Mary Davenport broke my heart today.
Mary is ninety five years old, she was born in Manchester and moved to Wiltshire when she was in her twenties but has never lost her accent and she has never been married. She worked her whole life as a needlework teacher.
I used to go to see Mary in her house in Corsham to treat her almost perfect feet. We always used to have a good old laugh together and a few minutes of reminiscence about life in the grim North Country from where we both hailed.
She had travelled more than most people of her generation, having toured much of Europe and New Zealand and she always used to tell me to see as much of the world as I could, while I could. Piles and piles of National Geographic magazines arranged neatly around her neat bungalow were the only means of escape for this frustrated traveller. As well as being housebound, her memory was deteriorating more and more by the day and I used to worry about her; always asking myself, as I said goodbye at the end of each visit, if I would see her again.
The first time I stayed to have a post operation cup of tea with her was an occasion I will always remember and always treasure. I only had fifteen minutes to spare before seeing my next customer and, aware that she was slow and not too steady on her feet, I offered to help her make the tea.
“We’ll need the teapot!” she exclaimed, opening and slamming closed some of the many cupboard doors in her kitchen. After five minutes of cupboard searching without success I began to wonder if I would have time to drink the tea so I offered to help. She saw this as a great act of kindness and allowed me to delve into the back of every long forgotten space in her kitchen to seek the elusive pot.
After another five fruitless minutes she looked at me, her eyes lit up with a smile and she said, “Hang on a minute. I haven’t got a teapot.” I found it very hard to keep my face straight as those words rattled around in my head while I drank tea made with a teabag in a mug. It’s so desperately sad the way old age can affect the minds of such lovely and intelligent people as Mary but it did mean that with one short, confusion generated sentence she captured a place in my heart for the remainder of my days.
Today while I was working in a care home in Chippenham I saw Mary. She was lying in a bed, motionless but sweating. She had had a massive stroke. I talked to her about things we had chatted about in the past that I hoped might enable her remember who I was. She may have done but I couldn’t tell because the only expression on her face was one of torment. I stroked her hair as I looked straight into her eyes and smiled but there was no response from her poor, frightened face. It really did break my heart to see this poor lady, who had once been so proud, strong and worldly wise, in such an abysmal state.
I asked myself, as I said goodbye at the end of my visit, if I would see her again. But this time I felt that I knew the answer.