At age 65, hyperactive garage mechanic Jean-Guy Brien was due to take his retirement when the pandemic hit. His goal? To avoid infecting the nine men that his wife was looking after. To help out, he was constantly called upon to do tasks both big and small around the house.
By Sarah-Émilie Nault
Jean-Guy Brien has accepted to dive head-first into his wife’s adventures for a quarter of a century. Martine Nadeau takes in people affected by mental health problems. At the beginning, the couple lived in their basement while letting their charges live above their heads, in the main part of the house. Jean-Guy renovated that first house.
Martine had chosen to follow her mother by taking in people who are not autonomous in their daily lives. Hygiene, feeding, cleaning, taking medication and medical appointments are all carried out under the supervision of this selfless woman – dubbed Mother Theresa by Jean-Guy.
When her mother died, Martine chose to move her troops into a new home adapted for them.
Between repair jobs, this garage mechanic began making home improvements in this second residence, to better handle those in their charge. Covid-19 took everyone by surprise. Jean-Guy closed his garage as a preventative move because his wife’s clientele, already fragile, was at a greater risk when faced with the virus. Today they’ve all received the vaccine. A relief for this do-gooder couple.
“I found it weird at first to not see people and to not work,” says Jean-Guy. “There are some people whose cars I’ve repaired for 30 years. During the confinement I did a lot of puzzles, and that isn’t me at all,” he says, breaking out in laughter. “Then I repainted the whole house. Afterward, I tinkered around in my garage on personal projects.”
Jean-Guy has always met challenges with optimism: “I’m the sort of guy who stands in front of a wall that’s just fallen down and says, OK, we’ll have a look at it and put it back up, he says. “People come here deeply depressed about their broken down car. I tell them: It’s just a car, it’s not the end of the world. If you had terminal cancer, now that would be bad.”
Even though his garage is temporarily closed, this man of a thousand projects doesn’t lack ways to occupy his time. After all, this self-taught Renaissance man is an auto mechanic, a machinist, a welder… “I have a friend who once told me: You, Jean-Guy, are the type of guy who you give a plank of wood to and you’ll build a chalet.”
Indeed, he thinks that Covid-19 has, in the end, had a positive impact on his life. “Without the Coronavirus, I might not ever have stopped working. My wife so loves her group. She’s really attached to them. We’re basically very ordinary people. We don’t need much to be happy.”