Thought I was organised. I’m not. Here we are on Christmas Eve and I’m still chasing about like an idiot. (I’m even late posting this rant online.)
I have delivered the last of the Christmas presents tonight to the friends and family members we won’t be seeing on Christmas Day. I’m very glad to be home safely; the roads are treacherous as rain is now falling on top of the snow we’ve had lying for days. The whole world is one huge sheet of ice. It’s freezing hard and I’ve run out of salt for the paths. We Brits are rubbish at coping with winter weather.
First stop tonight was at an old people’s home to visit a lovely lady who used to live along our lane. She’s 83 years old and suffering from Alzheimers. I first knew Auntie Dorothy 23 years ago when my elder daughter was a tiny girl. She and her husband, Uncle Nick, befriended our family when they used to see me pushing the pram up and down our lane whilst heavily pregnant with our second child. They are no relation whatsoever to us, yet over the years they became “family”. Uncle Nick offered to walk the baby in the pram as I was struggling to walk properly, and that was the beginning of a beautiful and lasting friendship between our two families.
Auntie Dorothy taught our girls to bake cakes; Uncle Nick taught them how to tend a garden, and I do believe to this day that it was because of his early lessons that our elder daughter is now a horticulturist. These two marvellous people had two grown up sons, but never had grandchildren, and our girls filled that gap for them to some extent. Over the years, our families have celebrated each other through some great times and helped each other through some terrible times. Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Nick lost their younger son to cancer when he was only 30; we lost a business and my husband lost most of his family as a result.
It’s days like today when I give thanks for the special people in my life; the ones who really make a difference. Uncle Nick died a number of years ago and after living alone at home for many years, Auntie Dorothy now resides in an old people’s home where she is well cared for. She recognises me when I visit after thinking for a minute or two. What she does recall very clearly, however, are the times long ago. She remembers the times when her own sons were small boys; she remembers the times she spent with our girls. Somehow she focuses on the good stuff. She seems to have forgotten the bad stuff. Maybe that’s how Alzheimers works; I hope it is.
Auntie Dorothy has no idea what day it is; she has no concept of time or seasons. She doesn’t realise that it’s Christmas even though we sat right by the Christmas tree tonight. And as it’s Christmas, a time which always makes me think of my own grandparents, as well as Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Nick, the following poem seems so appropriate. It’s also for my own precious mother:
What do you see nurses, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you look at me?
A crabbit old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply,
When you say in a loud voice, ‘I do wish you’d try’.
Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe.
Who, quite unresisting, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill…
Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I move at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of ten with father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who love one another,
A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon a true lover she’ll meet.
A bride now at twenty, my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure, happy home.
A woman of thirty my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty my sons will soon all be gone,
But my man stays beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty once more babies play round my knee;
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead.
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all busy with young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love I have known.
I’m an old woman now and nature is cruel,
Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigour depart,
There’s a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells,
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m living and loving all over again.
I think of the years, all too few – gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
Not a crabbit old woman, look closer – see ME.
By Phyllis McCormack