so long, Mrs P (Die bitch, die)

Mrs P was always old to us.  She died yesterday, aged 97, leaving a daughter in her sixties who spent most of the last 25 years looking after her.

Mrs P’s husband died about 25 years ago, her daughter’s husband about 10 years ago.  They lived half a dozen houses apart on our small crescent of a road.  Mrs P was our neighbour Val’s reason for living and the bain of her life.  Old forever, she suffered dementia, delusions and confusion.  Although she retained reasonable mobility, she needed help and depended upon her daughter for everything.  There was never any talk of a residential home.  In return, her daughter had little semblance of a life after her own husband died, emotion invested instead in alcohol and small yappy spoilt dogs.  Then the death of the second caused hurt too great to get another.

A trip to the nearest small town would cause Val dizzying confusion and worry.  A drive to the nearest large city had to be plotted and planned and timed.  It could still paralyse with worry.  She shut herself indoors, intimidated by invitations as far afield as next door on Christmas Day; she went to bed at 7 o clock after a bottle of wine; she went nowhere and did nothing except tend to her mother for 25 years.

During my visit home the time before last, I happened to be around so opened Val’s gates when I saw her car coming.  She was returning from ferrying her mother somewhere and I smiled as the car rolled past me and down the driveway.  Mrs P smiled back, glazed, who knows where, and her daughter smilingly waved her gratitude.  Did Mrs P know who I was when she smiled?  One of the boys from next door to her girl Val, one of those small boys, a man, a young man, a middle-aged man now?  Who knew?  Ageless.  It all blurred.

She had had a stroke a week before but clung on with the same belligerence that she appeared lived her life.

Is she still not dead?
we whispered to our Mum, whenever we returned. She must be, what, two hundred and thirty six now?

And if we were this amazed at her longevity, us who saw her only in passing a handful of times a year – long gone were the days when, passing with the dog, you’d feel obliged to stop and chat – then what of her poor shackled daughter?

Die bitch, die!  Give me back at least some life!

“The doctors told us they expected her to die a week ago,” Val had told us yesterday over the garden fence, red eyed, red faced, those burst and battle-weary blood vessels in her rosy cheeks splitting some more.  “But she stuck it out right to the end.”