Pandemic party parade makes 89-year-old feel like ‘queen’

When Margaret Laurette looked out her balcony in Kitchener on Wednesday afternoon, she saw what could be described as a birthday parade.

Her daughter and son waved and blew her kisses. Police and fire crews rolled through her building’s parking lot in cruisers and trucks, cuing their sirens. Volunteers from a local Chinese community association sang and held signs wishing her a happy 89th birthday.

Members of the Waterloo Region Chinese Canadian Association helped Laurette’s family plan a surprise birthday party, colourful signs and all. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

“I was ready to laugh and I was ready to cry,” said Laurette.

It took her a few minutes to realize that everybody was there for her. The community had come together to wish Laurette a happy birthday from afar. Once she figured out what was going on, she started waving. 

“I was totally surprised. I never saw anything like it.”

Police and fire crews drove through Laurette’s parking lot, turning on their sirens and honking their horns. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Want her to feel ‘like she’s not forgotten’

Like so many families with elderly parents and grandparents, Laurette’s seven children haven’t been able to visit their mother during the pandemic.

Waterloo regional police Chief Bryan Larkin came out for the birthday celebration, along with members of his team. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Laurette had broken her arm before Christmas, and the family had rallied to take care of her. But then everybody had to stop coming to keep their distance.

Even though Margaret Ann Frank, one of Laurette’s daughters, describes her mother as a strong woman with “grit,” she says the family has felt incredibly worried about their mum during the pandemic.

The signs and sirens filled the parking lot with colour and liveliness. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

“She’s been feeling really alone and sometimes doesn’t understand why nobody’s visiting her,” said Margaret Ann Frank, one of Laurette’s daughters. “I want her to feel loved and appreciated and like she’s not forgotten.”

That’s where the Waterloo Region Chinese Canadian Association comes in. Shawn Zhang, a member of the group, had arrived home from Beijing in February. He felt so thankful that people were helping him when he was quarantined after his trip, that he decided to pay it forward.

“When I came out of isolation, I think I should help others. So that’s what I’ve been doing,” said Zhang.

‘I love every one of them’

Laurette’s family had heard the group was delivering groceries to people in the community, so they reached out.

Zhang has been dropping off food to Laurette for the past few weeks and helped coordinate the birthday parking lot extravaganza with the family to cheer up the 89-year-old.

Shawn Zhang has been delivering groceries to Laurette and helped coordinate the surprise party with Laurette’s children, including Margaret Ann Frank (right). (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Zhang said the ultimate goal was to make Laurette feel “like a queen.”

She was certainly waving like a queen. Laurette stood out on her balcony for several minutes, taking in the fanfare.

It was just after noon when Laurette walked outside to her balcony and saw everybody waving to her. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

The group also delivered flowers and presents. Laurette’s family decided to get her a walker. Her son, Rob Laurette, says his mother has been adamant for such a long time she wouldn’t use one but jokes “she’s coming around to to the fact that she’s not 30 anymore.”

When everybody left, Laurette sat in her apartment opening the gifts. She says it will take her a while to get out all the thank you notes. But in the meantime she wants people to know one thing.

“I love every one of them,” said Laurette.

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