Here’s another terrific piece of writing by Open Age member Kate Simpson – Thank you Kate for sharing this inspiring short story about an older lady and her husband who is living with dementia – a very captivating piece of writing!
Don’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover
Days of sorrow are etched sometimes in the core of one’s lifetime like the rings round the bark of old oak treas.
I thought of this as I watched the elderly lady in the supermarket carefully pick out her shopping. Something about the way she chose her goods and hovered over the amount made me wonder if she was recently bereaved. One or two of this and that, and finally at the till her basket seemed empty and meagre. Her purse worn and by far from full.
I wanted to go up and say hullo but shyness stopped me and I let her shuffle off into the distance.
Some days later I saw her again by the bus stop and as it was a cold day I stopped the car and offered her a lift. For a second a proud refusal crossed her face, but the elements won her cold frame over and she climbed into the warmth of my little car.
We exchanged only brief introductions and then she told me where she lived. The silence seemed companionable so I was loath to break it. I was therefore surprised somewhat after her reticence to be asked in for a cup of tea, on reaching her house. I accepted and followed her into the house.
Small and neat but carrying an aura of emptiness. She showed me into ‘the parlor’ where I perched on a faded chair one of two in the room. Looking around I noted no photos, no ornaments, nothing to say who she was or had been. An outdated television in one corner looked lonely. It’s only solace a small lace doily on top awaiting a plant or object.
The only other fixture in the room was the outdated electric fire with pretend coals. And a small coffee table.
‘Here we are’ Mrs Busby said as she shuffled in carrying a tray on which sat two cups of tea and a sugar bowl. She sat in the other chair and we sipped in silence. My curiosity was growing by the second but I knew somehow she had to be the first to speak. Eventually she spoke softly, as though speaking to someone far away.
Her story as it unfolded was as I had seen that supermarket day one of sorrow and sadness of a magnitude I could barely contemplate.
As she spoke she twisted a worn wedding band. Married when they were 16 and both in service, he joined up and was invalided out with the affects of gas. Life was had after he was demobed, too ill to get a job she had to be both carer and bread winner. Still their marriage survived.
His health got worse and then in his eighties dementia was diagnosed. Still she refused to have him ‘put away’. One day as they sat in their chairs after lunch snoozing gently the door crashed open and a man with a mask on and a baseball bat came in and starting hitting her husband over the head. With all the strength in her worn out body she took a large ornament and crashed it over the assailants head. He fell to the floor. She crawled to the phone and dialed 999
Police came and ambulance. Both she and her husband and the assailant were taken to hospital. Later she was told both the assailant had died of his injuries and she was under arrest for murder.
Once considered well enough to leave hospital she was taken to the local police station and formally charged. Their home a ‘crime scene’ there was nowhere for her to go, so it was decided to keep her in custody. They were kind but nobody seemed to care that she was missing the ‘other half of her life’.
In court she was confused and admitted the crime and given a lengthy prison term. The Judge was gentle and sympathetic and sadly explained to her that because she had ‘confessed’ to murder, he had no option but to give her the only sentence for that crime there was – life.
As sentence was pronounced she looked confused – like a lost child. The police officers out of respect did not use cuffs as they gently led her down to the custody cell and then the awaiting prison van. Her lawyer was allowed to see her and gave her a big hug and when she enquired after ‘her Bill’ told her that he was being looked after.
A model prisoner she served her ‘time’ and despite her grief at being parted for her beloved Bill, almost thrived in the security of the environment she was in, working in the kitchens, quietly waiting the day when it would all be over, and she would be reunited with her beloved. Unlike others she made no friends despite other prisoners trying to help her and make her feel less alone. Her nickname was Gentle Grannie so quiet was she, and when on the rare occasions she smiled, it was as though the sun came out.
One day she was called into the warden’s office and there a nice lady from the social told her that her husband had been serving ‘his time’ in a dementia home, until the night before when he had quietly passed away.
Inside her grief and guilt that somehow she had caused it grew to such a magnitude that she considered ending her own life, and then she would she told me, give herself a shake and remember the stoicism of her generation. ‘You just have to get on with it – don’t you love’? I just nodded quietly.
Years later once again she was called into the warden’s office, this time to be told she was ‘free to go’ – A nice lady from Age Concern met her as she crossed the threshold into the world again, and drove her home with a bag of Asda groceries ‘To keep you going until you get on your feet”.
On returning to the outside world, she found it a strange and lonely confusing place. The ‘home’ she had shared had long gone and she was rehoused in this little cottage we sat in. No one had bothered to parcel up her mementoes of her previous life. It was as if that had never happened. The only memento her worn wedding band.
Her story having been told, her shoulders sagged and a lonely tear coursed down her cheek. I took her hand but said nothing for a while. Then my words were simple “Thank you for sharing your story with me. I feel incredibly honoured” “What a brave lady you are, may I come and see you again”?
“Don’t you think I am one of those charity cases coz I’m not”
“I wouldn’t dream of it” I replied “but we all need friends do we not and I would be honoured if you would be mine”
“Well put like that – I think we can as the girl’s taught me to say – seal the deal – with another pot of tea”! The glint of humour in her eye made me want to get up and hug her, but as my girl’s taught me ‘slowly slowly catchy monkey’!
Over the years Mrs Busby or GG as my girls’ called her became an all important part of our household, I did not tell my husband even the full story until today when we finally laid her to rest with her beloved Bill, he gave me a hug and chuckled “So I have been entertaining yet another ex con under my roof!” For only he knew that I too had been ‘inside’ for a much less milder misdemeanor – but never the less I knew the fears of prison life and what GG must have been through.
© Kate Simpson