Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

For Nancy Russell

This is and isn’t about COVID-19.

Partly I want to stay in touch with my blogging friends. Partly I want to share a story I read about Nancy Russell. This is my clumsy effort to combine the two. To the Russell family: I am so sorry for your loss.

***   ***   ***

An Update

Research continues on my Caroline Maben Flower story.

Why am I still in research mode? Especially since at the end of August, I had more than enough to finish the story about her remarkable life as the “Lady Prospector” in Cobalt and Porcupine.

Around that time, the local genealogical society announced that they had digitized the early editions of the Cobalt Daily Nugget. Access is by paid membership, and I’m trying to cram in as much screen time as I can before the end of the year. And as these things go, every time I’m about to call it quits, I find another little tidbit about Caroline’s time here in Northern Ontario.

I’ve been able to confirm that yes, she was in Cobalt and yes, she owned not one, not two, but multiple mining claims in several townships in both the silver and the gold mine camps.

In most cases, what I learned supported what I already knew from her letters and her scrapbook.

Lady Prospector staking claims

Cobalt Daily Nugget March 4 1910

But when I found the news item illustrated here, I realized that I had drawn the wrong conclusions about her. I had figured that from the comfort of her New York studio, she had hired people to do the hard work for her.

I was wrong. She was there!

I had been pressuring myself to finish this project. After finding this revealing item, however, I realized that I had to continue reading the archives.  As I wrote to a fellow history buff, there is no point trying to kid myself – I know if I write the story about Caroline without checking each and every page of the Nugget up until the time of her death, I will not be able to live with myself.

Eye strain leads to heart strain

What that means is that I am behind a computer monitor most hours of the day. Especially now with summer over. My eyes are feeling the strain of intense concentration while reading less than ideal newspaper reproductions. Dry, itchy, puffy eyes, with neck and shoulder pain. Yup, I need to limit my time on the computer.

But what would I do instead? Baking and cooking means eating the results. And yes, that’s a bad thing. Remember, it’s too cold for much outdoor activity. Housework? Oh, my, you are funny…

When I considered reducing time on the computer, my anxiety increased. For one, I love historical research. It keeps me engaged and involved in a meaningful pastime. A great deal of my time is spent helping others with their ancestry searches. If I didn’t have this work to occupy my time, I would be lost.

I really and truly panicked when I read this piece about Nancy Russell, a 90-year-old woman who couldn’t face another lockdown in her retirement home.  After the first wave, Nancy, who was an active woman both in mind and body, barely survived the restrictions. “She was just drooping,” [her daughter] Tory said. “It was contact with people that was like food to her, it was like, oxygen. She would be just tired all the time because she was under stimulated.”

Nancy’s mental and physical health declined to the point that when the second wave loomed, medically assisted suicide was approved.

Carrying On

Stops you in your tracks, doesn’t it? Don’t know about you, but it makes me ashamed to complain about the pandemic-related restrictions. And I don’t complain much at all because we are lucky here in our remote Northern community.

But I am tired. And that’s a worry.

I have been sitting on this post for a few days now. I’m going to hit the publish button but I’m afraid that this piece is tone deaf, confusing, and outrageous in that I equate my petty situation with Nancy’s.

All I can say: it’s 2020.

Today, I opened the newspaper archives and began searching again. It was a good day. I found this:

Cobalt Daily Nugget Mar 18 1911

Cobalt Daily Nugget March 18, 1911

Categories: Mining Heritage

Tags: , , , , , ,

53 replies

  1. Dear Maggie; in these times you’re allowed to be somewhat chaotic, emotionally. In fact, I’d say it’s de rigueur !
    I particularly liked being reminded of Creedence Clearwater Revival, btw .. [grin]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a lot younger but I relate to Nancy. How sad that she was mentally & physically active but the pandemic got the best of her. Depression in older people is a real issue — and that’s when things are “normal.” You feel what you feel. I do understand the impetus to be online less, especially when it’s noticeably coming at a cost of some kind. Maybe a plan to combat withdrawal?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not tone deaf at all. I must have 5 or 6 half or fully written blog posts that I’m sitting on. Sometimes I’m just unsure of the message and my ability to deliver it. One of these days, this will be in our past and we can get back to doing whatever we do (which, honestly isn’t that different for me). Take care and stay safe.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is real, Maggie. We hear so much about Covid in the nursing homes, and the pictures online of people visiting through the windows, but I have never heard anyone speak of the detriment of taking away the social aspects inside the nursing home. How awful for Nancy Russell. All she wanted was to live her life and she was deprived. This year needs to be over. I would say come on down for a visit. But we’d wind up talking and cooking and baking and this Florida sun is way too hot go to outside….. Take care, Maggie.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You know, Maggie, one thing I have accepted after years of self berating, is that pain and hardship is relative. There will always be someone who may have a tougher road but it doesn’t change the reality of your own difficulty. I understand Nancy’s dilemma in an all too personal way. My father began showing signs of early dementia a year or so ago but as it got worse, my stepmother decided to hide it from us. By the time Covid hit, she was babysitting him and allowing him to be abusive when he was very confused, still not telling us everything. She, a true germaphobe, refused to go out and stopped allowing much to be brought into the house. They were eating chips and sodas. By the time my inner alarm system went off and I began intervention from 1500 miles away while working a grueling schedule in the medical field, he was deeply in the throes of a serious blood infection and they were both malnourished. My step sister went first to deal with her Mom and I was able to make a trip to visit him once he was in nursing care. No indoor visitation. He was confused but rallying. Continued problems with infection, his wife rejecting him and not calling or coming to visit took a toll. When he was failing to eat enough the hospital advised her to put him in Hospice care and she jumped on it. He passed away on Nov 3. I truly believe the lack of daily interaction with loved ones sped up his decline. He literally went from functional to death in less than one year. He was my hero.
    Hang in there with your research! I look forward to the results. As an ophthalmic technician I am telling you to take frequent breaks to look up away from your screen across the room or out of a window and use artificial tears before you start and when you feel tired. 🤗💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Cheryl. I cannot begin to imagine the anxiety and frustration you and your family have been through. It will take some time to recover from your loss and I wish you well as your make your way through this.

      Thanks for your practical support, too – I’ve never used eye drops. Will add to my list for today’s errands. I know the importance of focusing on distance horizons, but don’t do it as often as I need.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Cheryl, your story resonated with me.

      My father also suffered from dementia, but was doing well. When Covid hit and he and my mother were confined to their apartment for the most part, the anxiety and confusion that come with dementia took over. In the course of two months, he got to the point where he believed that my mother was “a woman who looks like my wife, but isn’t” and he was convinced that he was being held prisoner. My mom would have him call us and that seemed to calm him – he always knew who we were, even when he was sure my mother wasn’t his wife. He got to the point where he threatened to kill my mother with a knife if she didn’t let him go and we decided it was time for him to be in a memory care facility.

      The director invited my mother move in with him – which was a blessing and a curse. The nurses basically expected her to take care of him 24/7 and, as my father didn’t sleep much and was roaming much of the night, my mother didn’t sleep either. In May, she had to leave as she had been notified that a lump she had found before Covid was a tumor and needed to come out. She told my dad she would be back in a few days — but then they had a case of Covid in the facility and she wasn’t allowed to come back. Within two weeks, my dad went from being relatively confused, but compliant to belligerent and sometimes aggressive with the staff (whom he didn’t really know, as they had left his care to my mother). They told my mother they were transferring him to a hospital pysch ward to “adjust his medication”. She was able to meet him there when we arrived at the ER by ambulance and stay with him until he was admitted. He knew who she was and kept telling her he loved her and he was sorry. Four days after he was admitted, they sent him home to my mother on hospice – he had become non-responsive, not eating, not drinking and they didn’t expect him to live much longer. My siblings and I were able to get home before he passed, although he didn’t seem to know we were there. I’m convinced to this day that Covid and the isolation caused by it (and the fact that my mother couldn’t be with him those last few weeks) broke his heart and he just gave up.

      We were relieved that my father did not have to suffer years of confusion and pain, but we miss him.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Maggie,

    I loved your last post on your blog.

    Please let me know when you self publish this book. I would like to give a copy to my Geologist daughter in law.

    It is thrilling to read about. I am proud to know you. You are making a difference In the lives of others by publishing a book about their foremothers or forefathers. Notice the foremothers comes first.

    I had an idea …I thought I would ask. Have you ever thought about writing about our grandmother? I would be willing to do research for you about Homewood Institute. We still have Aunt Betty’s recollections. I, myself remember what my mother Told me about their childhood. I am sure Judy would know some other details also. It might be a minefield of information. She was given ice baths, electroshock and they performed a lobotomy on her. Then they “experimented” on her with chemical cocktails. I know the government kept Information of patients. Homewood is still in operation as a private institute.

    I actually composed a email to send to Homewood last month to get details on her treatment. I haven’t sent it yet.

    If this something you might be interested in let me know!

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  7. It seems like many people reach that point Maggie, the contemplating what is worse- living in a bubble or taking whatever days are left and living them. As much as I complain about work, I would not have seen another human since last February if I didn’t go in every day. I don’t mind being alone much of the time, but loneliness is horrible.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Maggie, I can relate as a fellow researcher. How we get so involved with history and can’t stop researching. I’m really thankful I am a writer, editing and adding to the first book. And I don’t need a lot of face to face social interaction–iPhone Facetime, text messages, my blog friends and social media keep me connected. Covid restrictions are tough on older folks who can’t get up and around to participate even in safe activities or small groups. The new normal is hard for so many people and it’s not over yet. Hang in there and keep writing. Thinking of you, 📚Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Christine – for me, part of the “obsession” is the lure of the treasure hunt. I get such a high when I make a discovery, or uncover a “nugget” that adds new information or confirms existing. And, I will confess, that I put off the writing because hunting for stuff is easier, if hard on the eyes.

      You take care, too. Be safe.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I suffer the same with hours at the computer. But, oh look, there’s another really good article! 😉 That’s what we researchers do, and I don’t want to stop. Yes, putting history together is the best high. Good you live in a rural area. Safe from crowds, the coronavirus, and now the flu bug. Take care & be happy writing. 📚🎶 Christine

        Liked by 1 person

  9. This is a sad story, but I have to wonder how often it is playing out across the world. My condolences to Nancy’s family. This virus has changed everything for all of us in one way or another. As winter approaches my eyes are getting more tired now, too. The dry weather + staring at screens are a real problem. Less screen time for me for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a sad story, and it is happening everywhere. I know that many families and professionals are aware of it, but not everyone has the resources or the understanding to deal with it, if and when they recognize depression.

      The dry weather is another factor I hadn’t considered – plus in our house, we heat with wood in the winter – and smoky air is a chronic and unwelcome byproduct.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I always appreciate and enjoy your posts, Maggie. You should never be afraid to explore and share your concerns, feelings and passions. I am saddened by the thought of a woman choosing to die rather than spend her days in isolation. I understand and generally support the restrictions we live under, but I’m not sure there shouldn’t be a more measured response in some cases.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I too worry about posting tone deaf material in the face of our new reality. That anyone is reading blogs is nothing short of miraculous and speaks to the human need for connection. Keep doing what keeps you going, that’s all I can say. How wonderful to be fired up by the “lady prospector’s” story and eager to send it out into the world. Is the Cripple Creek you refer to located in Canada? I’ve been to Cripple Creek, Colorado, also a former gold mining town close to Colorado Springs.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh Maggie that was so touching. It’s hard to know what other people are going through. So many don’t speak up and tell the truth. We are hurting. But because everything looks good on the surface we say nothing. We are always here for you in anyway we can. Be well my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I can understand about too much computer time, especially reading old newspapers. I admire your dedication to going through so much material.

    How sad that the home Nancy lived in couldn’t find some way to accommodate the social needs of their residents like her. Where my mother is seems to be doing a bit better, but with my mom’s dementia it doesn’t matter too much to her. I’m sure many people are really feeling trapped by this pandemic. Makes me grateful to be a constructively engaged introvert.

    Nothing wrong with this post at all. Interesting, informative, touching.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sitting here, smiling, rubbing my watering eyes. I’m also ruefully admitting that writing a blog post that generates so many wonderful comments that deserve meaningful, thoughtful, and timely responses was probably NOT the best thing to do if what I really needed is less screen time!

      Yes, it takes a certain brand of “dedication” – some might say self-punishment – to work my way through these archives. The records are not searchable. Some are so poorly digitized they may as well not be uploaded.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow! Powerful piece about Nancy Russell. The first lockdown was hard on me, living alone as I do. So thankful for Zoom, FaceTime and Messenger video – those technologies got me to see my friends and family on a regular basis. This time I am in BC, and allowed to see up to 2 other people during our time of cutting out social contact outside of our immediate households (only because I live alone). Seems the BC government has learned a bit, and realizes isolating individuals is bad for health.


    Liked by 1 person

    • During the first wave, I applauded BC for their efforts to contain the virus. They were ahead of other provinces in limiting transfer of nursing staff and volunteers, for example. From what you write about the current restrictions, it sounds like BC is doing it right, again.

      Be safe, Deb.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi! Maggie. My name is Ginger and I’ve been reading your comments in the posts we both follow. That’s me, a follower. I don’t blog. I thought it was about time I joined your fan club… a safe distance, of course!

    The story about Nancy is so incredibly sad. I can’t help but wonder how often this scene plays out in our retirement and nursing homes. This virus is affecting us all in ways we never imagined. We’re all tired. We’re all at least a tad depressed. We’re all out of sorts. We’re all stressed out.

    I don’t think it’s so much having to be quarantined/isolated, it’s that it looks like it will never end. We need human contact. We need to hug and be hugged. A kiss sure wouldn’t hurt! Isn’t it weird that even though we’re all in this together, we sometimes feel so alone?

    It breaks my heart that it was even necessary for this lovely woman to have to make such a decision. But at the same time it warms my heart that someone was there to help guide her through it.

    I look forward to receiving more posts from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Delighted to hear from you Ginger, and I’m grateful that you commented.

      As a history buff, I often muse about what people went through during the Spanish Flu – how did they keep up to date on the pandemic. DID they keep up to date? Was the worrying situation constantly before them? Did they make jokes about it?

      I can’t help but wonder if today, with our ability to keep in touch on a global scale we are not necessarily better off… little silence now and again is a very good thing.

      But I am glad that you felt compelled to break your silence and to write. Be safe!


  16. Certainly not a clumsy effort by any definition, though admittedly a very sad story.

    Our current times demand (require?) that we somehow are forced to combine covid with nearly everything we do. I totally get about having some anxieties about reducing your computer time, and therefore ending up limiting what you actually like to do. It strangely reminds me of how I view exercise: I stop because my muscles begin hurting; yet I start again because those same muscles are “complaining” I’m not exercising. I never quite make sense of it. 😉 – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    • You made me think Marty – yes, we are forced to combine COVID with everything we do. It’s the music that underscores our lives.

      Living with C-19 is like living in a quiet dwelling and one day, new owners move in – they play loud music and host long noisy parties and argue and scream and they never sleep and… we don’t know how long we can live with it – we wish it would go away – we don’t want to change our patterns to adjust to the new norm… we don’t want to move – we CAN’T move – but in the meantime, we must adjust – we buy ear plugs.

      The only good think about THAT scenario is that ear plugs don’t fog up your glasses.


      Liked by 1 person

  17. It is a very sad story, and a very under-reported one. I get so tired of people saying “the restrictions aren’t hard, just stay home!” Or, “if you want to be alive next year, stay home this year!” I get what they mean and I get why we have restrictions, but they have been devastating to the senior community, and often deadly as well. We need to acknowledge that this is hard, and it is okay to come out and say so.
    You get to acknowledge you pain as well, and please don’t compare it to anyone else’s. Like grief, pain is not a competition…you are entitled to your feelings, whatever they are. And I honestly think that they are easier to handle when you don’t feel guilty about having them. Hang in there! All we can do is hope the future brings better things.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. It’s so sad to hear about Nancy. The comments on this post really personalized what I already knew – it’s been a really rough year for many. I enjoyed reading about the lady miner.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. That is sad about Nancy and your post was written very well
    And I hope everyone finds a way to get what they need during these challenging times – sure can “funk” one up

    Liked by 1 person

  20. The lure and temptation of research is both a bane and benediction to a writer. I think the only way to successfully navigate how much is enough versus how much is too much is to find a balance where you just happy enough with your work and your eyes aren’t bugging you to quit twenty minutes ago. You might want to build-in those recommended eye breaks with a timer. That might keep you more honest about the length of time you are on your computer.

    As I am waiting on my new prescription to combat crossed-eyes I’m getting from close-up screen time, I may not be the best person giving advice out there, but I am sincere.

    Also, kudos to you for finding a rich vein of historical newsprint to mine for information. (I couldn’t resist making the analogy–but that’s the extent of my geological chops!)

    And this: “Housework? Oh, my, you are funny…”

    Truly we are sisters at heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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