Some months back I wrote about R's sister Sue who has Down's Syndrome. She lives 3 hrs away in Quebec City. Since R is her tutor, it would make sense for Sue to be in Montreal where R can keep a closer eye on her, but she doesn't want to leave Quebec. Being intellectually deficient has never stopped Sue from saying what she wants.
Recently, it became obvious that she could no longer stay in an apartment by herself. Even with Social Services buying her groceries and doing her cleaning and checking in on her, she was making a nuisance of herself in the building. She began stealing the weekly circulars, leaving her garbage in the hallway, shouting at the neighbours. Social Services found her a place in a supervised group home.
We were concerned how the move would go. Sue had been living alone in her apartment for 25 yrs. She was accustomed to a constant television ambiance and eccentric hours. She rose at noon for breakfast, skipped lunch, had supper at five, stayed up until 1 am. Many days she never changed from her pyjamas. She had long refused to participate in social activities--whether with other intellectually deficient adults or with a volunteer who offered to take her shopping or swimming. She protested at any interruption to her sacred routines--for example, when she went to the bank on Tues to withdraw the $30 R deposited, and from there to the dollar store.
At the group home she would have her own bedroom, but share a bathroom and meals. She would have to eat at regular mealtimes. She could have a TV in her room, but she wouldn't be able to blast it as she had in her apartment. She would have to go to a new bank. There was no dollar store near the group home.
R took the firm line of persistently telling Sue that she would have to get used to the new arrangements. She had to wake at 7 for breakfast or not have breakfast at all. She had to eat in the dining room with the others. If she waited until Saturday, she could join the group who were taken to the nearby shopping mall where there was a dollar store. That's right, change her dollar store trip from Tues to Sat.
A few months passed. We waited to hear about disasters--Sue breaking things as was her wont when she decided to raise a protest; Sue fighting with the other members of the group home; Sue not cooperating; Sue being stubborn.
We were surprised and cautiously pleased to hear that Sue was actually having breakfast in the morning. Increasingly, when R called her in the evening, she wasn't in her room. She was in the common room playing Poche which I think is called Bean Bag or Toss in English. The contestants try to throw bags of beans into a hole. Or she watched TV with the group. A certain Martin figured often in her stories. R asked if she had a new boyfriend. (There's a whole long story about Sue's amorous interests and sexual experiences from when she was younger, including a brief foray when she said she was "aux femmes"--into women.) She said no, Martin was a friend, not a boyfriend. She knows the difference.
This past weekend we went to Quebec to take her out for her 53rd birthday. Her room has just about attained the clutter of her apartment where she lived for so many years. Every flat surface is crowded with embroidery thread, scissors, clippings from circulars, bottles of hand cream, picture frames. Most of the clippings are of bar refrigerators because she wants to have cold soft drinks in her room. She collects the clippings as a ritual which will eventually make the desired object appear. She shows everyone who comes to her room the clippings--mostly importantly R, who controls the money, and the social worker who might talk to R. The picture frames are stuffed with photos of her family and her new friends at the group home. She showed us where she sits in the dining room--a retro 1950s beige arborite table with heavy chrome legs. Next to the dining room is the common room with fake leather armchairs around a fake fireplace. At the home they don't call her Sue but Susie. I wonder if renaming helped with easing her into new habits.
She was very glad to see us and to go out for supper but this time, instead of looking lonely and abandoned when we left to return to Montreal, she pulled up a lawn chair to sit with the other group homies outside. She wanted to tell them what she'd had at the Chinese buffet (her choice of restaurant). General Tao chicken, onion rings, blue jello and pink ice cream.
She's very excited about her birthday on Tuesday because there will be a cake and the gang are going to celebrate.