Betty & the Nursing Home Days

Isn’t it funny how much the human memory remembers? Snapshots of lives and moments lost in the tide of time forever buried and stored in that little human filing cabinet. The older I got, the more I came to realise that although we as people move on from tragic and upsetting events in the tide of time, the artful digging in conversation of rehashing the moments could loosen the stitches of our tightly bounded ‘Exit Wounds.’

The best thing about my childhood is that it lacked today’s technology. Is it strange for someone who has lived in three different continents before the age of 20 that some of my favourite memories of innocence in my childhood were in one London flat and one room in a Hinckley nursing home? It goes without saying that these visits that my family and I made a decade ago would be completely different today. I’d have made sure to have taken more photos to treasure the moments spent with Betty. I’d have asked more questions and I’d have learned her lifestory.

Why did I ever spend any time at all in a nursing home? Well, on a basic level, my grandmother on my mother’s side died long before I was born in 1991 to cancer. Her best friend Betty was extremely close to the family before and after the death of Nanny Flo. So to me, she was a bit like a great-aunt and I therefore didn’t feel that absence in my family tree.

It saddens me to say that I don’t know an awful lot about Betty who passed away at the tender age of 89 years old. But it didn’t change the affect she had on my life and love she bought to our family. I remember her flat in London like it was yesterday. So high up and so nauseating to look down from. The red leather sofa, the plant pots on the balcony and insistence of having a pet budgie.  The framed photo of her late husband Jack and the lingering essence of tobacco. Her sweet and comforting smell of soap and her unforgettable tone of voice.

My entire family originates from North London. My father moving to Warwickshire in his teens is how I ended up growing up in Leicestershire.  It’s fair to say that my parents moved to Leicestershire to give us a better quality of life, and I appreciate the significance of that move now as a young adult. My mum adored Betty, to say the least. Looking back on those moments now, the thoughtful acts of kindness, like preparing a roast dinner in Leicester and then driving 100 miles south to cook it in Betty’s flat in London so we could have a traditional Sunday lunch as a family for Betty’s sake, were different ways of saying ‘I love you.’

One day, Betty had an accident whilst out food shopping. I don’t remember if she fell or was hit by a London bus but we would all pack ourselves into the car and visit her in every hospital she was in. I remember helping her sip water from a teacup and being so carefully determined not to spill it on her chin. I remember my dad watched me with adoration and said “look at Lisey, so gentle and caring, she’d make a great nurse.” And I remember feeling a great sense of pride at doing something small yet meaningful. My parents did everything they could so that Betty could stay in her beloved London flat but eventually this wasn’t doable anymore. So Betty moved into a nursing home in Hinckley where she would be in walking distance from us.

We would visit her a lot and I loved going to see Betty. She was funny, witty, naughty and fearless. She’d take out her dentures to scare you and threaten to chop off a boob and send it to you in the post if you misbehaved. The floors of the nursing home were heated and I really loved this in the winter. Sometimes we’d watch Emmerdale, look through photos, talk and play silly games like guessing which item had been removed from Betty’s trolley when you turned your back for 20 seconds. And we always did a food shop for Betty too, peanut cookies and granny smith apples an absolute essential for Betty. One Sunday we were fortunate to be able to have her over for Sunday lunch at our house. Temporary wheelchairs ramps were fitted to the doorways of the house and my mother beamed with pride as she showed Betty around the garden she laboured relentlessly to maintain of our relatively new family home that I, at the age of seven, declared was my dream house. From the photos stored away in albums and my memory, Betty looks so happy and that’s how I like to remember her; with a relentlessly witty sense of humour.

I vividly remember having dinner at the nursing home one day in my Manchester United football shirt. I was a huge tomboy back then and one resident mistakenly thought I was her grandson and started calling me “Lesley,” which startled me at the time. I’d never thought I would be mistaken for a boy despite my casual dress sense. Betty responded to her “shut up you stupid cow” and I felt relieved and honoured that I was sitting at the same table of such a fearless old lady.

I don’t remember the last time I saw Betty. I remember she was in hospital when we went on a Christmas holiday to Center Parcs with my cousins. One night I heard my parents crying in the living room and it was then I knew that Betty had lost her battle. It was the first time I could remember my parents crying. I saw an opened letter on the counter the next day. I didn’t read it. Seeing the hospital logo was enough to tell me what my gut already knew. They didn’t tell us about Betty passing away until we got home from our trip, so a part of me worried that I’d get in trouble if I mentioned her name.

At the funeral, I remember having an internal conflict with myself about crying openly. The loss of Betty was my first experience of grief. That version of me in that pew all those years ago was like a broken vase that had been super glued together and wouldn’t break so long as it wasn’t touched. My throat burned as the crippling emotion rendered me temporarily incapable of speaking. In front of me, my uncle Roger comforted my 8 year old sister who was in hysterics, as the vicar told stories about the sensational soul that was our Betty. But I couldn’t help but laugh at learning she’d wait until visitors to her flat were on the ground floor and then throw a bucket of water over them from the balcony for her own amusement and you’d travel home drenched.

Although a tomboy at heart, I grew up too squeamish to ever consider a career as a nurse or the medical field. As I grew up, I came to realise that I was a sensitive soul with a LOT of feelings. Whilst my parents gave me a drive of ambition, it also came an equal amount of compassion. Whatever I end up doing in life, I hope that it will be meaningful somehow. Despite not having a particular stance on religion, I like to tell myself that when I die, I’ll go back and watch the lives of the people I cared about on earth. A ‘netflix and chill’ from above, if you will. Switch the wires and circumstances and see just how different things would’ve been if things happened differently.

“They say that blood is thicker than water. But it’s also a lot harder to clear up when it spills.” -Gossip Girl.

Circumstances don’t dictate who you’ll love and care for in the duration of your time on earth. “Blood makes you related but loyalty makes you family.” And that’s exactly how it was with Betty. I’ve spent a lot of love in my life on souls I’ve met from around the world who somehow staked a claim to my big heart. And you know what? I’ve got a lot more to give.


One thought on “Betty & the Nursing Home Days

  1. Lovely Lisa, you have a good memory . Betty was the oldest person I have known and it is with sweet happiness that I know she had a great effect on my family, a second mother to me who I respected greatly and loved dearly.

    Liked by 1 person

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