I woke up this morning and this woman was the first thought that came to mind, so I thought why not immortalise my memory of her on here before it fades away. Joyce was our neighbour 3 years ago. She had a shock of white hair that she went to the hairdresser down the road to get put into curlers, then the next day she would look so very glamorous. An avid gardener, baker and general chit chatter, she left a large mark on me and my family in the year that we knew her. Sadly she passed away in the summer of 2017. I don’t really remember how I found out, probably because I failed to process it, but I know the story. Joyce had a cleaning lady called Rosa, who she adored and would make cakes for or leave a little pocket money for her child, and Rosa had come to clean that day to find Joyce stone cold on the floor of her bedroom ( as I am writing this I can remember her room with the mahogany dresser, horse hair hairbrush, mirrored cupboard wall and old sewing machine). Rosa came to our house where my dad was working from home, and it was my dad who found her and checked if she was alive. I don’t know how he did it. We were so attached to this lady who just the other day had come round to our house for tea, and had the vigour of life in her. She had plans for her garden that summer, I was to help her go to the garden centre. Such an old person activity to browse the plants and sit amongst screaming children in the cafe area sipping tea from ceramic teapots.
Joyce became a grandmotherly figure for me. I never developed an attachment with my grandparents, 2 having passed away before I was born and the remaining dying before I reached my teens. Being in a country where I don’t have many blood relations and a very minimal social circle in which my family circulate, the level of affection and care Joyce showed me taught me alot without me realising at the time. She showed me, with her gardening magazines with complimentary seeds she’d pass onto me, teaching my sister and I her cake recipe the first time we met, treating us to chicken casserole which she made sure was halal for us, that an unselfish holistic version of love can exist between strangers and that it is transformative.
Joyce was very attached to me. She couldn’t pronounce my name very well, some things are hard to teach out of a woman who has grown up in the environment such as she had. She opened her heart to me in a way in which nobody every had. She called me her guardian angel ‘Atga’- this arose because I came over for her house for tea once by myself and she had fallen in the hallway. She was lying there and had no access to call anyone, but she says as she saw my in the pane of glass in her window which was the only non-distorting type, it seems as if I was an angel sent to save her. I think we saved each other Joyce.
My mother’s connection with Joyce was very strong. My grandmother died prematurely when my mother was still a toddler. I think this loss never really left my mother, she has told me on a few occasions about how she misses her mum, I ‘ve seen her breakdown with her sisters over memories she never formed with a woman she never knew. Joyce became her mother. Sending her food and dessert, showing elderly affection and sharing grandmotherly skills to her children. A white widow in her late 70s who we moved in next to became my Pakistani mother’s solace. I think they spoke about alot of things, about her marriage and struggles. My mum was always cooking stuff ready to share with Joyce, at some points we’d be visiting or she’d come to us every day. I witnessed a beautiful connection, because it was one brought about by circumstance and love.
When Joyce died it took its toll on all of us- it felt as if in just a day we had moved from a light carefree portion of my life to one which was heavier. I think it triggered my mother’s illness, and for a long time we couldn’t process her loss, I had to tell my sister to avoid saying Joyce’s name in front of my parents. Joyce brought something out of our family, out of me and my mum particularly. She moved us so deeply and fully, that when she left, she left a hole behind her of memories that we had yet to make together. In that one year we shared so much love and affection together, her last year of life.
I do vividly remember the day of her funeral. My cousin had arrived from America to stay with us for a few weeks, and he was sleeping on the couch while I was dressed in a black velvet dress perched at the window. I wasn’t going to the funeral, I don’t think my parents did either, but I stood on the driveway of my house and saw that long black car pull up. I stood amongst people who hadn’t even bothered to call her in her last year of life, a daughter and son who had left their mother to fend for them self. I felt angry. that they left this beautiful soul when she was alive and only came to see her when she departed. Everyone who was standing there was impacted in their own way by the path Joyce tread on this earth- that at least we could share. Later on Joyce’s son came round to our house, he had brought a little gift for us and he said – you made her last year of life worth living.
Because Joyce was lonely, she was verging on depression when we met her living by herself and separated from those she loved. So Joyce, not only did you save us, we saved you. I’ll share your stories with the people I meet, keep you alive in my heart in some way. Closure. Is that possible? It seems to me that we carry around baggage of emotion, loves lost, throughout our life. Being a human is a hard business, but perhaps it is through presenting our baggage to those around in a state of grace that we can really connect with others- bottling and preserving that summers day on the drive way with a teary anguished filled lump growing in my throat. Maybe that’s why I feel draw to medicine- a practical study of the human condition. I had hoped to have her with me on my results day, marriage, giving birth to children- I wanted her around for the important moments of my life. But everything was written for us and meant to reach us at an exact moment, and though she couldn’t stay, the impact she had on my life was one that won’t leave anytime soon.