My ex mother in law Joyce, died yesterday morning. She would have been ninety on June 22nd and for the past few months has been deteriorating with what her G.P. described as “a touch of Alzheimers,” as well as various other conditions. She was a poor old thing when she slipped away and my immediate emotion was one of relief, no-one wants to see another human being linger when they are already struggling.
Joyce and I never shared a close relationship, in fact for two years of our lives we did not see or speak to one another at all and they were two good years for me, for Joyce was always so very critical of me, my lifestyle, my parenting skills, my skills as a housewife. I won`t list here the many, many times she undermined me and whittled away at my confidence because she is gone now and it was all so very long ago. Instead, I`d like to comment on the few occasions she made me smile and try to sustain those as my enduring memories of her.
We were walking together up Longbridge Lane, we`d been to the local shops for something or other. It was a hot summer day and a wasp started buzzing around my head. Joyce began to bat her hand around my head in an effort to scare the wasp away. Suddenly she swatted the side of my head so hard, she bounced my glasses off my face and half way across Longbridge Lane. She collapsed in hysterics and laughed about it the whole of the rest of the way home.
Joyce`s little side swipes were always quite obvious to me however, not to innocent bystanders. For example, when I was leaving my marriage for the first time in November 1991 for my Christmas present Joyce gave me a bag which had “Bon Voyage” printed across the front of it.
I was quite a bit older when I started to take Joyce and her sisters Jean and Lillian out for meals from time to time. I don`t know why I felt duty bound to do this for Tony and I had been divorced for a lot of years and I`d had two serious relationships during that time although I did love Jeanie. (Jeanie also died, two weeks` ago and her funeral was just the other day.) I used to call them The Golden Girls and every meal I took them to, panned out in the same way. They would mooch around for a table and sit down. Lillian would then complain it was “too draughty” and they would move. Jeanie would then complain it was “too dark” to see the menu so off we`d go again. It was not uncommon to move at least four times before they were in agreement. Then Joyce would be imperious and terribly rude whilst ordering and say things like, “this glass is dirty (it never was) bring me another clean one immediately,” in hindsight she may have been in early dementia for some years and this could quite easily have affected her perceptions but at the time, I recall being deeply embarrassed and the numbers of waiters and waitresses I have apologised to over the years doesn`t bear thinking about. Then they would bicker, like three silly children, all the way through their meal.
I was with Joyce on Thursday, a day and a half before she died. She was being nursed in a residential home and we all knew she did not have very much longer, she was so terribly frail and had stopped eating altogether. Like many people with dementia, Joyce was repeating a single word over and over again and the word she chose was “please.”
I know she wanted to go home but she was ensconced in her long term memory by then and probably didn`t know where home was. I tried distracting her which didn`t work and in the end I said to her, “You know Joyce you don`t have to say please, you could say another word….”
“Alright,” she said in a tiny little voice, “what word shall I say?”
So I continued and suggested, “well, you could say balloon, or tomato.”
“Or I could say shit.” She said to me.
“You could indeed,” I replied.
So Joycey sat there, like a little bird in her big bed quietly saying “Shit, shit, shit.”
When I left, I kissed her forehead and said, “Goodbye old lady.” And she gave me a watery smile and I thought, she is still there, she is still Joyce underneath that haze of dementia.
RIP Joyce Inman.
June 22nd 1927 – June 10th 2017