Make Us Part of Your Story: Carmel & Cathy

Carmel, 89, at Chartwell since 2010, with daughter Cathy

Carmel and Cathy are like the female version of Abbot and Costello. Their close relationship is marked by clever quips, frequent laughter and plenty of good-natured teasing. In fact, the comedic mother-daughter duo even finish one another’s sentences, though they may not realize it.

Reflecting back on her childhood, Cathy has many fond memories of her parents, like her musical father, Gerry, playing the spoons, and her mischievous mother singing songs, telling jokes or jumping in the neighbour’s pool at 2:00 a.m. in the morning! Though Carmel enjoyed hamming it up with friends or dancing with her husband to big-band music, she devoted most of her time to caring for her five children—two boys and three girls. “Mom’s always kept busy, she’s so high energy,” Cathy, the second-youngest, explains. “She was a crazy cleaner and amazing cook. I remember my sisters and I were horsing around in the kitchen once, and she was on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor, and we must have startled her, because she fell forward and nearly dunked her entire face in the soap bucket!” Carmel bursts out laughing at the recollection, adding: “School lunches were a big deal back then, too.” Humour also played a prominent role during summers at the family cottage, where Carmel would attempt to embarrass her children in front of their friends. “She used to come screaming out of the cottage, dressed in socks, a bathing suit and a wig,” Cathy says, shaking her head. Carmel smiles brightly in return. “I liked to liven things up. The kids would often deny I was their mother.” From winters spent cross-country skiing and tobogganing, to trips to New Brunswick to visit relatives and feast on fresh lobster, to a haphazard Thanksgiving when the power went out one year, the twosome admit there was never a dull moment in their household.

It would be many years later, after her children were grown and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren began to arrive, that Carmel would consider a move to a retirement residence. “After the passing of my husband, I could still manage everything on my own, but the girls didn’t like the thought of me living by myself,” she explains. “They heard about the independent apartments here, so I decided to be proactive and make the move, rather than leaving it until I felt unwell.” Cathy echoes her mother’s sentiments: “We didn’t want her to feel lonely or isolated, especially as she is so social; we hoped to find a place where she would feel safe and supported by people she could trust and befriend.” Since moving to Chartwell Stonehaven nearly six year ago, Carmel has established a large network of friends and participates in many of the residence’s activities—from exercise classes, to “mystery bus tours” and cruises along the Rideau, to gatherings at restaurants or around the residence’s piano. Cathy jokes that it’s hard to get a hold of her mother nowadays. “Mom is busier than she’s ever been, and that’s saying something. She’s playing card games or out for tea; usually she needs the weekend just to recover from it all,” she jests. “At first I was worried when she didn’t pick up the phone, but now I know she’s got better things to do then talk to me.” Carmel grins, adding: “And she knows not to call me on hockey night!”

Today, Carmel says she has no regrets after moving into her Chartwell residence, and describes the staff as “wonderful.” She’s glad that everyone’s minds are at ease, and that her children no longer worry about her well-being. Though her daily schedule is usually filled to the brim, she still looks forward to quality time with her family. “Cathy is a beautiful woman, and very kind. Doctor’s appointments, groceries, shopping—she takes me anywhere I need to go.” Carmel says, smiling at her daughter. “She’s my right hand girl.”