You Can Do this Lizzie

My uncle, dads only sibling, passed away in February 2020. He left behind his wife of over 60 years; my aunt Elizabeth. We always called her Tante Else. Tante is aunt in German. And Else (pronounced L-say) is a German short form for Elizabeth. English speakers however often pronounce it like Elsie the cow. She rolls with it and answers to all. But now that she’s alone in her marital home , which they built from scratch, she finds that she talks to herself. She calls herself Lizzie.

She told me that she’s fallen a few times and she scolds herself. Ok Lizzie! She will chide herself. Get up now! You can do this! Her life partner, before he took ill and needed her help, was her caregiver. Now she’s alone.

At least once a week she receives help from a psw to get washed and tidied. But that was a daily service she got from my uncle. Her mobility is impaired due to prior accidents (one being hit by car while walking on her country road) and she has very poor range of motion in her right arm. It makes even eating a challenge. But Lizzie pushes through.

Her grand daughter took her for a pedicure last week. Else was sporting bright red toenails and said how she enjoyed the experience. She liked getting out and talking to different people.

I asked my parents if we could include Else on our weekly visit this week. We could pick her up and visit the cemetery then go for a patio lunch. So that’s what we did. But organizing it was a bit challenging. I called my aunt and she answers the phone. But she couldn’t hear me. She asked if I was calling from Germany and told me her Heinzy had died speaking entirely in German. I tried to explain who I was but it was fruitless. I ended the call and texted my cousin. Could he please ask about a lunch date for me. He arranged the pick up date and time. When we pulled in to her place she was outside waiting. Lizzie is punctual!

She was nicely dressed in a black and white floral top matched with white slacks. With her white mane of hair and her sparkly red toes she looked dapper! I helped her into the car and the four of us drove off.

Driving with the ac on as it was a hot day made it more difficult to converse in the car. I became the conversation translator. At times all three elders were talking simultaneously and carrying on three separate conversations. It was funny and a touch sad at the same time. They all had so much to say apparently. My dad is really hilarious since he talks the loudest. The two ladies were speaking in such soft voices and he completely drowned them out. I laughed to myself.

We arrived at the cemetery and dad immediately checked the soil for dryness. Yes. He needed to water. My mom stood under a nearby tree in the shade. My aunt and I stood in front of my uncles resting place and she said: oh Heintzy; why did you leave me behind? I was supposed to go first. I put myself in her shoes and wanted to cry. Outside of family, I realized, the elders had very few friends. And none had outside of the home activities (my moms exercise classes long cancelled due to covid). They were, essentially, isolated at home. They were lonely.

After our cemetery visit which included a short walk with ladies while dad watered, we piled back into the car for a drive downtown for lunch. We enjoy the patio at Fosters; it’s a mostly shady spot with great food. Dad already had the order in mind. He and mom would split the steak frites and a salad. Caesar of course. and don’t forget the ketchup. With a beer and glass of wine. My aunt was reading the menu when the waiter appeared to take the order. Dad ordered for him and mom. My aunt was undecided. Dad tried to convince her that the steak was best. She tried to explain that her teeth needed soft foods. Dad either didn’t hear or ignored and barrelled on about the steak. I tapped his leg and shook my head. The waiter (clearly experienced in these matters) jumped in and recommended the eggs Benedict. Sold. With a ginger ale; dad protested and my aunt explained that she takes strong pain medication and can’t tolerate alcohol. My dad was not impressed but acquiesced.

The service at Fosters is great. They are friendly and get that they have to adjust accordingly when speaking to seniors through a face mask. I really appreciate their efforts and their patience. Seniors are a funny bunch in that they have tons of world and life experiences but find themselves confused and at a loss for words at times. Switching gears mid thought (or sentence) is the norm. They know what they want and need but can’t articulate. It must be the height of frustration.

Everyone cleared their plate. My mom had a piece of the steak and her piece had a small bit of gristle. She of course blamed my dad as though he cut that piece off on purpose. I chuckled as my dad missed her point; mom took a long and winding verbal road to pin the gristle in my dad. He lost his patience part way through her muddled lecture and started talking about their former acquaintance who passed away days before. We walked back to the car me helping my mom and dad helping my aunt. My mom whispers to me in German: can we take her home now? Yes, I say, we are dropping her off after a short drive around the park. My mom is happy.

We drive around the park and I marvel at how different the scene is. Instead of thousands of tourists and street vendors and art sales there’s couples and families picnicking or just relaxing on folding chairs. The weirdest part is: there’s tons of parking. The theatre (Stratford’s big tourist attraction) is closed for the season. Gasp. Not ever since the day it started in the mid 1950s has the theatre been dark for so long. It’s tragic in a way. Fodder for a play I would say!

The drop off of my aunt is complete. I help get her inside the house. It seems quiet and empty. She hugs and kisses me. Thank you for a really nice time; Lizzie is going to take a nap now. Sweet dreams.

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