Nova Scotia

21-year navy veteran among Northwood residents to die of COVID-19

The last time Charlene Chiddenton saw her father in person was on March 7 — visitor restrictions at long-term care homes during the pandemic had kept them apart — and less than two months later, she was saying goodbye to her father by video call.

Gerald Jackson's twin daughters said goodbye to their father through a video call the day he died

Charlene Chiddenton last visited her father, Gerald Jackson, at Northwood in early March. (Charlene Chiddenton/Facebook)

The last time Charlene Chiddenton saw her father in person was on March 7 — visitor restrictions at long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic had kept them apart.

Less than two months later, she was saying goodbye to her father by video call.

Gerald Jackson, 84, died on April 28. He is just one of the 38 residents at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax who have died after contracting COVID-19.

"The hardest part was not being able to be there when he died," Chiddenton said.

"It obviously would have been difficult to see him in person, but to hold his hand ... it would have been nice to have that option, which obviously with this disease, you don't get that option."

Jackson was born in Halifax on Nov. 11, 1935 to the late Ethel and Gerald Jackson. He is a descendant of the Jackson family who lost 46 members in the Halifax Explosion. His father survived.

Jackson married Chiddenton's mother in 1953. They went on to have seven children: Gerald, Heather, David, Stephen, Charlene, Darlene and Robert.

He had worked as a cook for the Royal Canadian Navy for 21 years and then went on to work as a Sears salesman and later a museum commissionaire.

Chiddenton said her parents divorced in 1977 when she was 15. He then moved to Victoria, B.C.

Gerald Jackson on his birthday at Parkland at the Lakes. (Charlene Chiddenton)

"He always wanted to go out to British Columbia. He did some Navy training out there. And he had met a woman out there. So off he went to lead another life," she said.

But by 2015, Jackson had developed dementia and Chiddenton knew she had to do something.

"In his growing years of getting older, I chose to bring him back once I heard about the dementia and it was not an easy decision, but it had to be made."

Chiddenton and her twin sister Darlene Metzler moved their father into Parkland, a seniors complex owned by Shannex in Halifax.

Chiddenton said her father loved living in Parkland.

From left: Darlene Metzler, Jackson's social worker, Jackson and Chiddenton on his first day at Northwood on May 8, 2019. (Submitted by Charlene Chiddenton)

"One memory I have of last Christmas, I went over to visit him after work and I couldn't find him in his room," she said.

"And I turned the corner and I could hear music. And they were all sitting down, listening to sing-along Christmas songs. And I just stood in behind and watched ... and dad's there singing away … he loved music. He loved to dance. He loved to jive."

Jackson stayed at Parkland until May 2019.

By then, his dementia had progressed so he was moved to Northwood.

After restrictions were put in place due to COVID-19, Chiddenton visited her father by waving to him through the window. He was living on the 8th floor, the dementia lockdown unit, she said.

Northwood's Halifax campus. (Robert Short/CBC)

"I wore my red jacket and carried a red balloon and [they] brought dad to the window so I could wave to him so that was my actual last [visit]."

Chiddenton and Metzler said they both saw their father one last time — but through a video call.

"The day he died, they were able to just put — it was difficult — but they were able to put an iPad in front of him so we could see him and say goodbye," Metzler said.

"I spoke to him. I don't know what he heard. And that would have probably been like 10 hours before he passed away."

Chiddenton and Metzler said they are grateful for the care their father received at Northwood, but they wish the circumstances around his death were different.

When Jackson was moved into Northwood, he was put in a three-person room, accommodations his daughters didn't know existed.

Chiddenton was told that each floor has one room that has three residents and her father was being placed in one.

"We knew once we'd heard there was one person in that room with COVID, we knew it was only a matter of time and dad would have it," she said.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. (CBC)

On May 6, Premier Stephen McNeil hinted that changes to how long-term care homes are set up could be in the works because of COVID-19.

"We look forward to chasing this virus out of Northwood and then looking at how can we make sure — if this virus rebounds or if a future one comes — the physical setup that we have is the right one to ensure that we can control and prevent it from getting in," McNeil said.

The sisters said they are both advocating for change in their father's memory.

"I'd love to know how many of them that have passed were in the three-person rooms on each floor," Chiddenton said.

"They shouldn't allow that, you know. It's like warehousing our seniors. So that part of it is my mission to change … and hopefully, years from now, there will be some good that'll come of it."

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 cbcns@cbc.ca

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About the Author

Cassidy Chisholm is a web writer from New Brunswick who is now sharing stories at CBC Nova Scotia. She can be reached at cassidy.chisholm@cbc.ca.

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