Tales and Yarns

The Terrible Accident On The 'Sea Queen'

Author:  Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

Madge is the wife of my cousin Bobby. She is also a sister, mother, daughter, care giver, grandmother, and friend. She raised four children into adulthood, almost single handedly and she did it well. Her love is boundless and her energy unmatched, and she is a source of inspiration to many.

Twenty-seven years have passed since Madge’s husband, my cousin, Bobby, suffered an accident on his boat the ‘Sea Queen’. The accident changed his life forever. Until then Madge and Bobby worked hard, led a good life and raised their family according to strong family principles and work ethics. The children were thriving and life was good.

Bobby was a vigorous, vibrant man, just forty-three years old, when his future, as he thought it would be, was stolen. In 1978 he made the decision to start a new life on the sea fishing with his son, David.

On May 26, 1980, he and the crew, including his son, David, left port. It was a beautiful spring day when they steamed the ‘Sea Queen’, a fifty-three feet long vessel out to sea to begin their work. It was an uneventful trip, until approximately 2:15 P.M.. With the four men in their usual positions they started hauling the nets. David was behind his father, working the machinery, and the others were pulling back the nets to the stern.

There was no warning of the disaster that was about to strike.

Bobby was working the gurdy (winch). The position he was in did not allow a good view of what really happened, but somehow he got caught in a net, and consequently was pulled around the gurdy. Before David realized what had happened, and stopped the machinery, his father was wrapped around the winch so far that his body became jammed against a steel pipe that was bolted to the wheelhouse. The winch was powerful enough to haul more than a ton of nets, so the hydraulic machine hardly slowed as his head was pulled, twisted and forced back over his shoulders. Although it took just seconds for David to stop the winch, it was too late. Bobby’s neck was broken and his spinal cord forever damaged.

David held his unconscious and badly injured father until the boat reached the wharf where an ambulance was waiting, having been alerted by the ship to shore radio. Bobby was airlifted to the Health Science Center in St. John’s, NL He remained unconscious, and after five days he remembers floating into consciousness, seeing something white in his line of vision. That something was his nurse in Intensive Care. Very soon after awakening he was told he would never walk again, and his spirit was destroyed, his life in shambles.

The family knew immediately that their father would be robbed of the future he wanted and desired so much. A sad silence settled in their home. Madge had to be the tower of strength for the family in the coming weeks, months and years, and she did it well. Always putting herself last, giving and giving endlessly, was the way her life was and she saw no way it would ever change.

The man we all knew as a hard worker, with endless vigor, a strong will and multiple skills, the man people called day or night for his expertise and mechanical ability, the man who had so much to offer, was a different person, confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Madge was an anchor in the storm, as she attended rehabilitation sessions with her husband, learned nursing duties required for a quadriplegic, cared for five children, and tried so hard to do the activities in the community where she lived. There was no moment, not ever, for herself.

She was the captain in this storm and she ran a tight ship. David took over the ‘Sea Queen’, and the other children were all assigned their roles as their mother struggled night and day to come to terms with the drastic changes in their lives. Everyone turned to her for guidance and the hugs that healed the broken hearts.

What an incredibly difficult and challenging role this was? She became the primary care-giver to a disabled spouse, with a family to care for as well.

She would be asked “How do you ever manage it all?”

She had no answer, and she still doesn’t.

She had a job to do and do it she would. The frustrations, disappointments, anger and confusion, were kept to herself. Their life as a couple had changed, and Madge did everything humanly possible to maintain her husband’s dignity and independence, meanwhile neglecting her own health and personal well-being, never taking time to relax, time she needed to recharge her batteries. She just kept going, relaxation was a luxury she could not afford. She had continuous stress and fatigue, and was facing a serious financial situation. She was spiraling downward, life seemed out of control, as she went from day to day doing her endless tasks of being a primary care giver to her husband, supervising the running of the boat, and stress finally became ‘distress’. If she could not accomplish something asked of her, she felt that she was a failure. Finally there were times when anger surfaced, anger at the loss of her relationship to the man she loved, and anger that she could do nothing to make him better. Her faith kept her going but physically she was struggling.

Eventually it all took it’s toll as she developed a sleep disorder, anxiety, exhaustion and social withdrawal. She was an empty shell, totally without any reserve to fall back on, she became more and more depressed and isolated. Her tears came, flowing freely every day, and throughout the sleepless nights. Finally the family realized that their shelter in the storm was in desperate need of mental and physical help. Her husband recognized it and, within his ability, he rounded up the nurses from the Community Health Center, and they took her under their care at the center, and finally she consented to accept home care help for Bobby. Madge knew she could not go on, and gave into the situation with grace and dignity.

The children were very fortunate to have their grandparents to help and comfort them. Discipline was implemented when required, but everyone stepped up to help, help that Madge never wanted to accept but now had to in order to become whole again. She did well, learned to pace herself, and to accept the outside care, because now she knew she had to in order to survive.

Now, twenty-seven years after becoming a quadriplegic, Madge and Bobby are blessed with seven healthy grandchildren, not to mention their pride in the successes of their own children. They are proud of them and love them dearly. Their grandchildren add joy and laughter to their world.

Madge has been an inspiration to many. To those who know her by her unselfishness, willingness, and dedication to a very sick and disabled husband for twenty-seven years, she is an enigma. Her encouragement and compassion shown through the heart breaking wreckage of their lives is admirable.

Their daughter Linda says that their Mother ‘comes into our lives and leaves footprints and memories engraved on our hearts forever’. Since all the children have grown and moved on it is usually their parents who visit them now, giving Bobby, who is so tired of a wheelchair, a change and he knows that Madge needs it as well.

Madge’s courage in the face of adversity, and her inner strength is truly a blessing to us all. Her love, devotion and determination to keep the family together, and the way she has cared for Bobby for all those years, is remarkable.

They stopped to visit me the last time they drove across Newfoundland, and by just seeing Bobby in his wheelchair on such a long drive, made me feel so sorry. Madge looked well and has learned to balance her life and have time for herself now.

During their visit Madge looked at me and said what we all knew which was, “Bonnie, do you know I completely lost myself. I can’t let that happen again.”

We talked about the challenges she faced over the years, and it was a good visit.

When they drove away, I watched their Handicapped Equipped van until it was out of sight and my tears fell. I thought of how our lives can change so quickly, and I thought about Madge who had totally lost herself but found the woman she was again with help from the caring professions.

Such is the story of the youthful cousin I remember, and the man who named one of his daughter’s ‘Bonnie’, because he loved my name. I had never realized how much I meant to him, but now I do. They both have my unrelenting admiration and love.

As for Madge, the words that apply to her are ‘and the greatest of these is love’.
Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

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