Diane Smith visits Zellers Family Restaurant every day. It is a place she has been going for the past twenty years. She just got her hair done, wore a matching pearl necklace and bracelet, yet her eyes looked weary.
The restaurant is quaint and outdated, as if untouched from the ‘80s; with regulars filling up their usual spots, wallpaper peeling off in places, coffee stains ingrained on the tables. The waitress greeted Diane by name and instinctively brought her coffee. This is the one place where she can escape her often hectic reality, and it is closing this December. Her escape will soon be gone.
“Coming here is a stress reliever; I come every day and always see people I know. It is a comfort to me. I don’t know where I’m going to go now.”
Diane Smith is a 72-year-old widow. Three of her four sons still live at home. The three all have Fragile X, a genetic syndrome that is the most common form of autism. They are no longer children; Michael is 48, Jamie is 36, and Cory is 34.
“It has been a challenge. Nagging them all the time does no good. I constantly have to watch them. Last night Cory was brought home by the police for being in the park after hours.”
Diane has had to deal with fighting Cory’s $6,000 phone bill; Jamie’s tendencies of hoarding stuffed animals, dolls and records; multiple incidents involving the police; and bullies who egg their house and harass the boys at home.
Smith grew up in Niverville and was the third youngest of eight. Two of her brothers had Fragile X which provided an early introduction to the disorder.
“My father was very patient with the boys. If we were sick he was the one who would take care of us. I still miss him. There are times I wish I could tell him things but he’s not there.”
This inspired another thought: what will her sons do after she is gone?
“I really worry about them. I don’t want them to be in a home, but they need supervision. This question still seems to be unanswered.”
Smith has had little help taking care of her children. Family services were useless and her husband Victor had little patience.
“He was a bitter person. He never knew how to talk to the kids, never wanted to be alone with them.”
A few years after Victor died, she started dating her current boyfriend Joe Rieschel. He now lives with them but is gone a lot of the time working as a semi-truck driver.
“Joe’s brought a lot of joy into my life, I’ve started to travel more with him. He’s a very giving person.” Said Smith.
“We’ve been lucky to go on a few trips together. She needs it, she puts up with a lot. I help her keep the boys in line.” Joe said.
Someone else who has helped her is respite worker Brent Neale. He has worked with the boys ever since they were teenagers.
“Diane has been dealt a tough hand so I try to do what I can. The boys never give me much trouble, we have fun most of the time.” Said Neale.
His help has given Diane some time to herself. She enjoys puttering around the house, listening to old music, watching movies. Her favourite film is Shirley Valentine.
“She reminds me of myself. All she does is take care of her bratty kids and listen to her husband complain.”
In the film Shirley feels stuck in a rut and escapes to Greece with no explanation except a note on the fridge.
“I was miserable for a lot of years. Like her, [Shirley] I felt trapped in my own home sometimes.” Said Diane.
Her and Joe have plans to go to the Dominican Republic in January. It will be the first time she has ever been on a plane. This will be a chance for Diane to escape, with no one to worry about but herself.
*[Name has been changed for privacy.]