Lamenting

As I sit back in my Air Canada seat 24D this frosty December morning, I smile as I think about the two guys who are seated two rows behind me. They are Blair and Petro and they used to be my upstairs neighbours in Victoria for a few years. I am experiencing more and more of these odd coincidences these days, and that makes me smile.

 

This trip started in Vancouver where I caught a Westjet flight to Ottawa. From the airport, I took the number 97 OC Transpo bus directly downtown and got off at the stop most conveniently located near the Chateau Laurier. The Hotel is right along the Rideau Canal; it is an historic landmark and run by the Fairmont hotel chain. It is also a place of personal nostalgia for me. It was the first place I slept at when I first got to Ottawa by train in 1976; the first time in a four star castle; the first time sleeping in a hotel without family with me. My room at the University residence would not be ready for me until the next day.

 

Over the years, I have met many people, some of whom still live in our capital city and others who have recently moved there. My agenda was filled with back to back commitments, but happily I was not overwhelmed. I also managed to spend time at my Alma Mata, feeling somewhat astounded over the changes — changes that managed to preserve the old memories and help me to appreciate the need for expansions and improvements. This wasn’t my first time back, but I did notice the newly opened Alex Trebek Alumni Hall and I walked right in saying I am an Alumni. 

 

My visit to Ottawa this year was not all for reminiscing however. The father of a longtime friend of mine has been in a long term care facility out in the suburbs for a year or so. George was the friendliest and kindest family man I knew when in my early twenties. Whenever I would go to their family home in Peterborough and later in Omemee, Ontario, George and I would have long talks and tell each other the funniest of stories. If I visited during the Autumn, I would get up early and rake the millions of leaves on his four acre property filled with deciduous trees. There was no end to those leaves and none of his four children would ever go out there to help with this chore. I can see how this one act of kindness kept me in his good books.

 

The visit to the care home was not how I had envisaged it to be. George was seated at a table in the lunchroom looking very alone. A lot of the patients also sat alone and looked equally as forlorn. The atmosphere was drab and the nursing staff seemed stiff, unhappy and unfriendly. I looked at him from a distance waiting for eye contact. He seemed to be looking at me but there was no facial reaction or gesture to come over. He sat there staring as I approached. When he realized it was me, suddenly his familiar smile appeared and tears filled his eyes and mine. All sorts of thoughts flashed through my mind, wondering what I should say next. I lowered my head down to his, kissed his cheek, reached for his hand and  said: Hello George, it is me Netty, to which he said I’ve been waiting for you.

 

Ice was broken but I soon realized most of George was no longer there. His voice faded in and out; his head hung down most of the time. He did try to talk in full sentences but I simply could not make out the message. My heart sank as I told myself not to expect much more. I had to forget about playing cards or checkers or chess — that past experience would have to stay in the past. From here it would just be what I saw in front of me.

 

I left the visit within the hour, feeling in a state shock; looking perplexed and sad; realizing my life had lost a treasure.

 

I connected with the daughter a few hours later and shared my story. She hadn’t seen her dad for a few months and would be his visitor the following day. When I gave her the rundown, I could see sadness and that look of disbelief that he had slipped so much in such a short time. I stopped myself from saying much more and decided to let her do her own assessment. We put the topic on a shelf, went to a swanky Italian Restaurant in the Glebe neighbourhood and ate very Italian, including the pleasure of a rare Italian wine. Needless to say, I slept very well in my hotel suite that night.

 

The following day I got up mid morning, walked to the Italian espresso bar in the Byward Market . They use Lily coffee — a nice strong and smooth favourite, and a great jolt for the day. 

 

A visit to Ottawa would also not be complete without a trip to the Giant Tiger department store in downtown. For people in western Canada who are not familiar, it would be a mini equivalent to Army and Navy. They have a lot interesting (some would say rare) things from clothing to kitchenware to cleaning products and food, at great prices you would not see anywhere else. 

 

I dropped off my purchases at the hotel and then headed off to start my scheduled plan of the day. First stop, the office of my Member of Parliament, Dan Ruimy. His office is in the highly secured Wellington Building on Sparks Street. I was thoroughly examined and given the golden pass to find my own way to his office. Upon entering I heard his voice directing me to where he was waiting.  Since he is the Chair of an important House Committee, he qualified for an office bigger than a den, plus a meeting room and waiting area for guests. We sat and talked for a half hour before catching the House of Commons shuttle bus to join in with the fun of Question Period. 

 

We arrived a bit early so Dan brought me to some of the rarely seen private parts of the Building, including the private meeting room along side the main Chamber, where I saw a lot of familiar faces of the other elected members cajoling about strategies, upcoming legislation or maybe about the array of Christmas parties that were happening on site that week.

 

I sat in the front row of the Members’ Gallery directly across from the Government side of the House. I stared down to see familiar faces and realized some people look a lot different in person than on tv. I also noticed some people are more focused on their iPhones and IPads than on the business of the Chamber. I suppose they should be thankful there is no regular testing on daily proceedings, as many would surely fail.

 

After Question Period, I stood up and waved goodbye to Dan and wandered back to the Château to recompose and prepare for another evening of frolicking with longtime friends.

 

The next day was a VIA Rail traveling day to Toronto. It was a delightful ride through the Ottawa Valley to Belleville and then Oshawa, before arriving at Union Station. With minutes to spare, I managed to navigate through the very busy station over to the York Concourse to buy a GoTrain ticket to Lincolnville Station about an hour away. It all went smoothly and my friend Sue was there to greet me and take me to her lovely home in a lovely community called Uxbridge. I had visited her and her husband Rick there before and will do so again and again because they are such wonderful, friendly, caring, thoughtful and loving people. Besides, their cats have taken a liking to me!

 

I had the best sleep on a therapeutic bed with a delightfully firm mattress and two great specialty pillows. It was a special purchase for Sue’s mom but she just could not get to liking it. I spoke with her briefly on the phone and I think she referred to it as the worst bed ever or crappy bed! Actually I think she said it is a shitty bed!

 

We spent the next day roaming the town’s main drag, going in and out of the various unique shops, including a Thrift Store owned by a retired lady who doesn’t work to make money, but just enough to pay her rent and not have to pay taxes! She donates a lot of things to charities and a third of her space is set aside for local artisans to sell their wares. I bought a brand new pair of ladies’ Polo socks, mostly cotton, for next to nothing. I call that a souvenir of Uxbridge.

 

Sunday, Sue drove me to my friend Michael’s place on Main Street in the Beaches area of Toronto. He is my age and the son of a former work colleague and friend who died eleven years ago. His mom had a tough start in life and struggled as a single parent until her thirties when she got a big break in life working in a government office and eventually securing a very good salary. She introduced me to her son when he and I were in our twenties. He is an absolute delight to be around and I am glad we keep in touch.

 

Michael fits right in with the Beaches community — kind, friendly, trusting, trustworthy, helpful. He knows virtually everyone of the street who owns a dog, and most people do. Everyone invites him in for a chat and visit, and even sometimes for a meal. Dogs bring people together he says! 

 

His house looks small from the outside but it does have a lot of space, including three bedrooms and a basement. It has hardwood floors, a backyard garden area, and has historic character. He has been happily living there, with and without roommates for nearly twenty years, and he looks and feels very much at home there.

 

Michael took me and Callie the dog out for a neighbourhood walk and shared some of the history of the neighbourhood with me. After dropping the dog off at home, we walked to the neighbourhood pub on Queen Street for an evening meal and talk about  our lives and our memories of his lovely, caring and generous mom named Edith. Turns out that was a good segway to his pulling out some of her photo albums which he hadn’t looked at ever. It was a late night of a lot of memory sharing, tears and laughs, followed by another great sleep.

 

My second day in Toronto was taken up by public transit rides on the street trolleys on Queen and King Streets, the UnionPearson fast train to the Airport and then a city bus to Square One Mall in Mississauga. I wanted to explore areas where I hadn’t been and this was the perfect time since Michael works out that way and escorted me through the various modes of transportation. 

 

I love spending time with Michael because he is a good listener, and loves to share tidbits of interesting knowledge. He has a caring nature, is always calm and polite and, best of all, he has a great sense of humour and loves to laugh

 

So my special adventure turned out to be more than I had anticipated. I felt relaxed and comfortable with my central Canadian friends; it was great to feel our bond still intact and celebrate a whole lot of love all around. 

 

My experience with George in the care home will resonate for quite some time. It was my first one to one experience with dementia and certainly helped me understand some of my other friends who are dealing with people in their lives going through the same downward slide. It is heartbreaking to see people who have been around a long time, gradually lose their spirits and their memories, staring blankly, locked inside a mystery world we may never be able to explain. My heart goes out to those who stick around and  I hold out my hand to anyone who needs one.

 

So now my flight is about to land in Vancouver mid day. I sit up with my seatbelt fastened ready for a smooth landing. It will be a great way to end a week of being with people I love and appreciate,  and know that because of technology, social media, FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp and whatever else techno whizzes come up with, we will always be connected —  and, so long as our minds stay aware,  they are never far away.