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Johnny Chiasson’s deep love for his late soul mate has been blossoming and flowing all around the Provincial Palliative Care Centre in Charlottetown for more than a year.
After Jeannie MacLeod – Chiasson’s sweetheart of 30 years – died in September 2018, he went to work building a beautiful waterfall fountain on the grounds of the centre.
He did not want to build it so big that it looked out of place, but he didn't want it so small that it failed to provide a proper tribute to MacLeod.
In the end, he is most pleased with his creation, as are many residents of the centre who have commented to him on finding great peace and comfort in the soothing sight and sound of water rhythmically spilling over rocks.
Chiasson, 71, of Cornwall has poured much more time and care into preserving the memory of MacLeod than simply erecting a fountain.
He has also built more than a dozen flower boxes, which encircle the centre’s exterior, filling each one with a colourful mix of plants.
He spends 20 to 30 hours each week tending to the flowers and making the rounds to chat with staff and residents.
Chiasson says he feels a sense of joy when he visits the centre because of the quality of experience his partner had there during the final five months of her life.
While he spends no more than 15 minutes when visiting MacLeod’s gravesite, his trips to the Palliative Care Centre are never rushed.
"It's a different feeling,'' he says.
When he is working the flower beds or speaking with residents, sometimes getting into “fairly deep’’ conversations, he feels the presence of the woman who rode into his life – and heart – on her Honda motorcycle roughly 30 years ago.
“It makes me feel like she’s still here doing something for somebody,’’ he says.
The pair met at a coffee shop in Charlottetown.
Chiasson was immediately attracted to the unpretentious woman who grew up in Primrose, P.E.I.
“She was a no-nonsense farm girl,'' he says.
"There was no make-up. Her outlook on life was the same as mine. She didn’t care about money or fancy stuff.’’
An employee of Island Tel for 28 years, MacLeod loved the outdoors, once riding her motorcycle across Canada and back.
Chiasson, who had been married before, moved in with MacLeod about two years after they started dating.
They never married – the subject never even came up – but Chiasson was certain he would be with MacLeod for life.
“We were just happy with what we had,’’ he says.
“We were each other’s best friend.’’
“She said ‘I had an extra 15 wonderful years (since the brain tumour was successfully treated), which I’m thankful for'."
Chiasson says MacLeod had a great relationship with his three children from his earlier marriage and became a good friend with his father.
“Well, she was just that kind of person: you just like her…she treated everybody the same as she wanted to be treated,’’ he says.
A handful of years after the couple lived together, MacLeod developed a brain tumour. She dodged that bullet, but a doctor told Chiasson cancer could reappear, perhaps in two years, possibly in 10.
It turned out cancer would return in early 2018, in MacLeod’s spine, and prove to be terminal. She was not expected to live out the year. Sadly, she did not.
“It was quite a blow,’’ says Chiasson.
Yet Chiasson credits how well his cherished partner accepted the horrible hand with making the sad turn of events easier on him.
“She said ‘I had an extra 15 wonderful years (since the brain tumour was successfully treated), which I’m thankful for'," he says.
One of those years, which came a few years ago, is filled with wonderful memories. The pair drove around Florida at an unhurried pace, stopping at one attraction after another.
“Nine times out of 10, it was something we both enjoyed,’’ he recalls fondly.
Meghan Hennessey, an RN supervisor at the Palliative Care Centre, says the strong connection between the pair was clear during the final months of MacLeod's life, which was spent at the centre.
Chiasson, says Hennessey, was with his beloved every day for the entire day.
He simply could not do enough for her. Whatever she needed, he provided.
"He would take her outside any time it was fit to be outside,'' says Hennessey.
"He had a couple of squirrels trained to eat out of her hands. Just very, very dedicated.''
“It’s like losing half yourself. We were one, and all of a sudden it’s cut in half.’’
Hennessey says the fountain and flower beds built by Chiasson shows his dedication to the memory of MacLeod, but they are also a marvelous gift to current and future patients of the centre.
"It's a wonderful gesture that he was able to do for them,'' she says.
Chiasson describes the care MacLeod received at the centre as second to none.
"The care here is unreal,'' he says.
As MacLeod’s body slowly started to shut down at the Palliative Care Centre, Chiasson, a long-time employee of Island Coastal, asked his love what she would like him to build in the way of a tribute. After some thought, she said a waterfall would be splendid.
Chiasson pauses for several moments when asked to describe how great a loss he feels with MacLeod now gone.
“It’s like losing half yourself,’’ he says.
“We were one, and all of a sudden it’s cut in half.’’
Chiasson says he will continue to beat a path to the Palliative Care Centre, tending the gardens, chatting with people and soaking in a special connection to his dearly departed.
“I can’t see myself walking away from it,’’ he says.
“It’s my thing. It’s what keeps me from going nuts, I guess. It’s my go-to place. That’s what I call it.’’