A (True) Story

Finding a Brighter Perspective

Else Wieler

My mother has dementia and lives in Lethbridge at an assisted living residence. I used to call her at 7:30 every morning to talk her through getting dressed and downstairs in time for 8 am breakfast. Now I call at 8 to remind her not to go down but to wait for the breakfast cart to come to her.

She has taken well to social distancing. She is allowed to remain in the familiarity of her room and no one coerces her into activities when she’d rather nap. Homecare still visits 4 times a day to tend her.

My brother, sister and I each call at least once a day to help her navigate mealtimes and just to chat. Every day I remind her that she is in her room now because of a virus. She is not concerned about this.

She’s lived through her father’s arrest and subsequent execution – something that happened to many German Mennonite men from small villages in what was then simply Russia. She lived through German invasion, when her family spent almost a month cowering in their basement as Germans and Russians sent bombs flying over their heads. She lived through German retreat, when she, along with her mother, grandmother and siblings fled through Poland and finally East Germany to find refugee status in the West, just as borders were locked down.

On April 20th, we were to celebrate her 90th birthday. I had my flight booked. My sister was flying in from New Jersey and my brother lives near her. She tires easily so we had thought, just cake and coffee with us and the step-siblings for an hour or two. Now of course, she is in lockdown and will be alone. I don’t remind her of this every day, just once in awhile because I know on that day, it will be a disappointment.

More often, I simply listen to her reminiscences of happy childhood times. And then she adds, ‘Mama and Oma had to work so hard, but I didn’t really understand because I was off playing with my cousins and sisters.’

This morning, when her floor was last to get breakfast and she wondered aloud if she was ever getting her coffee, I reminded her that they take turns: she had hers first yesterday. That was enough to make her laugh and say, “Whenever have we had such a wonderful life? I mean with food and water. We have as much as we need. When I think back to when I was a child in Russia. There was never enough and we were hungry all the time. You didn’t live through it, so you’ll never know. We sit here so comfortable in Canada and America. As much of everything we could ever want. The only time I got enough back then was in the summer, when I sat in the fruit trees and ate until I was sick. And then the war came. We were lucky. We got away and didn’t get sent to Siberia.”

Then she saw her cat, and rhapsodized about her luck in having him for a companion. That’s how it goes. She is easily distracted. As she rambled, I ran to the computer thinking, her words are a good reminder for all of us.

My mother has always been good at looking around her to find the less fortunate and thus make herself feel better. Whatever you may think of this coping skill, it has served her well. She helped to serve the needy in her churches in Winnipeg and Coaldale by making quilts, raise funds through bake sales and serving at funerals. But there are times when we ourselves are the needy.

This may be just such a time. Perhaps my mother’s words can help someone to see the situation from a somewhat brighter perspective. This morning, her words did that for me.

~Elenore Wieler
(Elenore’s mother, Else, is pictured above.)