I have always loved discovering and meeting every day heroes. My work in an Eastern Health long-term care facility has allowed me the opportunity to talk to people from all different corners of this province and to learn about their lives and stories. Many times I walk away from these conversations in awe of what people have accomplished and overcome.
One of my every day heroes is a resident of the U.S. Memorial Health Care Centre (USM) in St. Lawrence, Mr. Peter Quirke. Mr. Quirke has always been a natural caregiver for people who are in need. I remember when his sister-in-law was a resident at USM, before he was, and Mr. Quirke always made the time to come and visit twice a day.
When Mr. Quirke`s wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he learned everything he could about the disease and how to keep her safe, content and happy.
His daughter, Joanne, told me that he had a daily routine with his wife and followed it step-by-step each and every day. They both had a love for music and he made sure to have their favourite tunes playing throughout the day.
Joanne nostalgically remembers on one of her last visits to see her mom at her parents’ home before she passed away. She said a song started to play on the radio, and like all other times before, her mom looked at her dad and said “come on!” He knew exactly what she wanted – they stood up and danced around the kitchen.
Joanne said he cared for her until she passed away in his arms.
Life at USM
Mr. Quirke moved into the long-term care facility in 2009. Once in his new surroundings, he was quick to find ways to continue to care for those around him.
Mr. Quirke has a beautiful voice that he uses to bring peace, joy and comfort to the residents around him.
Mr. Quirke`s acts of kindness toward those around him have really made an impact on the staff and residents of the USM. Any day, you can pass by his room and hear his beautiful voice carrying throughout the hallway.
One memory I hold dear, and one of the reasons I think Mr. Quirke is an everyday hero, is because of what he does each night in the dining room when seniors are having their evening snack.
On this one night, I returned to the USM after going home at the end of the work day. As I walked by the dining room, I was spell bound by the scene before me.
Mr. Quirke had a captive audience of residents listening to him sing. To my amazement, he even had some residents singing along with him!
The feeling I had when I stepped in to that room is hard to describe. The best way I can explain the way that moment felt is to compare it to a great big hug or a blanket tuck that you may have received from your nan or pop when you were a kid getting ready for bed – pure joy and contentment.
There was such a shared connection among the residents. This sing-song was not something scheduled, organized or staff-led. It was just good old fashioned humanity. It was a man with a beautiful voice providing comfort and care to those around him. At one point, he looked over at Miss Clara, a fellow resident of USM, and started to sing a church song in Latin, knowing how special that would be to her. She started to sing along and my heart melted.
This singing gathering has since become a nightly ritual at the USM. Many residents look forward to participating or sitting back and enjoying the music. One resident has said to me that it is a daily highlight.
Mr. Quirke’s singing takes residents to a place where they feel connected, special, and can reflect on times past. It is a place of remembrance, and a place where age and ailments melt away.
Mr. Quirke confided that when sings, the pain in his joints start to fade away – just like magic!
Thank you Mr. Peter Quirke for being an everyday hero to me and many residents at the USM!
Since this story was written, Mr. Quirke has passed. We wish to send our condolences to his family and friends, and dedicate this story in his memory.
This story was written by Kim Slaney, a social worker at Eastern Health`s U.S. Memorial Health Care Centre.