When three surviving Dionne quintuplets won a $4-million settlement from the Ontario government in 1998, Cécile Dionne never dreamed she would end up penniless, in a shabby seniors’ home in Montreal North, living as a ward of the state.
Now 82, Cécile — one of five siblings whose amazing survival made them instant world celebrities when they were born on May 28, 1934 — has a message for all seniors trusting someone else to care for their affairs:
“Make sure you know them well. And it’s difficult to know them,” she said Thursday, in the first media interview surviving sisters Cécile and Annette have given in 18 years.
While the two are close — speaking to each other by phone three or four times a day and still finishing each others’ sentences — their current lives present a study in contrasts.
Annette lives independently in a pleasant condo in South Shore St-Bruno, where she enjoys playing word search games on her computer and tinkling the ivories of her piano with songs like “Over the Rainbow.” Both sisters have had double hip replacements and suffer from macular degeneration but Annette appears sturdier and her vision loss is less advanced.
Cécile lives on a government pension of $1,443 a month, which barely covers the fees at her privately owned seniors’ residence on a busy boulevard in the city’s working-class north end. Needing a walker and taking several medications, she depends on Annette’s kindness to pay for extras like haircuts and a refrigerator in her small room.
“It’s difficult, because the screening is not selective, so the people are not always easy to live with,” Cécile said. “And the food is bad.”
“It’s tough to endure,” Annette chimed in. While the two sisters are close, Annette is unable to take on the burden of caring for Cécile, who is unable to live independently because of her severe health problems. About four years ago, Cécile was declared incapacitated by Quebec’s Public Curator, which made her a ward of the state. As such, she has no say on where she is housed.