Monday, 5 May 2014


It is Sunday evening. The sky is the colour of a bottle of ink once the ink level has sunk. It is one of my favourite colours. The yard is also blue, stony and dark.

Days are fragmentary, filled with intense patches of activity then a kind of silence or waiting. It may be that retirement is only just breaking in on me.

Today we went to visit our elderly neighbour in her care home, which is a fine eighteenth century mansion, much restored, double-glazed, properly equipped and somewhat institutionalised with some tasteful if bland touches in terms of bric-a-brac. It has well-tended grounds sweeping away to a distant fence, with trees, shrubs and a fountain. It would be pleasant to walk there if anyone had the energy to walk. The whole place is one of those more expensive affairs that drains the savings but the staff are nice, and everything is clean and safe. A middle-aged woman was playing guitar and singing 'As Time Goes By' in the main sitting room as we entered. Her voice was amplified though I doubt it needed amplification and it more or less held the tune. Some of the residents were asleep despite the music, one of them tightly covering her ears. They have quite a lot of entertainment here. On one of our earlier visits it was a young man who produced a series of live animals, including a snake and a large spider.

It was about three o'clock. Our neighbour, E, too was in the room, eyes closed, possibly asleep, still as a dry leaf. We gently touched her hand and she woke without a start and registered who we were. She rose with a little help and using her stick walked with us to the quiet empty room that serves as the TV lounge in the evening, not that she ever goes there.

E has been an independent woman for decades. She had been married once, though that was a long time ago, and had two children both roughly our age, a daughter married and living in Australia, and a son married and living in Canada. The daughter and her husband are currently here and regularly visiting her.

But E's independence has taken a particularly solitary form. She had owned a craft shop and was a talented visual artist. Her drawings - those we have seen - are skilful, fast and precise. She gardened, she made things with her hands, she read widely and intelligently. Her house lies behind ours, off the road, behind a large gateway. The meadow next to the abbey is directly behind her. Other neighbours are invisible from her garden. From the seclusion of the house (the converted shambles for the old butcher's shop that is our house) you'd think she was a recluse, but she was and remains shrewd and it was she who would give us the gossip of the town.

She is admirable and remains so. On entering the care home she decided the game was up and set her face against everything she used to enjoy. No more reading, for example. No radio. No TV.  As little talking as possible. Minimal food. There is no point in it, as she hinted today. It wouldn't be for anything. Her memory is going but she carried on a perfectly good conversation with us today, her mind suddenly agile, albeit in patches. Her will is very strong and directed to her end. I sleep but don't dream, she says.  She doesn't want to be where she is but her physical and mental condition would make it impossible for her to be by herself at home, unless she had a live-in carer, which she doesn't want.

What she wants is nothing at all. She is perfectly rational and calm about this. There is a genuine nobility in it: the rejection is one of principle. The reasons are her own and have been for a very long time.


Muse said...

Beautiful. A holding on to dignity.

George S said...

She is dignified and is determined to cary on with dignity. Good for her.

amba said...

That's very striking. That not wanting anything. Living is almost synonymous with wanting, or at least that's how we're indoctrinated, including by our own biology when young. A good twenty to thirty years from death, if I'm lucky (I'm around your age), widowed, I've started to stop wanting, and it's hard to know on what impetus to proceed through life. This woman's courage is inspiring.