Mark Patinkin: A group home in Warwick, a wheelchair, and a good life
Providence Journal - 10/10/2018
Oct. 10--Paula Ewin, 62, pulled up to her brother Gary's group home on Warwick'sWest Shore Road, near Oakland Beach.
She was there to go through his things. Gary had died a few weeks earlier.
He was 67 and one of a half-dozen men with developmental delays who lived there. The home is run by the Arthur Trudeau Center. Its mission is to give a good life to folks with intellectual and other disabilities.
Gary was one of them. He lived in that house for almost three decades. He was in a wheelchair for the last two.
Paula lives in New York City, where she is an actress ranging from Manhattan stages to regional theater to voice-overs. At one point, she thought of moving to Los Angeles to explore movie work, but decided that was too far from Gary.
They grew up together in West Warwick, and for the last seven years it's been just the two of them. Their dad, Leon, a Marine during World War II, died in 2008, and their mom, Lorraine, in 2011.
Paula often brought Gary to visit their resting spots in the state's Veterans Memorial Cemetery, in Exeter. Gary's ashes will soon be placed there, too. That's allowed for adult children who had a disability before age 21 and were still dependent.
The house where Gary lived is one of the Trudeau Center's nine group homes, and a familiar place to Paula -- her brother moved there in 1991.
Gary had been a healthy baby, but was slow to walk and talk. Then came the seizures. They started when he was 11. They could be severe and added to his delays. Their parents took care of him at home until he was 40.
They had mixed emotions about putting him in a group home, but the one run by Trudeau in Warwick, with six adult men and staffers around the clock, proved to be just right for Gary.
He had the same roommate for 30 years -- a man around his age, also in a wheelchair. They were good pals. The staff often took all the guys on outings. Gary especially liked fireworks.
For years, Gary had a job doing simple tasks at a Trudeau workshop. Paula felt it gave him a great sense of meaning and purpose.
Paula began to go through Gary's things. She came across one of his favorite books -- a history of TV westerns. It was so ... Gary. One of his favorite activities was watching cowboy shows.
He liked "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke," "Rawhide" and "The Rifleman." A funny thing about Gary -- if you asked his age, he wasn't sure. But he knew the names of just about every character on his TV westerns. Paula would call him every other day, and as often as not, he was watching a cowboy show.
Gary Ewin was thin, but he loved to eat. People used to say, "Gary, where are you putting it all?" Paula would take him out for spaghetti and meatballs and chicken wings -- those were his favorites. So was Iggy's.
But over time, swallowing became a problem, so his food had to be pureed. In 2014, it got worse, so they had to put a feeding tube in Gary's stomach. The Trudeau Center staff tried to keep his spirits up about it, saying they were going to put Thanksgiving dinner in the drip-bag. That always got Gary smiling.
To Paula, that's pretty much how he was. He never let his situation get him down. It brought Paula a lot of joy -- the way her brother kept his childlike wonder even in his 60s.
As she went through his dresser, Paula found family photos. One in particular touched her.
Gary was wearing a suit at the wedding of family friends. Their dad was pushing Gary's wheelchair in a way that allowed Gary to dance with the bride.
It was a great memory for Paula.
Late this August, Gary began to decline, and was admitted to Rhode Island Hospital. After a few weeks, he became unresponsive. Paula isn't that religious, but she told Gary that it was okay -- Mom and Dad were waiting for him in heaven with the angels.
Gary had always been intrigued with heaven. He'd ask where it was -- further than the moon? Than Mars? Where, exactly?
Not long after, Gary passed away. It was Sept. 12.
Paula had his body cremated and plans to bring the urn containing his ashes to a memorial service at Trudeau's main building, at 3445 Post Rd., Warwick, on Nov. 5 at 4:30 p.m.
Roger Kelly, 51, now Trudeau's nurse coordinator, plans to be there. He spent 23 years as a staffer in Gary's group home.
Several times, he brought Gary to New York to see Paula, and once, with fellow staffer Brian McCoy, he took Gary and a housemate on a camping trip to New Hampshire. Both clients were in wheelchairs, but Kelly and McCoy made the effort to push them along hiking paths.
"I always felt that's the best part of the job," said Kelly, "fulfilling their dreams."
The way Kelly puts it: Everybody deserves to have a good life, and folks like Gary depend on helpers like the Trudeau staff to make it happen.
Kelly knows there's a move by the state toward getting folks with challenges out of group homes. But he says it shouldn't be cookie-cutter. A lot of people like Gary, says Kelly, need a special place and staff.
After a few hours, Paula was done sorting through everything. It wasn't a big job.
Then it was time for her to go.
She glanced back as she drove away, thinking how grateful she was that her brother Gary had found such a good home.
Mark Patinkin's columns run in the Journal on Sundays and Wednesdays.
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