Sunday, September 23, 2018

on top of everything else: a tornado!

6 p.m. Saturday.
A surreal experience, this little weekend trip to Ottawa. Who could predict that a tornado would hit just after I got to town? The bus trip from Montreal was slow but painless – the bus was nearly empty, so I put my feet up and read. In Ottawa, I got the rented car and drove in rush hour to Do’s, stopping on the way for essential supplies: a bottle of wine, salad and soup from Farm Boy.

As I got out of the car at Do’s, the wind was violent, almost knocking me over, and the light in the sky turbulent and electric, very strange. Inside her apartment the lights kept flickering – and then whammo, no power. I assumed it’d be temporary, not knowing about the tornado producing the worst power outage in Ottawa history, worse than the ice storm; that it will take days or even weeks to put things to rights.

I found a big white candle I bought for Do at Ikea long ago, and then scrabbled in her very full drawers for matches. Found a big box and tried them – useless, too old, past their prime like so much around here. I thought, I'm doomed to darkness! But then I found another box. So I had a candle, and I had my phone, and that was it. I couldn’t leave because I thought – incorrectly, as it turned out – that the elevators would be out, and I was on the 18th floor, with a cold.

So – an evening of reading by candlelight, both the New Yorker I brought with me and various sites on the beloved phone that was my lifeline. And the wine too. Thank God for the wine.

Today I headed for Do’s nursing home. All the traffic lights are out in this part of town, and I tell you, Canadians are the calmest, kindest people. The traffic was running smoothly, everyone waiting patiently for others to go, even at complicated intersections – the best of human nature at work. Luckily, the nursing home did not lose power, so when I got there I was able to ask for two cups of coffee, or at least a coffee-like substance – no hot water for coffee at home this morning, the worst punishment of all.

My aunt, it was pretty clear to me, has had enough. People have been trying to get her out of bed and forcing her cheerfully to eat, but I could see immediately, this is not a good idea. My brother who came later told me the decline in only a few days has been dramatic. She is ready to go, and our job is to make sure she’s comfortable, hydrated, and accompanied. Otherwise, leave her the fuck alone. Poor soul, she has shrunk to almost nothing; she mostly sleeps and groans. It’s heartrending, and so is the place itself with its cheery floral facade masking the parade of walkers and wheelchairs. Aging is cruel and brutal. Cruel and brutal. But the alternative is worse. Or maybe, as my daughter texted, quoting Dumbledore, "To the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."

In any case, I spent the day in a very hot room with my beloved sleeping aunt, periodically waking her to give her some water or Ensure. And then going out into the beautiful sunshine to walk, finding a gorgeous park nearby which saved my soul. The staff where she is are mostly kind, and one, a Filipina called Anna, is a saint and an angel – but it’s just heartbreaking.

So now it’s 6 p.m. and I’m back at Do’s. People from the apartment building are outside cooking happily on communal barbecues, as are people in nearby Britannia Park where I walked before coming back here. My candle is ready, my phone got fully charged at the home. It’s apocalyptic – I’ve been dealing with my aunt’s impending death, the lack of all the mod cons we take for granted, and the fact that even my aunt’s dear friends, whom I was going to take to dinner, don’t want to see me because of my cold. 

My computer is at 10% so this will be cut off soon. I can’t work on my memoir tonight. Need to find paper. Need to find paper. And will spend part of this evening throwing out everything in her fridge and freezer, which are already starting to smell. 

As I was getting ready to leave today, I held Do’s tiny claw of a hand and told her I loved her and that I’d be back tomorrow. She opened her eyes, her bright blue eyes, and looked directly at me. “Thank you, love,” she said.

6.30 p.m. Sunday
Home, after a most wrenching journey - seeing the sublime Macca in the best concert, but seeing him while sick and unable to sing ...

in the packed Bell Centre hall before the concert -
and inside as it filled up to the rafters ...

...saying goodbye to my best friend with whom I've spent the better part of a solid month, including devouring a tiny smoked meat sandwich in Montreal...
Lynn, whom I describe as "human sunshine," uncustomarily serious facing a mountain of meat

the fact that the weather changed as I was in the air to Montreal, I'd brought all the wrong clothes, had to buy warmth; arriving in Ottawa to a tornado which took out the power in a wide swath of the city, leaving me for two days in an apartment with no power or hot water; and most of all, sitting by Do's bedside willing her to let go. And yet today - she perked up a bit. So who knows? As my brother says, she has rallied before. She's amazing.
I walked again in the nearby park to get some air and stretch my legs - as Britannia Park saved my life on numerous visits to Mum and Do in Ottawa, the park near Do's nursing home was a lifesaver this weekend.

When it was time for me to leave, I told her again that I love her, and she told me she loves me and to travel safely, and thank you, and sorry. She says thank you to everything, always polite, and still apologizing.

Then drove to the airport down Carling with no traffic lights (and no gasoline at any pumps anywhere) and marvelled again - people stopping at every light, letting others go, it gave me true hope for humanity. As did the kindness of beautiful Anna at the home, who told me she was a doctor in the Philippines and could not get accreditation here, so because "I love a life of service," she has worked at this nursing home for twelve years.

At the park, there was a birthday party for a little kid, everyone gathered singing happy birthday, presents and balloons - it made me cry. Because all those people, including that kid, are going to get old and die. It's brutal to watch my independent aunt so dependent now on nursing home staff and visitors. But at least she does know she is loved. I hope it helps.

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