Retired United Church minister Morton Paterson has lived in a nursing home for almost a decade, and knows how scary coming to one can be. That's why he opted to not make things scarier for his ex-wife by telling her that Elizabeth Wettlaufer once worked at her care home. (Credit: Pixabay)
Retired United Church minister Morton Paterson has lived in a nursing home for almost a decade, and knows how scary coming to one can be. That's why he opted to not make things scarier for his ex-wife by telling her that Elizabeth Wettlaufer once worked at her care home. (Credit: Pixabay)

Topics: Justice | Opinion

My ex-wife lives in a care home where Elizabeth Wettlaufer worked

A former United Church minister reveals why he didn’t tell his onetime partner, who has dementia, about the connection. He spoke to Alex Mlynek.

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Between 2007 and 2016, former Ontario nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer murdered eight patients under her care in long-term care homes by injecting them with lethal doses of insulin. She also tried to kill several other patients this way too.

While the impact of her actions was felt most deeply by those she killed and their loved ones, it also rippled into wider circles.

Morton Paterson is an 83-year-old retired United Church minister. Shortly before Wettlaufer was charged with first-degree murder in October 2016, his ex-wife, who has dementia, moved into one of the long-term-care facilities that Wettlaufer had worked in.

Here, Paterson, who has lived in a care home since April 2009, talks about his decision to not tell his ex-wife about this connection, why it’s important to think carefully about how you help loved ones transition into their new home and stay engaged while they live there, and how he’s made peace with the idea that he’ll be in a home for the rest of his life.

I was absolutely shocked that Wettlaufer would do that. And when I saw her appear on TV, I thought, “My God, how could she do it, she was a nurse?” I really feel myself that she began her career in nursing with a genuine desire to help people. I feel sorry for her, but I also feel very, very angry.

It also made me think, “My God, I hope my ex-wife doesn’t find out.” I’m re-married, but we keep in touch.

That’s when my eldest daughter phoned me and said, “Daddy, don’t tell Mom.” I said, “Don’t worry, sweetheart, I will not do that.” I agreed with her because it’s a matter of not adding to other things that are scary. That’s all. They’re scared enough being in a nursing home, especially if you have dementia.

“I really feel myself that she began her career in nursing with a genuine desire to help people. I feel sorry for her, but I also feel very, very angry.”

My first week and a half here [at the nursing home] was very frightening. I was so disoriented. Now, since I’ve been here, I’ve had a lot of good experiences, so that very frightening start changed over the years.

One thing I’ve done quite often is I’ll say to a person who comes in as a new resident, “Why are you here?” One of them, a man who was a retired farmer living by himself, answered, “Well, my daughter was taking me for a drive in the country without telling me where we were going. “Before I knew it, I was at the front door of this nursing home, and she said, ‘Dad, this is your new home.’” And he said, “I was so upset with her. She played that trick on me.”

And so, he’s still here, he’s calmed down a bit, but he’s still upset.

But what I’m finding now, though, and it’s happened over the course of these nine and a half years, I’ve discovered that I’ve accepted the fact that I’m in a nursing home.

I’m 83 years of age, and I expect that I will be here until I die, and people say “Oh, c’mon Mort, you might get better.” I’ve said, “No, no. I’m in a wheelchair, I’ve got a brain tumour, and I’ve got an old childhood injury that I have to be pretty careful with.”

So I do such small things as look at my room as my home. In one corner, I’ve got a picture of a Zen Buddhist garden, that’s the place where I say my prayers; in another corner, I have my small book library; I have a TV, and I see that as my living room. So, all of this is within my room, but you’ve just got to have a good imagination.

And I don’t make light of people who have difficulties living here, and I have some days I get depressed too. But for the most part, I’m able to imagine myself living in my home.

My wife comes to see me frequently; I’ve got readers who come to me, one’s reading a Grisham book to me now, Gray Mountain, and another book by Farley Mowat on the invasion of Sicily. And another reader, who’s a retired doctor and psychiatrist, he reads to me from the New York Times and the Globe and Mail. I’m really fortunate that I have people like that who keep me thinking.

Some people don’t get hardly any visitors. I had an experience once when I was a minister in Burlington [Ontario]. The ministers all took turns at taking services at nursing homes. Well, I was slated one year to take a service on Mother’s Day in a nursing home. So, partway through, I saw a number of women beginning to weep and tear up. And I said to the supervisor, after, “What was that all about? All I said to them was I want to wish them Happy Mother’s Day.” She said, “What you wouldn’t know, Mr. Paterson, is that very few of them had any family come to see them.”

Alex Mlynek is a Toronto-based writer and editor. She’s written for such publications as Today’s Parent, Best Health and Quill & Quire.

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