I am glad that I visited Margaret on Boxing Day - it had been a while, and I had been putting it off. She died earlier this week. It is fair to say we lost her a long time ago, but it is sad nonetheless.
It is not easy to watch Dementia take its course. It alters and it diminishes. In the end you are grieving the departure of someone who is still alive. It is a limbo. And it can be a long wait.
I am glad that Margaret did not know about Ian and I splitting up. It would have broken her heart. She had had plenty of difficult times in her life and she did not need this at this stage in it.
I am glad she did not know anything about me being with a woman now. I had heard her talk about people going through phases after rejections, losses, breakdowns, with the implication that you can just flip a switch and change back. It would have been a futile and frustrating conversation.
The first time I met Margaret I did not tell her that I had left university without finishing my course ( I had slowly left it, in that I stopped going to lectures, stopped going to tutorials, stopped handing in essays, all the while living the li(f)e of being a student. I got on the train each day and did not turn up. I recognised later that this was depression and eventually sorted it out and finished the course). I didn't want to say this and instead let her think, when she assumed, that I was still going.... She was stern when she found out a few weeks later. She quoted, 'What a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive,' at me. I apologised, explained (I hadn't even told my family and should tell them first) and we ate the biscuits I had brought round as an offering with a cup of tea.
Margaret liked tea with too much sugar. There was a while when it was tea with too much sweetener instead. But then it was sugar again. Too much sugar and too many cakes, in my opinion.
About ten weeks into our relationship, after Ian and I moved in together, Margaret said something along the lines of 'I am pleased that Ian is with you and not with Monica.' (Ian's previous, German girlfriend) I had time for a fleeting thought of Great, we are going to be fine. And then - 'Or Ian would be in Germany now.' And that was me in my place. Margaret would say I was too sensitive (I am). I would say she was not unkind - but could be tactless.
There are not many people in my life who have riled me sufficiently to smash crockery. Margaret was one of them. (I should say one of two, I am generally calm and fairly anti smashing.) She once told me on the way out the door to a funeral ' You're not going with your hair like that?' (I had curled it with curlers and worn it down for a change.) She would argue her case about things that she had heard in church, sometimes medical things, sometimes scientific things with an absolute understanding that she was right and I was wrong - she could not possibly be wrong with God on her side. She once decided that it was time for Katrina to stop using Bunny's label as a comforting thing - Katrina was one and a half and had never used a dummy, but always had brushed his soft silky tail label over her lips, before settling down, after a scrape, after a cry. Margaret thought the label was exacerbating Katrina's eczema and that one and a half was the right time to stop, and she snipped the label off just like that and put it into the bin. I retrieved it and sewed it straight back on.
Crockery smashing aside, I loved her very much. I loved her fun side, her playful and naughty side. I enjoyed hearing her at her best, lively, engaged, interested in people (especially if she could get a story out of it). I enjoyed hearing her laugh. I enjoyed hearing her tales of when the boys were little, Ian singing Three Craws Sat Upon A Wa'; his brother being disappointed when it turned out that the Egyptians were not visiting, it was the rather more mundane Farrows (nice family, but short of the mark if you were expecting Pharoahs); singing made up songs en-route to Applecross (Most notably 'Off we go to Applecross, Daddy's driving he's the boss, Hurry up and get ye in, We're not going for a spin'). Throughout her life, her telling of stories grew more exaggerated. Margaret liked to tell stories - she was good at it, she made them interesting, entertaining. But frequently not true to the event. I was there at the actuality of many stories and subsequently heard Margaret's version of it. With each telling, the tales grew taller. I personally think that is ok when the growth makes the protagonist better than they actually are and maybe not so much when people are portrayed more negatively. Everywhere she went she would strike up conversations with new people and collect more stories.
When Duncan died, Margaret gave up a little. Katrina was born just over three weeks after, but could only fill a small amount of the enormous hole that Duncan had left. Never fully moving on, Margaret certainly found some spark in Katrina - her 'Wee Rogue-y Pogue-y'. Katrina brought out Margaret's mischief. Or maybe it was the other way round. Dementia made her confused, made her forget, eventually brought her back to an earlier time, and then finally retire into herself altogether. And even when she was at her earlier time - 'They have a room for me at this school.' (the Home); 'I don't know why they have a room for me.'; 'I don't want to be late, I have to get to Garelochhead, they'll be waiting for me.'' - she still responded well. And she used some logic still, 'They must really like me at the school. I'm the only one with a room.' Her Grandparents had brought her up after the death of her mum during childbirth, and had spent some time in Garelochhead, but that had been several decades before. I did not go as often as I should to visit her after I had left Ian. My job, Applecross, visiting, visitors - all were true enough reasons not to go, but also it felt odd going through her photo albums with her and explaining who I was and who was in the pictures, explaining I was Ian's wife, but knowing we were not together. She had to ask even if that was herself in the pictures, on being told. I went to the Home just four times in two years, the last time being on Boxing Day. On the first three times there was not exactly recognition, but a definite feeling of belonging, a glimmer when she first saw me - she understood my voice, she was happy to hold my hand and I felt that we were connected, that she recognised there was love there. On Boxing Day she was so much further removed. During the last couple of years of still living in her own home, she became increasingly less Margaret. Less story telling, less capering, less arguing, less bossy. And I missed her.
I shake my head remembering some of the more difficult aspects of Margaret, but I loved her absolutely and here is how I will remember her:
She loved Duncan and the boys so very much. She recognised, even during her decline, bad ukulele and better ukulele (I was improving and she saw that). She sung the Marseillaise, every word. She sung every word to many songs. She danced in the kitchen with Katrina to Donald Where's Yer Troosers and I Can Sing Like Callum Kennedy.
She talked to strangers (and EVERYBODY else) in Helensburgh. She never sat back in a conversation and was at ease with people. She had Big Cat - a very soft fluffy toy draped above her headboard, which Katrina LOVED to take out of the bedroom for a treat.
She had campaigned for the SNP long before they were well supported.
She told stories - ridiculously embellished though they were, I loved them. She had a true knack for it.
She called Katrina her 'Wee Rogue-y Pogue-y' and 'The Wee One'. Katrina was the last wee one in the family and so still is.
She was one of the first women to 'wear the trouser' in Applecross.
She liked wrapping herself in her long, purple winter coat and hat - she looked distinguished.
She walked upright, shoulders down, head up - you could spot her a mile away.
Unless she felt very unwell, she went to her church, an hour and a half's drive away, every Saturday. Her church was the Worldwide Church of God.
She was so pleased to have her nails painted - most often a pearly pink. She liked to say that someone was 'Daft as a brush' - a favourite, not unkind, expression.
She laughed. She loved to and she responded best to humour and fun.
All goodbyes are sad. Not all, though, are heartbreaking. Margaret was nearly 90 and had been missed for some time.
Goodbye Margaret. I loved that you were in my life. I forgive your bossiness and your opinions about lesbians, just as you forgave my own shortcomings. You always said you were glad to raise three sons, because that gave you three daughters. I will continue to thank you for your youngest son and I will smile whenever I hear Perry Como.
Here is the snippet I wrote for you later on in the year. I explain it in post 34.