Ideas and Impressions: My father knows he's one of the lucky elderly people

By Jason Moscovitz

My father, Eli, will turn 98 this month and is 100 per cent there. His physical limitations don’t deter him from doing what we are all doing these days – watching a lot of Netflix. His favourite show, or series, was Escobar because, he says, it went on forever and that meant he didn’t have to frustrate himself on the Netflix search index, which is difficult for him on an iPad keyboard. His arthritic fingers are no match for the soft touch required.

He lives in a private retirement home in Montreal and his building is one of those exceptional places that managed to keep COVID-19 off the premises. The price to achieve that was a strictly enforced lockdown. No one in, no one out, and no meals in the dining room. It’s hard to imagine so much time alone staring at the walls of a small apartment after you get tired of Netflix and CNN. The days are long and my father knows he is one of the lucky elderly people in this country.

After four months of lockdown, the doors of his residence reopened in early July to visitors. Residents are also now permitted to leave the premises, but there is a negative stigma around the relatively healthy elderly which makes getting out difficult. Friends and family are not breaking down the walls to visit. They fear making an elderly person sick, or they fear just being in the building will make them sick. Leaving the building is a problem for elderly residents when their drivers question the health risks of having an elderly person too close in an enclosed car.

My father is not much of a complainer and I guess he silently fights to stay sane 24/7. What is really interesting is when he shares his views on the pandemic. For a man who started life in Canada in 1922, it is an enormous thing to hear him say, in his lifetime, nothing matches the social and economic impact of COVID-19. I ask about the Depression years and the Second World War. He says during the Depression, most people got by and at least the children were in school. As for the Second World War, he says that for him personally, his Air Force years were good years.

As a businessperson who still equates almost everything to “how’s business,” he is stunned by the devastation COVID-19 has wrought. For him to see the retail trade die in front of his very eyes in real time is the life-changer he never could have imagined. After my first visit to the Bayshore Shopping Centre since the doors reopened, I described to him how few shoppers there were, how many stores were closed, and how many of the stores which had opened had empty shelves. It made me think that I was describing the Depression of my lifetime.

I wrote that my father Eli was 100 per cent there, but I didn’t say how smart he is about some things. At the beginning of the economic shutdown, he told me people won’t want to go back to work because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was paying them too much money to do nothing. I launched into a defence of the government, telling my father there were no jobs and how the government had to do what it did.

When the economy started to reopen, I learned how many people in lower paying jobs told their employers they only wanted to come back part-time so they could still get the $2,000 per month emergency money from the government. I was more naive than my father, so let’s just say I haven't been around as long.

Eli’s biggest enjoyment is leaving the residence and having as many restaurant meals as he can. He hasn’t done that since February and maneuvering on an outdoor terrace with a walker, even if he could get someone to bring him there, is too problematic to consider. He understands that, and as the calendar moves closer to July 18, he realizes there will be no fancy 98th birthday celebration in 2020.

The funny thing is, he is not particularly focused on making up for it next year. He’s telling people to hold the date for a birthday celebration on July 18, 2022. Eli’s shooting for 100 and I don’t doubt his tenacity can get him there.

And you have to think, hope and pray that when my dad is 100, the world will only see COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.