I wanted to say something at Nessie, my mother in law’s funeral. Above is a beautiful sepia picture of her when she was about 4, I think. I had been visiting frequently for the last decade, from Texas to Scotland, watching her illness deteriorate and lurch from one crisis to another. Not only did I love her but I wanted everyone to know our relationship. To some it may have seemed as though we abandoned my husband’s parents to live in the USA. The Minister was concerned that I may not be able to finish my homage and had a printed copy ready to take over. I was nervous but only at the last paragraph did my voice begin to shake with emotion and anxiety. This is it.
Nessie was my mother in law for almost 34 years and I loved her. I first met her when I was 21 and she knew in that second I was going to marry her son Drew. I think she was looking for somebody sensible and assertive… She fully embraced my mum and me into their family and they became good friends going on racy vacations together. Her smile could light up a room and still did in her last days. We bonded over our love for her precious boy, Drew or Andy as I know him. She always told him that he was particularly special because as an adopted child, she and Dad chose him. I tried so hard to be a good daughter in law and always felt I failed a little until Nessie’s battle with Alzheimer’s began. Then the roles started to change I became the loving care giver that I had always wanted to be, albeit through regular long distance visits. Every taxi driver in East Kilbride knows me and as soon as get off the plane, a driver that I don’t recognize will say “how’s your mum?”
She was the backbone in the Duncan family, supporting her husband, son and new daughter. She was unfailingly generous to the myriad family members, especially those with problems. She was non-judgmental and open in her views of the world and people. She could be stubborn and assertive, too. It would have been so boring if she was perfect. Her primary school students adored her as did all her friends. I loved when she dished some gossip about the Rotarian club – she was so naughty at times. Bob was Rotarian President for a session and she made an excellent President’s wife throwing herself into social activities. She loved her mum and dad, her younger brother Andy and his family.
Not everyone knows that she was a gifted artist and had always wanted to go to art school. She used those skills in many ways from teaching to dressmaking and making fantastic Halloween costumes for Drew when he was young. When I was younger she loved to braid my long hair and made me clothes which I didn’t always appreciate. In her last few years I loved her the most – the staff at Abbey Lodge adored her and looked after her so well. Her death has left a huge hole in our hearts. May she rest in peace.
This is a fun photograph of my husband and his mother on a glacier in Austria in the late 1960s. Doesn’t she look like the coolest chick with that Caucasian ‘fro? Her hair was naturally curly. She died peacefully in her sleep on Monday 4th January after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Nessie spent the last four years of her life in a wonderfully caring home in Scotland and thrived under their care. I still can’t believe that she lived so long – she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at least 15 years before her death at the age of 87.
This week has passed in a blur, writing a business plan for my husband on Monday, then onto all the funeral preparations. The mortuaries are full of bodies at this time in Scotland. Somehow the cold and viruses just takes out the weak. The funeral is planned for Wednesday 13th January when we have a brief break in the weather. It will be near freezing but dry – so important if you are travelling in Scotland (or to Scotland).
Curiously, the funeral will take place on the same day that my mother died 14 years ago. They were good friends in life so perhaps they will be again in death. I asked my husband if I could speak at her church service and he thought that was a good idea as he would be too upset. I first met her when I was 21 years old and she accepted me immediately. It is now over 34 years later, I am still married to her only child and I cared for her relentlessly. She had good instinct.
I will probably not blog again for a couple of weeks but who knows? The journey across the pond is tiring and we have much to do in a short time. We traveled regularly to the UK to see my husband’s parents but now we are unlikely to do so for some years. Our visit will be a gentle goodbye to both a lovely mother and a beautiful country.
Katniss, the feral cat
I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers (that’s said in my best Southern belle accent). None of you are strangers, of course, you know more about me than most. One of my dear friends was concerned that I was revealing too much of my soul when I started being really honest on my blog but I think it is good for me and for any one person that may be helped by my revelation and insight.
I hoped today might be almost back to normal but Zhenny the crazy cat had one of her occasional pancreatic attacks with blood in her urine. They happen dramatically quickly so we rushed her to the vet this afternoon. Both the new veterinarian and the assistant were AMAZING. They listened to me (treat her like a wild raccoon and pump her full of injections), the assistant who had lived in third world countries held her like a baby so she did not have to be tranquilized and then rocked her like a baby. In 12 years I have never been able to rock her like a baby. If she does not recover quickly (she probably will) or has another attack soon then we have all made the sad decision to send her to meet Grandma Kathleen in heaven. One of my mum’s many saving graces was that she adored animals.
We are back at home now and I thought you might like to meet Katniss (above). She left for about a week but has been coming every day (and now twice or three times a day) for dinner. Our weather has switched from too hot to freezing so she needs a little extra food although she is a perfectly good hunter. As you know, I am trying to tame her a little so that I can neuter and release her. Then I will cut back on the feeding as there is plenty of prey just in my back yard…
Katniss is the daintiest little girl with a tail longer than her body. We previously called her the slut (kittens, many kittens) but she sits like a lovely little lady with her tiny toes tucked in. Sometimes I imagine she is wearing a black satin dress with some white pumps. It worried me when my husband named her because we only ever have three cats and it felt ominous. Right at this happy moment we have three indoor cats, one on massive pain relief, and a contented Katniss.
You have all been so wonderfully uplifting in your comments about my illness and husband being laid off that I thought you might like this hilarious tale. He has applied for endless jobs which will not be looked at until after the holiday period. One in particular was in Saudi Arabia. We are doubtful about this because their retirement age is 60 (how civilized?) and they rarely take anyone over 55 unless they have specific skills. He certainly has the skillset and some Arabic but there are plenty of contenders in this slump. Two nights ago he noticed a missed call from Saudi Arabia on his cell phone. He waited until it was morning and then called the number back, with some excitement. Can you believe it was a wrong number? What are the chances of getting a wrong number from the exact town in Saudi that you applied to? With our current luck he was phoning the local branch of Al Qaeda and we will get even more strange clicks and cut-offs on our phone line!
Thank you all so much.
Mum on right with faithful friend
Many years ago, my mum had a triple by-pass following a heart attack the year before. She had no idea why she would be at risk for a heart attack despite being a smoker and drinker with a mental illness… No matter what I said, she was unhappy about her diagnosis of a three blocked arteries and the prospect of a triple bypass. She was 57, slim and gorgeous. It took a full year of persuasion but finally she agreed to have the operation. During the by-pass, her lung was nicked unknowingly causing a pneumothorax some hours later. This is when the lungs suddenly deflate causing your body to react adversely. In her case, she almost died, was put into a medical coma and remained in Intensive Care for a further 10 days flitting between life and death.
The first funny episode was when the youngish surgeon told me the circumstances and I immediately said, “She wants all her organs donated”. He was horrified, telling me that she wasn’t dead yet but things were looking grim. No matter the circumstances, I remain pragmatic. After a few awful days, my mum regained consciousness somewhat but was still heavily medicated. She was the worst patient in IC, hands down. They had to put the blood pressure monitor on her foot because she kept ripping it off her finger. When she became reasonably coherent, she said very loudly that the man in the bed across the unit from her was brain dead. His family was horrified, desperately asking the staff if this was true. My mum had no idea whether this was true or not but had just watched too many medical documentaries. She had no idea that she was on the same lifesaving machinery as him – she couldn’t see the ventilator.
Then she told me that she had been evacuated from the unit. At first I wasn’t sure if this was real because we were in the middle of the first Gulf War and some hospitals were being evacuated because of bomb threats. Then she said that they bumped her all the way down the stairs in her bed…she was on the 10th floor. Before she could talk, she had my aunt and me driven to distraction with instructions that were incomprehensible. For some reason we were still afraid of her negative reaction even though she was near death… She just wanted her hair combed; once a model, always a model. In the midst of all this angst, a very nice nun had been visiting various patients in the unit. She noticed me coming every day and asked if she could pray over my mum. I was conflicted – she was wearing a white habit and I was pretty sure my mum would think she was in heaven. 🙂
Eventually, she recovered enough to be released and I could never figure out if this was a good thing or not. She was the worst patient in the world and it was my fault. She was convinced that smoking had nothing to do with her heart or lungs and she should sue the hospital for malpractice. Sigh. I almost wished the organs had been donated… I stayed with her for a few weeks but eventually had to pass the care over to one of her friends as I was about to commit matricide. She lived for a further 12 years or so with relatively good health and I was a good daughter – most of the time.
Surely little Kerry couldn’t be naughty?
It’s time to lighten the mood, eh? The baby doll that my charismatic father sent me was called Bebe by me because I couldn’t pronounce Baby. Don’t laugh but I had some trouble with language as a child. It took me a while to speak – I would point at things that I wanted and just say, ‘mmmm’ very adamantly. My Nana and mum were very worried about this and tried everything to get me to speak properly. I was also unable to say my own name and I was Keggy for a while. Then…apparently I came out with a sentence and never stopped.
Bebe was the bane of my mum’s life. It was incredibly lifelike and quite heavy. I would insist that I would be able to carry Bebe for the whole trip and then start sobbing about how heavy she was. My mum would exasperatedly take Bebe and on one funny occasion shoved her under arm like a sack of potatoes. A lady on the bus started tutting and telling my mum that was no way to hold a baby – I got the death stare…
Despite the angst of the arrival of the doll both my Nana and Mum adored her. They knitted and crocheted delicate layettes of clothes for her – perhaps it was a way of recreating how my birth and arrival could have been? I cared for Bebe too but was obsessed with stripping all my dolls naked and shoving them in the closet. This incensed my loving care-givers for some reason – it’s just a doll!!!
I had another slightly more worrying habit that meant that I was only allowed plastic scissors until I was at high school. SCISSORS – I love them! My first felony was to steal the dressmaking shears and create a doll’s outfit out of my mother’s last glamorous negligee from the States. The criminal activity continued and I particularly loved cutting my doll’s hair. They tried to address this by getting me a Tressie doll (it had extending hair) and a Clairol doll sent from New York. None of it worked.
One day I was sitting on the stairs with Bebe and a pair of scissors in my hand. I just couldn’t control the urge – Kerry Scissor Hands. I snipped her beautiful blonde hair into a punk mess and it felt so cathartic until it didn’t… ‘What had I done’, I thought ‘and what do I do with the evidence?’ In my panic I thought the sensible action was to run up the stairs, open the bedroom window and throw the hair out. My Nana, unfortunately, was hanging out the sheets when she was showered with Bebe hair…
Well, I will leave it to your imagination what happened next. Let’s just say that I was treated like one of the torturers at Abu Graib – castigated from society, all scissors taken out of my reach and was convinced I would go to toy hell. Heck, this has given me such a laugh. RIP Bebe.