Late Northwood resident Gena Hemsworth relished life's simple pleasures
Hemsworth, 78, had a soft spot for animals and babies
She owned sports cars, she loved to bowl, play darts and bingo; she was unfailingly kind and would do just about anything to make a child laugh; she could type astonishingly fast.
Her name was Georgina Hemsworth and she died on May 1 of COVID-19.
Hemsworth, 78, went by her nickname, Gena. Her niece Jylene Simmons said she never knew Hemsworth to go by her given name, which was, perhaps, too formal for such a playful woman.
Hemsworth was afraid of flying so when she had to board a plane, she liked to have a trusted companion. Simmons stepped into that role for Hemsworth many times. From her childhood right up until the last months of her aunt's life, Simmons said she was "just kind of like her sidekick."
Dedicated to her work and her loved ones
Hemsworth studied to be a secretary at the Halifax Regional Vocational School — now the Halifax campus of the Nova Scotia Community College — and the school hired her soon after her graduation in the 1960s. She stayed working at the school for almost three decades until her retirement in 1994.
In the virtual guestbook of Hemsworth's funeral home, former colleagues wrote about her skill and dedication to her work. In the early days of office printing technology, she knew how to use every machine at the school, one colleague wrote.
But her career wasn't the sole passion of her life. Hemsworth was a loving aunt and great-aunt. She cared deeply for animals and always had a pet dog or cat.
She wasn't interested in "grandiose" vacations, Simmons said, but relished in life's simple pleasures, close to home. In their retirement, Hemsworth and her longtime partner Neil Mosher would road-trip to Ontario to visit family, and to P.E.I. to lounge on the beach.
When she was away, Hemsworth would call home to talk to her cats. Recounting memories of her aunt's "cat conversations," Simmons laughed.
"It was always entertaining for the kids around," she said.
Caring for her partner
Hemsworth and Mosher's trips tapered off after he was diagnosed with ALS. Hemsworth was her partner's caregiver until he died in 2013, and Simmons said she'd hoped her aunt would be able to "have some fun" again, but six months after Mosher's passing she had a stroke from which she never fully recovered.
The family considered long-term care options at that time, but Hemsworth said she'd prefer to live with her sidekick. In late 2015, she and her cat moved into Simmons's home.
Her niece said Hemsworth was content to spend most of her time at home with family, or watching TV. Home care workers provided for Hemsworth when Simmons was at work.
This February, Hemsworth's health took a downward turn and she was admitted to hospital. Simmons said doctors adjusted her aunt's various medications and were preparing to discharge her in mid-March, but COVID-19 arrived at the same time.
"I was concerned about the lack of help I would have if I brought her home," Simmons said.
"She couldn't mobilize as well and I couldn't have as much home care ... it was recommended that she go to long-term care from hospital."
The move into Northwood
The next available bed was at Northwood, so on March 25 a health-care team transferred Hemsworth to the long-term care facility in Halifax. Simmons couldn't join her because of COVID-19 restrictions. The last time she saw her aunt was in mid-March, before hospitals barred most visitors.
Hemsworth had been in Northwood for less than a month when she tested positive for the coronavirus. She was swabbed on April 20, one day after the province announced an emergency plan to intervene at Northwood.
The facility has been the epicentre of Nova Scotia's outbreak throughout the pandemic, accounting for almost 90 per cent of the province's 51 COVID-19 deaths, as of May 13.
When Hemsworth was first tested, she was asymptomatic — swabbed as a matter of routine because of the high number of cases in the facility — and she never exhibited some of the classic symptoms like fever and cough.
But a few days before she died she became unusually fatigued and uninterested in food and drinks, even her favourites: chocolate milk and ginger ale.
Nurses told Simmons they would arrange for a final visit, she said, if Hemsworth's condition worsened. But her death happened quickly. Simmons didn't get to see her before the end.
CBC Nova Scotia is sharing stories of the victims of COVID-19 to commemorate those we've lost to the pandemic. If you've lost a loved one and want to share your memories of them, reach out via email@example.com