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Care for grandfather inspires Coombs woman to pen novel chronicling last months of his life

Katie Warnock encourages people to visit elderly loved ones in longterm care
Katie Warnock’s non-fiction novel, ‘Sugar Packet Thief: a Chronicle of an Ending’, is based on journal entries from her daily visits to her grandfather during the last two months of his life. (Submitted photo)

A Coombs woman hopes her new book will encourage people to visit elderly loved ones in longterm care while they can.

Katie Warnock’s non-fiction novel, Sugar Packet Thief: a Chronicle of an Ending, is based on journal entries from her daily visits to her grandfather during the last two months of his life. He died shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic strictly limited visitors at longterm care homes in B.C.

“I was just so saddened to hear all of the stories on the radio and the news about people going without visits in these care homes,” Warnock said. “And how hard that was for the people and their families.”

Grampa lived in the care home for about seven years. His family visited him regularly and would have him over for family dinners. When care home staff became concerned about him having a fall while outside, Warnock decided to visit him daily in the Qualicum Beach home.

“Some days were really quiet and he would just sleep, but other days he would often re-tell old stories,” she said, adding his memory was clearer the further back in time he went.

Grampa recounted memories about being a young man, a parent and his time as a commercial fisherman based in Bowser, including refitting a tugboat to use for fishing near Haida Gwaii.

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Along with other seniors in the home, he had a habit of sneaking sugar packets and holding onto them for later, which inspired the book’s title.

“I would find already eaten sugar packets and sometimes little sugar crystals in my grandpa’s bed and sometimes uneaten sugar packets,” she said. “And I would tuck those back into his pocket for him to eat another time.”

Warnock enjoyed looking after him by getting him a tea, a water or a snack. Bringing her two young children for a visit was also special, with one memory standing out in particular.

“I didn’t expect that my grandpa was going to get out of bed that day. But he wanted to go down to the dining room,” she said.

Warnock, along with her son, two, and daughter, seven, rolled Grampa in his wheelchair down for a meal.

“My daughter and my son were playing with balloons and running all around the room and all of the seniors were really enjoying it,” she said. “It was getting a bit loud and chaotic but it was a fun moment for them and you don’t see a lot of kids in there.”

The experience also gave Warnock an appreciation for the job that care aides do and highlighted the importance of family visits for seniors.

“It just really made me appreciate people of that age. Like how much they still have to share with us and if you have the patience to sit with them for a little while,” she said. “There’s stories to hear and lessons to learn and it also just made me think, maybe this is what I’ll be like at that age.”

Sugar Packet Thief is available for purchase online and locally at Fireside Books and Sea & Summit Bookshop in Parksville.

The book’s cover was designed by Nicole Larsen, a Ballenas Secondary School graduate who now lives in Vancouver.

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