Elaine

She had the grace and elegance that made you think of women from another time. She was a force and hard to ignore.

When the cardio doctor asked me questions about her I said she could be brittle. He laughed and said, “Yes she can be.” I explained that came because she could barely see and was hard of hearing. “That makes sense” he replied.

I felt it was my duty to speak up for her. It was the last thing I would do for Elaine.

She lived downstairs and we would often cross paths in the laundry room. It’s a small apartment building so you got to know the other tenants. She was surprised to hear I was running in the civic election. She donated to my campaign and was thrilled when I won. I was thrilled with the joy it gave her.

We didn’t know each other well but always said hello in the hall.

Then one day she asked for my help. That day cemented a friendship. I never knew her well, never really knew anything about her, but she grew to know that if she called I could be down at her place in minutes.

Fix a toilet, write a cheque, talk to the landlord. Just little things. But it always ended with a joke and a laugh.

Tibetan Buddhism reminds us that true generosity is giving what is required.

I will keep reminding you that I didn’t really know Elaine. But we always giggled at life’s crazy ways. She had the best laugh!

Elaine called in a panic two weeks ago. I raced down to her place and called 911. I held her hand and told her not to worry because I would take care of things. It was the last thing I would say to her. She passed away four days later.

The truth is that I’ve learned more about Elaine since she’s been gone. She left a big imprint.

Why am I telling you this? Maybe it’s to remind myself that we all might need help one day.

And maybe even more important, I wish you could have heard Elaine’s incredible laugh.

 

 

Respect and Dignity

In a world gone mad, we could all use a little respect and dignity.

If your world has fallen apart, respect and dignity can sometimes make you feel yourself again.

This week I went for a walk with one of my favourite clients. It was the day before he was moving from his beloved home, where he and his wife had lived for years, to a care home. I pushed his wheelchair around the False Creek seawall and we took in some of Vancouver’s familiar places. We chatted about everything and nothing. For long stretches he was quiet and I can only imagine how he thought his life was about to change.

And it was.

I’ve worked with him for years. A very accomplished man but for privacy reasons I won’t give you his name or title. He’s funny and clever and has suffered from Parkinson’s for decades.

The next day, when he arrived at that care home, the staff were at the door to greet him.

They welcomed him and used his title and last name. And in that moment he was not just an old man in a wheelchair that needed help, he was a valued human being that had lived a life.

With that gesture they showed him respect and treated him with dignity.

He smiled.

I imagine they give everyone that comes through their door that same benefit.

And it makes a world of difference.

Life is often unfair. Getting to the end of your journey here on earth can be devastating and embarrassing and downright soul crushing. Being seen and treated as a person, and not just another decrepit old man in need of care, can make your time bearable.

But bearable isn’t enough. We should be making people happy.

That should always be our goal. In a perfect world we should treat everyone with that aim. But we don’t. These people have given us their years… let’s try to give a little back.

It’s the least we can do.

Respect and dignity.

Falling Through The Cracks

It’s easy to fall through the cracks during a worldwide pandemic. So much is based on the big picture. Governments move with the majority. Concerns are for the many. People in charge are responsible for overall numbers.

I’m worried about the ones that get lost. Sometimes they fall so far behind we forget they were even here.

When I tell people I’ve lost my day job and am having trouble paying rent the usual response is quick. “Well Trudeau announced that they have CERB, you can sign up for that.” “There’s rent money available.” “Have you gone to the bank?”

Do you really think I would lose my job and not hustle to source any available dollars out there to help? I know the advice is well meaning, but sometimes we need more than words.

Still, I fell through the cracks and then started to look around to see who was here with me.

It seems there are many of us.

And it’s not just on the financial side, but on every aspect of life. All the little details that keep the wheels turning are now misaligned. We are wavering. You are supposed to have back-up plans but really, who actually has them?

Luckily, most of us will pull through.

Then a ray of hope; almost a redemption. The spotlight turned and focused on our disadvantaged seniors. We can no longer deny they have been falling through the cracks long before COVID-19. Most of us have been ignoring them for years. These are the people without a voice and it’s easy to keep them quiet. Devastatingly easy.

If we learn one thing from this pandemic, let it be that we stop ignoring our compromised elders. Stop hiding them behind closed and locked doors.

Even if the spotlight focuses on the next tragedy, let’s not fall backwards and forget.

As the days and weeks and months of social change merge together, let’s take what we have learned and keep pushing to make things better. Let’s make amends.

This can’t happen again.

And as Desmond Tutu so wisely said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

But for now…If you see someone falling through the cracks reach out and grab their hand.

Pull them back to the boat. Don’t let them drift away.

Today there are plenty of people putting on masks and gloves and holding many hands.

Tomorrow we’ll need to look around to make sure no one else is missing.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start filling those cracks so we don’t keep repeating the chaos.