by Cathie BURTON
She didn’t like to fuss, so the day we took her to the care home was business-like. The ambulance driver negotiated the wheelchair; we packed stuff into blue Ikea bags and followed in the car. As the door closed I wondered what she remembered. I remembered dust mites dancing in the Saturday sun, us all packed in, waiting for tongue sandwiches and lemon meringue before the football results and Dr Who.
She’d been a vile old curmudgeon who’d made mum’s life a misery by declaring her a ‘Mary-Anne’, creating from her child an adult who worried constantly she was not up to much. She called my granddad a ‘silly old man’ and moaned when I bought clothes and make-up. We argued about politics, we argued about towels, I got told off for talking about my period in front of my brothers. She smoked a packet of Senior Service a day, her mouth pinched, but wrinkle-free until she began to fade.
She became thinner, translucent as old paper, eyes glinting ever bluer as the contours of her face sharpened. She began to forget, then began to forget us. She’d look at me in confusion and ask “Have you been here before?” She’d grip my mum’s hand with her delicate long fingers and say: “Margaret, Margaret, where’s Jack?”, and mum, not knowing a Jack, would say: “Oh, he’ll be back soon.” But sometimes she’d say, do you remember, when you were little, you’d curl up in bed with me and say, I’m going to tell you a secret ‘psh, psh, psh, psh’.
People with Alzheimer’s change, they grumble, they forget to love. She just forgot to hate. She died on a Friday morning, when the dustbin van was grumbling down the drive. We stayed with her as she got colder. The staff brought us tea, talked to us quietly and gently. The doctor came and held her hand, explaining, I’m just taking your pulse, Marjory. She’d already been dead some time, there was no need, it was just kindness. The undertaker was serene and efficient. I couldn’t see the point of putting an ad in the paper – who reads the paper these days? But Mum and Joyce thought we ought to, maybe. So we did…