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Celebrating Thelus George (1924 – 2014)

A Eulogy for Thelus – October 15, 2014, by her friend Anne Todd

Thelus George

Thelus George

Whether she weighed less than 50 pounds, as she did the last month of her life, or three times that when she was at her physical peak, Thelus George was a force to be reckoned with. Even when her body was failing, her strength of will and purpose inspired all who came in contact with her. Thelus didnʼt speak much the few days before she died, but the last words that I heard her say came when one of the nurses at Elginwood Long Term Care Home was in her room with us. Like many others, he admiringly commented that Thelus was very strong. I agreed, adding that she was feisty too. From her bed Thelus spoke up “I am”. I donʼt know exactly where that inner strength came from but it kept her alive and determined to return to her beloved Brookwood home, long after most people would have given up.

IMG_0855working in the bakeryIMG_0821Thelus grew up in Toronto with her parents and older brothers Lloyd and Len. Photos from when she was a baby, then a child and then a woman, show Thelus with different members of her family – at home, on her Dadʼs old Chevy, at Niagara Falls, at their cottage and latterly at the home of Lloyd and Coby, with whom she lived after her parents died. Lloyd recalls that Thelus was quiet and didnʼt talk a lot at that time. We know much more of her life after she moved to Daybreak at the age of 48. In middle age, Thelus blossomed, discovering her many gifts and sharing them generously with those around her. Daybreak was a farm when she arrived in 1972 and Thelus would collect and wash the eggs from the barn and the chicken house. Then she would go on one of the egg routes around Richmond Hill to sell them, as well as produce from the garden in the summer. Soon Thelus was working at the new Daybreak bakery with Peggy Hopkins, in the building which is now the Craft Studio. Many times, she proudly recounted how she taught herself to make bread, cookies, muffins and butter tarts there. Next the Bakery switched to making soup at lunch for the community, and pasturizing the milk from the cow. It was hard work and eventually was brought to an end. She continued her career in hospitality and cooking though, going on to work in the cafeteria at ARC, where she remained until her retirement. But while the paid work may have ended, Thelus never stopped cooking and baking for others. Her life story book is full of memories from people who talk about how she welcomed them to her home, bringing out her home-made baked goods, giving them a cup of tea or a good meal and generally helping them to feel at home with her and at Daybreak. This was all a means of living out her passion for hospitality and welcome. She also made cookies to sell at the office to raise money for, in her word, the poor people. When it became harder for her to get out and about, young assistants at Brookwood would help her, selling the cookies and collecting the money. Thelus loved celebrations and parties, baking birthday cakes for all of her housemates. One specialty was chocolate cake but she always made sure that there was carrot cake for Hsi Fu since it was his favourite. Everything was made from scratch – she was scandalized when I suggested once that we make a cake from a mix. Thanksgiving was not complete without a Thelus-baked Dutch apple pie, made from a recipe from her sister-in-law Coby and who can forget her dinners of Orange Chicken or Shepherdʼs Pie? I think that for many of us, Thelus and the kitchen will always be linked together.

But Thelus didnʼt just confine herself to the kitchen. She loved parties and was always planning the next celebration. She couldnʼt keep still if there was good music on and loved to dance, whether with a rose between her teeth or with a visiting bishop as some photographs show. She also loved to travel, beginning by going by ship to England with her mother as a young woman. Later with Daybreak, she travelled to England, Ireland, France of course, Newfoundland, Calgary, California, New York and so on. She travelled for pleasure and sometimes to spread the news of LʼArche, or to share her life story.

IMG_0948Thelus loved a glass of wine or beer, or her favourite drink, rum and coke. At Brookwood when she was older, she would get quite put out if there was no party on New Yearʼs Eve there, but it didnʼt stop her from creating her own. She would get ready for bed, then sit in her chair in the living room dressed in her red plaid bathrobe with a glass of wine beside her, checking her watch frequently. At midnight sheʼd down her wine, say “Happy New Year” and take herself off to bed. It took more than old age to stop her from going to the pub for a beer. It was quite a sight, white haired Thelus and her good friend Peggy, with their walkers, having a game of darts, accompanied by assistants of varying ages having an uproariously good time. At home she enjoyed knitting, James Bond movies, playing crokinole (cheating slightly when it was helpful) and shooting baskets outside at Brookwood. Whenever an occasion required a card or
some art, she went to work, drawing the beautiful flowers that are so distinctive and colourful.

DOC090513-09052013121410-0002Words that have been used to describe Thelus are welcoming, sensitive, thoughtful, nurturing and caring. She had a “compassionate and understanding heart.” In the early days at the Big House, one of the many people that she lived with was Michael Green, a young man who didnʼt like to be told what to do, something that she could empathize with. If Thelus saw him struggling, she would step in gently to help him, and Michael was always able to listen to her. Her relationship with another young housemate, HsiFu Liu was also memorable. Thelus, Peggy and a third housemate at Brookwood, David Gray were a bit like grandparents to Hsi Fu. They doted on him and he showered them with laughter and kisses in return. As Hsi Fu became more robust and unaware of his own strength, Peggy and others became more cautious about keeping their distance from him physically. Not Thelus! When Hsi Fu wouldnʼt get up in the morning, sometimes we had to call in the big guns. Peggy and Thelus would come into Hsi Fuʼs bedroom, where Peggy would talk to him and Thelus would throw down his covers, demanding that he get up. With a sigh then a laugh, Hsi Fu would sit up, knowing when heʼd met his match. He also like to tease Thelus by putting his thumb in his mouth to provoke a reaction from her. Sure enough, as soon as Thelus spotted him, sheʼd say her litany of “Hsi Fu, get your thumb out of your mouth, youʼre not a baby any more, smarten up, would you!!” to everyoneʼs delight. Thelus also formed strong bonds with young assistants, mothering them, teaching them and playing with them. One young German assistant used to tease her by pretending to be old and needing to use her walker, to which sheʼd unfailingly respond “youʼve got a long way to go, baby”.

dsc_6439Thelus came a long way in her life. She was proud of the independence that she gained later in life, even living for some time at Centre Street house with four other core members but no live-in assistants. In her homes, she was able to care for others, to be the boss of her own kitchen and to have some control over her life. That all changed after she broke her hip and had to move into long term care where she remained for her final nine and a half years. Not being able to return home was a source of great anguish for Thelus. She never lost sight of her goal to return to Brookwood, nor was she quiet in stating this. We did wonder if we could bring her back to Brookwood but one of the problems was that there were no available bedrooms on the main floor. The possibility of partitioning off one end of the living room, where my big old upright piano stood, was considered but ultimately we knew that Thelus needed a level of care that we just couldnʼt provide. In Thelusʼ eyes though, the only thing standing between her and moving back to Brookwood was my piano. She had convinced herself that if it wasnʼt there, she would be able to have her bedroom back. Thelus had a phone in her room at Elginwood with speed dial for my number and sometimes Iʼd come home to threatening anonymous phone calls on my answering machine: “Anne, move your piano or else! I mean it!” Click.

2010_0827altarservers100052The Brookwood teams were amazing over the years, bringing her back to the house for Sunday dinners, celebrations and making sure that she got to as many community events as possible. When it became harder for her to get out, people went to her. And still Thelus longed to go home. As recently as this spring, Thelus let Wendy and I have the brunt of her anger one afternoon, ordering us to “get the car, get me home right now”, and warning us that sheʼd call the cops when we didnʼt comply. Although she felt that her life was on hold in Elginwood, that it was only a temporary stop on her way back home, Thelusʼ generous spirit continued to shine there. For 9 long years she thanked the staff whenever they helped her, told them that she liked or even loved them, complimented them on their clothes and their hair, letting them know that she appreciated them. The steady stream of visitors, young and old, male and female showed the fruit of her loyalty and faithfulness. As her body grew weaker and more frail, the light in her eyes never dimmed. Nor did her desire to return home. When they heard that Thelus had died, her friends Mary Anne and 5 year old Elsie both reacted with joy, exulting that she could see her friend Peggy now. They understood.

Thelus has finally made it home.