Home Trends and Week Report On Valentine’s Day, Mindemoya couple ended their lives together

On Valentine’s Day, Mindemoya couple ended their lives together

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On Valentine’s Day, Mindemoya couple ended their lives together
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Together in life—forever together. Donna and Jim Nevills of Mindemoya chose to take their last journey together on Valentine’s Day. The couple was both suffering from serious health problems and couldn’t bear to leave one another. They lived their final days together. “coffee break” in each others’s company, then held hands as they took advantage of medical assistance in dying.

MINDEMOYA—Jim Nevills wasn’t going to go into the dance at the Sandfield Hall, he was only dropping off a few friends and then planned to drive back home. He changed his mind and crossed the threshold into a lifelong romance that ended this Valentine’s Day following a family coffee break tradition—together in life, forever together.

In the spring 1948, Mr. Nevills met Donna McDougall, his future wife. When he entered the hall, a 16-year-old licensed hairdresser caught the attention of the veteran. Ms. McDougall had come from Providence Bay for the dance. Couples from all over the region gathered to celebrate what was, back in those pre-online dating days. In a 2009 Now and Then column Mr. Nevills described Petra Wall, his future wife, as follows: “a good dancer and she seemed to think I was talented in this area too.” The couple would go on to enjoy many more dances over the ensuing months where they discovered they had a lot in common and going on to meet each other’s family.

Ms. McDougall’s family moved briefly to Little Current after her parents, Donald and Grace McDougall, purchased a hotel there.

Both young men moved to Toronto, where they found jobs, but the attraction of the Island was strong. They were back on the Island in December 1949 to tie the knot that would unite them for the next 73-years. The wedding was blessed without snow. Jim’s brother Harry served as best man and Doris Hutchinson attended to the bride. The reception was held at Providence Bay Hall. They then went on to Sault Ste. for a honeymoon. Marie, where they visited family members.

The Nevills moved into their first home, a farmhouse located across from Community Living in Mindemoya. After renting another house behind St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Mindemoya they built a home on Mr. Nevill’s property and went on to have five children together.

Mr. Nevills was employed by the Ontario Department of Transportation and Communication, which later became the Ministry of Transportation. Ms. Nevills was a hairdresser in the family home. They purchased Stanley Park in 1969 and moved to the location. Both continued their day jobs.

“The park was smaller then,” said Mr. Nevills’ son Brent, who agreed to sit down with The Expositor to talk about his parents’ life and their decision to leave life as they had lived it, on their own terms—together.

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The younger Mr. Nevills, like his father and his father’s father before him, is a mechanic and a veteran, having served for 33 years in the Canadian Forces (first in the army and then moving on to the air force).

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“My father was very proud of the (Royal Canadian) Legion (his father belonged to Little Current Branch 177). He didn’t get involved in the running of the Legion, but he was at every Legion event,”Mr. Nevills. The Nevills’ Island roots run deep, descending on the maternal side from Humphrey May, the first male “Haweater”(Settler born in Manitoulin).

The couple decided to retire.

“Even after retiring, my father always had a fondness for his coffee break,”He relayed the news to his son. “They would each sit in their chairs here (in a sunroom with glassed doors overlooking the back yard of Mindemoya’s Sparrows’ Nest apartments) and have their coffee and cake.”

“If there were people over, then they pulled out all the stops,”Tami, Tami’s daughter in law, was a laugher. The Nevills enjoyed entertaining their friends and family and were happy to entertain them.

Mr. Nevills was a man with few words (and thoughtfully considered), who took the time to think through a question before answering it. This characteristic was only enhanced after he suffered a series of mini strokes in the autumn of 2019. The cascading implications of those strokes would eventually see Mr. Nevills move from the couple’s ground floor apartment in the Sparrows’ Nest to the Wikwemikong Nursing Home. It was the first time that the couple had been separated for a prolonged period of time in almost seven decades of marriage. This was a terrifying moment for both of them.

“That was their biggest fear,”Their son said, “that one of them would be left alone.”

It was certainly a reasonable concern. In addition to Mr. Nevills’ strokes and intermittent bouts of dementia, his mother had battled cancer twice and was dealing with immense pain from osteoporosis, a debilitating condition that an operation might have helped alleviate, but Ms. Nevills resisted. “She was afraid she would die on the operating table and then who would look after her husband?””Said her daughter-in law.”

Mr. Nevills’ move to the nursing home, while a wonderful atmosphere and supported by a caring staff, added to the challenge. Despite their separation, they were able to reunite frequently. But the pandemic brought about a thousand new problems.

“Up until the pandemic, I was able to be the miracle guy,”Their son said so. “Whatever came up, I was able to find a way.”

“We could order something online, we could take mom to see him,”Their daughter-in law agreed.

However, the pandemic halted access to the nursing homes.

“It was to keep everyone safe, we get that,”Mr. Nevills. “But it was really hard on mom. I couldn’t explain to her why I couldn’t make it better, why I couldn’t fix things.”

The couple came across the idea of medical assistance in dying (MAID), long before the pandemic. However, it was through a friend. Ms. Nevills had a habit of visiting friends who were in hospital. One day, while visiting a close friend, she stopped by to visit a 100-year old neighbour who was also in the hospital.

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“As she was leaving the room, she said ‘well, I will see you next week’,”Ms. Nevills was recall. “The lady replied, ‘oh, I won’t be here, I am leaving tomorrow’.”Ms. Nevills learned that her neighbour was going to be the first to access MAID on Manitoulin during the conversation.

She returned home to tell her husband what she had found. They decided to explore the possibility of one of them passing away first, leaving the other to face the world alone after the long journey of a life shared together.

The couple was always together “take charge”Their son was a kind and generous person, he said. He illustrated this fact by pulling out a large box stuffed with favours and cards, each lovingly made by Ms. Nevills.

“Mom had been a quilter,””Said her daughter-in law.” “When she got older her arthritis got too bad to do that, so she took up making cards.”Each card was decorated with intricately cut decorations. Some cards were destined for the grandparents, while others were for his or her family. Mr. Nevills’ family favours sit in a white wicker basket, bookmarks and pins, handcrafted.

“They had all of the funeral arrangements made out beforehand,”Ms. Nevills. “Everything was worked out to the very last detail.”

However, as the day approached for them to leave, many problems arose that threatened their plans.

Mr. Nevills’ intermittent bouts of dementia and the resulting hallucinations might have called his competence into question. You have to not only show that you are willing to engage MAID when you start the plans, but you must also confirm your desire as the day nears.

Additionally, Mr. Nevills was also locked down in a nursing facility due to an epidemic of COVID-19.

“Things had been so good there until then,”Mr. Nevills. “Then COVID happened.”

They tried calling each other by phone but Mr. Nevills was always suspicious of using the phone so that fell through. “We even tried Zoom,”Mr. Nevills was recall. “I set that up, but it didn’t work out either.”It all began to look like another pandemic-lost cause.

Suddenly the solution became relatively simple—bring Mr. Nevills home to where the doctor could visit and interview him in person. The regular doctor was unable to attend, but there was another option.

“Dr. Jeffery was so good,”Mr. Nevills. “So kind, so patient. Even talking on the phone to mom. She got off the phone and said how nice he was.”

The doctor arrived with a clipboard and a piece of paper with a series checkboxes. The doctor asked Mr. Nevills questions but did not get the answers immediately. The tension in the family became unbearable.

“He just asked his questions and calmly went on to each of them down the list when dad didn’t answer right away,”Mr. Nevills.

It seems Dr. Jeffery had carefully examined his patient’s file and knew what to expect.

“He was at the end of the checkboxes when dad suddenly looked at him and said, ‘I’m ready to go now’,”Mr. Nevills was recall. The last box was checked.

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The end was anything other than a sad one. It took place on Valentine’s Day, during the 3 pm “coffee break.”The room was lively, filled with stories and reminiscences. The coffee was excellent, and the cakes, cookies, and cheese were delicious.

“Mom stood up, clapped her hands and said ‘time to go’,”Ms. Nevills was recalled.

The couple then went into their bedroom together and sat down together on the bed. They were then given a sedative to help them fall asleep.

“The nurse thought they were both asleep and she went to the side of the bed,”Ms. Nevills. “Mom opened her eye and looked at the nurse (a family friend) and said, ‘talk to my sister for me.’ Then she closed her eye and went to sleep.”

The couple’s son and daughter-in-law were reluctant to go into the room after death had taken place. “I’m glad I did,”Mr. Nevills.

“I didn’t want to go either,”Ms. Nevills. “But I am glad I did.”

The couple were greeted by two people who looked at each other as they entered the room.

“They looked like they were sleeping,”Ms. Nevills. “There was no more pain. They both looked calm and at rest.”

While most people in the community have been supportive and respectful toward the couple’s children following the MAID, some still have difficulty with the couple’s decision. MAID, essentially suicide, brings with it religious and cultural baggage that some individuals simply cannot relinquish—but the biggest challenge for those left behind was the couple’s wish to keep their plans close until after the day.

“A lot of people were upset they did not know about it sooner,” said Mr. Nevills, who admits a burden of having known early of his parents’ plans and having to honour their wishes. Close friends and family were informed in time to be allowed to say goodbye. They consider this a blessing not given to many.

In the end, James and Donna Nevills, after having lived 73 years of wonderful life together, chose to leave a life that had become filled with great pain and even greater stress—and like just about everything else in their long and fruitful lives, they did so on their own terms.

“Together in life—forever together.”

Their five children, Norris, Brad (Susan), Tim, Joanne (Bill Armstrong), and Brent (Tami) are still with them. Ms. Nevill’s siblings include Margaret Arnold (Harold, predeceased), Glen (predeceased) (Beth), Norris (predeceased), Doris (predeceased) (Jim Strain predeceased) and Phyliss Poth (predeceased). Mr. Nevill’s siblings include Irene (Bill Montgomery predeceased), Charlie (Faye), Harry (predeceased) (Jean), Helen (predeceased) (Rod McLean predeceased), Robert (predeceased) (Lois predeceased), Florence (predeceased) (Keith Callaghan predeceased) and Ronnie (predeceased).

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