013. Two days before Mom’s death, it was St. Patrick’s Day. She had asked to wear a St. Patrick’s Day brooch that Lotta had given to Mom. “Erin go Bragh” (“Ireland till the end of time”) was inscribed on it and every year Mom would wear it.
In collecting Mom’s belongings the day she passed, I put the brooch in my pocket. However, much later that evening at my Mom’s residence, my son discovered the brooch in the lobby elevator. It had fallen from my pocket and someone had picked it up. I realized then that I was meant to have it, and to honour the memory of Dr. Lotta and my Mom, I continue this yearly tradition every St. Patrick’s Day. There are hidden blessings in everything.”
Sharon Wells, St John’s, NL
Our family still remembers the “spots” that Lotta did on the radio to raise awareness and funds for the Unitarian Service Committee. At one time I had a long playing record of these. I gave it to our Unitarian church, and never saw it again. I always regretted parting with it, because there was no one’s voice I would rather hear than Lotta’s.
What a lovely memory, Audrey! I wonder if someone might have preserved the LP, now that they are more in fashion again. You can hear snippets of Lotta speaking again here: https://lotta56sparks.ca/resources/hear-lotta-voice-again/.