Four months ago, I wrote here about how the good fellow Emmanuel Fernando had his swearing-in ceremony to make him officially a United States citizen. I always tell Emmanuel that he is the luckiest man in the world. And he always laughs because, without any explanation, he knows why. He know it's because he's married to Elizabeth Fernando. Elizabeth has been the main caregiver to my parents for 12 years, and she is, as I say at any chance I get, an angel on earth.
And yesterday it was her turn. On Thursday, she had her own swearing-in ceremony. And Elizabeth Fernando is now a citizen of the United States.
This is a really long time coming. She and Emmanuel are from Sri Lanka, though have been in the United States for over 20 years, raising three terrific, accomplished children. They've all had green cards and have wanted to become citizens, but it always hit a variety of road blocks. So many that it looked like it wouldn't ever happen. Finally, though, perhaps around a year-and-a-half ago, the family at last got approved by an immigration judge to start the process for citizenship.
And now, with Elizabeth being sworn in, they all made it.
It's a great thing, but then that's par for the course with Elizabeth. Nothing that I write here will come close to doing her justice.
Years back, before she moved to the United States, Elizabeth worked for, of all people, the Danish Ambassador in Italy as the family cook. Why the Danish Ambassador stationed anywhere, but especially in Italy would hire someone from Sri Lanka to be his cook is something that I've never figured out. But that he wanted to have Elizabeth with him speaks well of his decision-making. The family loved her. Of course. The only thing they didn't love is that they were very unhappy when she and Emmanuel decided to move and eventually come to the United States, but then who wouldn't be?
Being a caregiver isn't her main job, though from the time and effort she puts into it you'd swear that was the case. She's worked for a local grocery chain, the Jewel Food stores, for a couple decades, though it's not just that she's worked there, but has won far too many Employee of the Month awards for me to keep track. (And honestly, the store name is about as whimsically perfect a match as there could be for Elizabeth. I have the sense that some force of nature decided it only appropriate that every day she wear a pin that said, "Jewel.")
Yes, yes, I know that some people might think there's a bit of hyperbole in all of this tossing around of "wonderful" and such descriptions, but to put some perspective on things, let me put it this way with an odd, minor story, easy to overlook for its meaning --.Elizabeth works at the deli counter. The company decided to do some employee shifting, and moved her from the store she was at for years to another, larger store nearby where they were trying to expand the deli service. What happened, though, was unexpected. It turned out that a lot of customers at the old store actually left it and followed Elizabeth to the new place. When the last time you know of anyone who switched grocery stores because the person at the deli counter moved?? That's a hint of how special Elizabeth is.
When my mother was alive, she and Elizabeth had a relationship that in some ways was mother-daughter. Elizabeth's mother had passed away early, and my mother only had two sons. They adored each other. Here's another tale, that I've written about here before.
My mother was an ethereally sweet woman, but grasping the concept of humor was not one of her strong points. She appreciated it, and loved watching comedies, but couldn't quite always get a handle on what was funny or why. I'm only aware of her telling just told two jokes in her life. But, for reasons no one could ever understand, she LOVED April Fool's Day. Just absolutely loved it. And even though every year we knew it was coming, she still always got you.
About seven years ago, my mother called to tell me some unfortunate news. It was that Elizabeth had to leave because she was going to be working full-time at her other job at the grocery store. It had something to do with qualifying for health care. This was a very big loss, really awful, and I said so.
And then, immediately - "April Fool!!!" She got me. And I heard Elizabeth laughing in the background. Eventually Elizabeth got on the phone. "How could you believe that, Bob?" she kept laughing. "How could you believe that?? Don't you know that I'm never going to leave mommy?! Never."
That's Elizabeth. And she dotes on my dad as much. When my mother passed away, he was concerned that Elizabeth would feel she wasn't needed as much and would leave. He was very sad and down about it. "Doctor," she quickly said, "I'm not ever going to leave you."
I have friends who've had caregivers for their elderly parents, and I've heard horror stories all the time. One had to file a police report for theft. But with Elizabeth -- let's put it this way: whenever I come home to visit, one of the first things she does is bring out a thick stack of receipts she's been saving since my last time home. I always laugh and tell her it's not remotely necessary, but she insists on keeping them to show that every purchase she'd had to make is legitimate properly covered. Still. After over 10 years. (I always quickly sort through the stack and pull out one at random and then say that I'm not sure about it and don't intend to pay. She laughs and completely understands...but keeps saving the receipts.)
Most everything I've seen her do and am aware of is done with a meticulous and impeccable attention to detail. She just wants to get everything right, and nurture others. (One thing though I've never quite understood, and I I'm not alone in this, is why on earth she insists on cutting in-half the sponges kept at the kitchen sink. But it works for her, it's what she wants, and who am I to quibble...?)
None of this does any justice to how wonderful a person Elizabeth is -- honest, honorable, decent, loving, kind, diligent, smart, caring and on and on and on and on... The best way I can touch on it is to say that having an almost 95-year-old parent in not good health living 2,000 miles away is a concerning situation. But knowing that Elizabeth Fernando is there, I am simply not concerned. Her existence removes all stress. Consider that a moment. It's a pretty remarkable quality.
But even this doesn't do her justice. Because Elizabeth is so much more than a caregiver, no matter how great at it or dear to the family. She's a wife to Emmanuel. Mother to Emel, Virginia, and Roshani. Aunt and cousin and relative to all manner of the extensive Fernando clan in the area and elsewhere. (And there are a lot...) Doting grandmother and incumbent babysitter, driving around town great distances at times whenever needed. Adored neighbor. Regular Employee of the Month for almost two decades at the Jewel. And just so much more. All with a care, joy and loving.
I just adore Elizabeth. But that's not so special. I think that most anyone who knows her does. She's just an absolutely wonderful person beyond words.
And she's also now a United States Citizen.
When Emmanuel became a citizen, I wrote that the country is better for it. With Elizabeth, that's true too, but even more to the point, the world is better for it that she's here. And the rest of us in the human race have a high standard to live up to.
So, Happy Elizabeth Fernando Day. Which, by the way, is every day.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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