A Waterford Farewell


At 77, in the middle of February, Joan Marie Pitcher passed away as most of us would wish to – at home, surrounded by her family and close friends.

In this case, though, the home address might surprise you.

It was the Waterford Hospital in St. John’s – the only home ‘Joanie’ had known for 64 years.

Joan Marie (Joanie) Pitcher, former patient of the Waterford Hospital

Joan Marie (Joanie) Pitcher, former patient of the Waterford Hospital

When she was 13, and challenged with severe developmental delays, Joanie’s family made the difficult decision to place her in the hospital on Waterford Bridge Road, where staff could provide the care they no longer could.

North 2B is a unit designed for people like Joanie, who need constant care and who even when they became adults, could not have functioned on their own, in the outside community.

Joanie’s sister, Edwina Cooper, remembers the day her older sister moved into the Waterford.

“I was kind of scared. I didn’t know much about the place,” she says. “But when I’d visit, and see Joanie dressed so nicely and walking hand in hand with a staff member, I felt better. It brought comfort.”

For Joanie, who never spoke, North 2B quickly became home, her refuge – and for her family – a preferred address. The staff quickly took to Joanie.

Manager Marlene Miller, left, oversees Patient Unit N2B at the Waterford Hospital

Manager Marlene Miller, left, oversees Patient Unit N2B at the Waterford Hospital

“Joanie was very childlike, very trusting – with big blue eyes that sparkled when she was happy,” says Marlene Miller, the patient care coordinator of North 2B. “Our unit is a family, and she became part of our family – and we became part of hers.

“We care deeply for those we have the privilege and responsibility for caring for, and it was a privilege to have Joanie as part of my life.”

And so it was a very natural thing for Joanie’s ‘Waterford family’ to be part of her death, as well.

As she passed, she was surrounded by staff and her fellow residents, who had become in some cases, lifelong friends.

David Thistle, fellow patient and longtime friend of Joanie Pitcher, attending her funeral

David Thistle, fellow patient and longtime friend of Joanie Pitcher, attending her funeral

Fellow resident of North 2B, David Thistle, says he was a good friend to Joanie – as she was to him. When he knew that she had passed, he went into her room, stood by her bed, and offered a farewell blessing:

“So long, Joanie,” he said. “God bless you – and may you have a good eternal life.”

Linda Maher echoed David’s thoughts when she officiated at Joanie’s funeral service – held at the Waterford Chapel.

She was the chaplain at the Waterford for many years, and had gotten to know Joanie; so at the family’s request, she returned to conduct Joanie’s farewell.

“I remember the first time I met Joanie,” she reminisced. “I started to speak to her, and I didn’t really expect much of a response. But then her head lifted in my direction! I was really touched by that, and humbled to be in relationship with her.

“It was a gift to me as a new chaplain.”

Chaplain Linda Maher conducting the funeral service for Waterford patient Joanie Pitcher

Chaplain Linda Maher conducting the funeral service for Waterford patient Joanie Pitcher

As a much-loved resident of the Waterford Hospital, Joanie Pitcher’s funeral service was organized by the staff – and held close to ‘home’ in the hospital Chapel.

Many of the staff members of N2B – past and present – attended and took part in the celebration of her life.

Susan Cummings is a pastoral care and ethics manager, based at the Waterford Hospital. Several such funerals have been held in the past year or so, as these permanent residents of Waterford’s N2B unit have reached their senior years, and passed away.

She believes that the care bestowed on these, ‘our most vulnerable patients’ over the years has been exemplary – demonstrating selflessness and deep loyalty.

As it should be.

Susan Cummings, pastoral care manager, left, and a staff procession at the funeral

Susan Cummings, pastoral care manager, left, and a staff procession at the funeral

“Dignity and love are the hall marks of the relationships we witnessed today in the funeral service for Joanie Pitcher,” Susan added. “Every human being is entitled to care, and dignity in the provision of that care. Not long ago one of the patients at the Waterford told me that our patients were ‘God’s spies,’ and that God was watching how we cared for them! He believed that we would be judged in direct proportion to our love and care of them.”

Susan feels the staff have nothing to worry about….especially on N2B.

“What I’ve seen over the years is that the staff members on N2B have hearts that are tender, judgment that is wise and who provide a standard of care that is second to none.”

Joanie’s brother Robert Pitcher, sister Edwina Cooper and brother-in-law Grant Cooper at funeral service in the Waterford Chapel

Joanie’s brother Robert Pitcher, sister Edwina Cooper and brother-in-law Grant Cooper at funeral service in the Waterford Chapel

To Joanie’s sister Edwina and her brother, Robert Pitcher, that kind of care has meant a lot over the past 64 years, assuring the family that their sister was in good hands.

They were touched by the funeral service, believing it to a fitting farewell for a sister who was much-loved – and who will be much missed, as evidenced by a poem Edwina read at the service:

Joanie, Fate was most unkind

Giving you an adult body, but a child’s mind.

Yet from you so much love was spread.

You gave so much and asked very little in return.

We know you are in a new home called Heaven.

There’ll be no more pain, no more ills. No more bitter pills.

I know you are safe now and nothing can harm you.

Remember, although we’re apart, we will always be together.

   Forgive us if today we are sad,

For we loved you so much.

Her Waterford family will miss her, too. Only a dozen or so remain of these men and women who have called the Waterford Hospital their permanent home, who have been surrounded by their ‘second’ families for most of their adult lives.

Each patient has left a lasting impression on their professional caretakers…from the oldest to the youngest on staff.

With each passing, Unit N2B mourns – and remembers.

Sharon Walsh-White is a licensed practical nurse who helped care for Joanie since the mid-70s – nearly 40 years. Following the funeral, in a voice choked with emotion, she put it this way:

“Joanie was like a little ‘Tinkerbell’ – just a gentle lamb. And her spirit will live on in us.”

Staff members of N2B surround Joanie Pitcher one final time

Staff members of N2B surround Joanie Pitcher one final time

This story was written by Deborah Collins, a communications manager with Eastern Health, based in St. John’s.

17 responses to “A Waterford Farewell

  1. such a beautiful story and a beautiful tribute, I take care of my brother who like Jeannie is a child trapped in a mans body but even though life has thrown them a curve ball they have a special place in our heart and society and should be treated with love care and respect, god bless u all

  2. Lovely and keep doing a good job these people did not ask for that kind of a life but deserve the best I myself and husband look after people in our own home who have many challenges and we truly enjoy it

  3. May God watch over forever not only Joanie in his heavenly home but those wonderful caregivers who look after, love and cherish as her sister said, Those in adult bodies but with a child’s mind. R.I. P. Joanie.

  4. Beautiful tribute to a lady that was so special to all nurses who looked after her , I didn`t know Joanie but reading this i know she had caring and kind nurses looking after her over the years may she R.I.P.

  5. So sorry for both families, her biological family and her Waterford family. An angel has joined God. May she rest in peace.

  6. God bless her,it was a blessing to have known Joanie.May she have peace in heaven where I know she is. Staff are great family to all residents.

  7. She was a very sweet lady. My mom used to go to the Waterford for dialysis, I remember one day Joanie came up to me as I was getting moms wheelchair out of the trunk of the car. She asked me in her own way if she could help me. I will never forget the look in her eyes, although she was unable to talk she touched my heart with those eyes!! RIP Joanie.

  8. A very beautiful story, very touching,.Joanie had wonderful care & a good farewell!!, i have a male cousin who have been there now upwards to 50 years& i know he is getting excellent care!!

  9. Linda Harnett: It’s a beautiful story and just reading it I felt like I knew Joanie myself,R.I.P.Joanie and God Bless all those working and caring for our loved ones.

  10. I remember her well. I went to work as an RN in 1963. I worked there over thirty years and Julia was always there. She and I were the same age. Years later when we set up N2B, it became one of my responsibilities as Nurse co ordinator. Tony Prime was head nurse. Over the years I was very proud of the care given on that unit and I am so delighted to see that this article gives credit to the caring staff there over the years. I revisited the unit a few years ago and Joanie was one of the residents I saw there. She was still bright and obviousely well care for.. Staff have a lot to be proud of and I am proud to have been associated with them.

  11. My Sincere Condolences to Joanie’s Family & Friends,Also to the Very wonderful Caregivers for taking such good care of her and making her apart of their family.Rest Assured your loved one is in heaven & is a beautiful Angel now.
    R.I.P Joanie God Bless You.

  12. RIP Joanie, while I worked there from 73-77, and if you were there then I am sure our paths have crossed. Your caregivers and family will miss you the most.

  13. Beautiful story…I worked at the WATERFORD 54,55 yrs ago and often took meals,supplies to 2B.SO i guess I DID MEET UP WITH HER AT SOMETIME IN THE YRS I worked there.god rest her soul.

  14. Beautiful story! God bless Joanie and her personal family and her Waterford family..It gives a whole new light to The Waterford Hospital which is stereotyped like other hospitals such as the Waterford.May you RIP Joanie and may your families know you are now free in Heaven with Our Lord!

  15. Rest peacefully Joanie.
    I did my CNA practicum at the Waterford in 1980 and I sang there at Christmas time with St. Mary’s church choir for many years. Although my memory is a bit foggy now, I am sure our paths crossed and we held hands and smiled…maybe even danced together.
    Your sweet soul seems to have touched many and I am certain mine was one of them!
    Such a beautiful and caring family that you were surrounded by for so many years. You were never lonely, and always loved.
    Thank you Waterford staff ~ so very touching to read this story and to know how beautifully you paid tribute to Joanie!
    My sincere condolences to you all and to Joanie’s family.

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