‘Hard-working mom’ who did anything for her children dies of COVID-19 at Northwood

Even when she was just a young girl, Hilda Webber was willing to go the extra mile for her family.

“She quit school actually to help her mom because one of her sisters died … [she] quit school, left in about Grade 5 or Grade 6, to help her mother look after the other smaller babies,” said Debbie Dockendorff, Hilda’s youngest daughter.

Webber, 96, died on May 6 after contracting COVID-19.

She is just one of the 49 people to die from the virus at Northwood, the long-term care home in Halifax considered to be the epicentre of the virus in Nova Scotia.

Webber was born on Oct. 12, 1923 in Cavendish, N.L, to Elim and Maude Jerrett.

Webber, right, with her daughters Carol, left, and Debbie, centre. (David Webber)

In 1945, Webber married Calvin Webber, a member of the Royal Canadian Navy.

They had three children: David, Carol and Debbie.

David Webber, Webber’s son, said their father left them when they were young so their mother had to step in and make sure her children were housed and fed.

“She was a hard-working mom for the family and we had a tough time,” David said.

“But in those days, it’s not unusual. We all lived in one bedroom because that’s all we had — a bedroom and a kitchen and we shared a bathroom. So times were a little bit on the rough side.”

David and his wife, Deanna, with Webber at Northwood. (Debbie Dockendorff)

David said his mother worked multiple jobs to keep her children fed.

She worked at Zellers, Discount Shoeland, Dresden Arms Hotel, and on the weekends, she worked at Tanner’s Grocery on North Street, just a few houses down from where they lived.

David said when he was young, his mother would ask him to run to Tanner’s to get a single can of soup and ask Mr. Tanner to put it on her tab.

When he returned with the soup, he said she would divide it between her three children — she didn’t eat any.

Debbie Dockendorff holding her mother’s hand after painting her nails to match her own. (Debbie Dockendorff)

“That really struck home when she [gave] us the can of soup and she didn’t eat anything. I watched her do it and I’ll never forget it,” he said.

“She was so devoted to the three of us. She came last always. Always did.”

Dockendorff said her mother continued to put her children first even as they grew up and started working.

“As soon as I was ready to get out of school, I couldn’t wait to get a job to give her a hand … as soon as I got my paycheque, I couldn’t wait to give her some money to help her towards the rent, which is what I did,” she said. “But what I didn’t realize [was] she was saving it up for me.”

Saying goodbye

Webber moved into Northwood in 2009 when she started developing dementia.

Dockendorff said her mother was living in a single room at Northwood. She didn’t usually leave because she was unable to walk.

She said she didn’t expect her mother to contract the virus. But by late April, she was diagnosed.

By May 5, Dockendorff was asked to visit her mother, despite the visitor restrictions at long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was her chance to say goodbye.

“It was hard to see her, but I’m glad I went because they wouldn’t let anybody but me in,” she said.

David said his mother was no longer happy living in Northwood because she didn’t have her freedom.

“I don’t know how long she would’ve lived without the virus, but the virus kind of took her out of her discomfort,” he said.

CBC Nova Scotia is sharing stories of the victims of COVID-19 to commemorate those we’ve lost to the pandemic. If you’ve lost a loved one and want to share your memories of them, reach out via cbcns@cbc.ca.


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