Blog created for the WDC 21st Birthday Blog Bash
|Elsie stirred as the first rays of sunlight poured through the window and splashed across the bed. I must get up and make breakfast. The thought was like an automatic alarm, set by years of responsibility. She threw back the covers and started to swing her legs off the bed until the moment of full consciousness hit.
There was no one to make breakfast for, Elsie remembered. She slumped back into the tangled mass of blankets. Loneliness flooded over her as it had every morning since the lockdowns began.
“We love you Mom, we don’t want to risk your health”, her son had told her. “Besides, Linda and I are both working from home now, Lucy doesn’t need a babysitter. We’ll visit as soon as this is over.”
How long ago was that? She hadn’t seen Tom, Linda or Lucy for a very long time. Elsie thought about how much her granddaughter must have grown by now, and wondered if Lucy even remembered her.
Does she remember the blueberry pancakes, the stories I read to her, or even the games we played? Does she remember the arms that comforted her when she was sick, the songs I sang to her as Irocked her back to sleep after a bad dream?
“I don’t want to be safe from my own family!” Elsie cried aloud. “Everyone has to die sometime. I don’t want to die alone, but I don’t want to live alone, either.”
She had told Tom that many times, but he didn’t understand. How could he understand the profound emptiness that echoes within the memories of every loved one lost over the years? He could not understand how the quiet stole the joy of every room that once contained the laughter of children and the comforting voice of a husband. The isolation was like a punishment for having once loved so strongly. The worst thing was the feeling of having lived past her usefulness. A life without purpose did not feel like living. She was not needed, not even as a babysitter.
Though there was no great urgency to start her day, there was no point in remaining in bed, either. She wasn’t used to sleeping late. When her family was young, every day started early. It was a good life, a purpose-filled life.
Elsie dressed and made her way to the little kitchen where she had spent that lifetime cooking meals for her family and where love was tallied in stacks of dirty dishes, pots and pans. But today, there was nothing to do. Keeping house for one old lady did not take much time or energy. One plate, one teacup, one spoon. Elsie missed the noisy joy with which her granddaughter could turn a kitchen table into finger painting chaos.
She couldn’t remember how old the eggs in the fridge were and she had no desire to test their freshness. When did they last drop off groceries? It didn’t matter. Her appetite was nonexistent these days, anyway. Elsie made a cup of tea and took it to the front room. She settled into the plush armchair her husband had favored, the same one he was sitting in when she found him that April morning ten years ago. He often fell asleep there, in front of the television. Then one day, Jim fell asleep in his chair and didn’t wake up again. Elsie didn’t even turn on the TV anymore. What was there but bad news or repeats of television programs she had watched dozens of times over the years? Everyone in her favorite shows from the past were all dead now. Her past was dead, and she had no future.
A ringing phone startled her as she was just beginning to doze off in the comfort of her husband’s chair. It still smelled of Old Spice and pipe tobacco. The chair was an enchanted spot where happiness could be conjured with a willingness to let go of reality. For a few moments, she was not alone, she was young and in love. She napped and dreamt in her chair quite often, but each time it was excruciating heartbreak to awaken. The phone rang again, dispelling the shadows completely..
“Hi Mom, Happy Birthday!”
Was it her birthday? How could she have forgotten? Not wishing to sound confused, Elsie pretended she was aware of the date. Funny how much Tom sounded like his father. The sound of his voice was both pain and healing to her.
“We can’t celebrate, obviously, but we still wanted to let you know we love you,” Tom continued. “Maybe next year, we’ll go out for a nice dinner on your birthday.”
“Oh yes, that will be nice,” Elsie replied.
“Sorry, Mom, but I’ve got to go. I have an appointment for my first vaccine jab today. Linda is going to get hers next week. Lucy is too young, so I am afraid that it might still be some time before we can visit in person. We don’t want to put you at risk, you know.”
“But I don’t mind, Tom. I just want to see you…”
“It’s for your own good, Mom. We have to protect you. I’ll call you next week.”
There was no time to protest further. He was gone. So many people gone. Even the children who used to play in the yard next door were gone. The cars that used to drive by her house were gone. There was nothing going on outside her front window anymore, the world was gone.
Elsie closed her eyes and leaned back, inhaling the familiar scent of Old Spice and pipe tobacco. She smiled as Jim took her hand, and she was gone.
(Due to Covid restrictions, there is an epidemic of loneliness and isolation among the elderly. Research has shown that social isolation and loneliness can be as dangerous to health as smoking or obesity. Suicide among the elderly is also on the rise.)