In my early days of blogging I wrote quite a lot about my family, particularly about life with my mother-in-law Mollie, who had Alzheimer’s. For a number of reasons, including a growing awareness of privacy issues, the blog has become less personal, pretty much restricted to literary matters. But here is one more post about Mollie.
After some years of not leaving her bed, of not speaking, of not eating solid food or more recently being able to manipulate spoon or cup, Mollie died last Wednesday, aged 92. The visiting palliative care nurse phoned Penny two weeks ago today to confirm – what Penny already thought – that death was imminent. For what turned out to be 10 days, someone from the family was by her bedside for several hours each day, and as the days went by, Penny was there most of the daylight hours. Although Mollie was shockingly wasted in body and mind, she responded to touch and to voices, and seemed to be conscious until the end. She died with Penny’s hand on her forehead and Penny’s voice in her ears.
All her grandchildren were able to say goodbye in those last days. Penny’s brother interrupted his work in London to fly home, and arrived just three hours after she died, so was able to say goodbye in the nursing home.
With just family present, we buried her on Saturday in the Katoomba Cemetery, in a bushland setting not far from where she spent formative childhood years and the last years before she decided she couldn’t live alone any more. We had readings – some of Mollie’s writing about her childhood and her activism, a blistering letter she wrote to the general manager of her husband’s firm criticising an unjust policy, a letter she wrote to her husband on their 25th anniversary. Each of us spoke. We read Marge Piercy’s poem ‘The Low Road‘ in honour of Mollie’s life as an activist.
Yesterday we had a small memorial gathering at our house, with scones and jam and cream, one of Mollie’s favourite treats. It was very good to come together with a small gathering of people, some of whom had come long distances, and remind each other of who Mollie was. My own mother said she didn’t want people to talk about her at her funeral, because if someone needed to be told about her then they had no business being there. We honoured her wishes, but she was wrong: any one life has so many aspects, and I think we all came away from yesterday’s gathering with a deepened and enriched sense of the person we have lost: a woman who had handed out how-to-vote cards when young for the Liberal Party (note to non-Australians: that means Conservatives), who educated herself about the world and became a tireless activist against wars, for Aboriginal issues, for the environment; who embraced new ideas and stayed curious and experimental well past the age when most people settle for the familiar; who stayed gracious to the end.