Our grandmother Ibey died last Monday, at 98. She had been in an aged care home for about four years, steadily declining in body and particularly mind. The last time I saw her was more than 3 years ago, when I took Michael at 6 weeks old to Launceston to meet her. At the time she was quite alert, knew who I was and enjoyed our company. Two years later she rarely recognised my Dad when he went to visit. He asked me not to do the same, as it would only upset me and Ibey as well. I never saw her again, but Dad and Mum always filled me in on their visits.
Ivy Enid Rees ("Ibey") was my father's mother. She was born in Queenstown in 1909. I remember a story that her father wrapped her in an oilskin, put her in a boat and rowed her across the river. Her family moved to the Huon Valley when she was young. She married my grandfather, Elliot Elwick Rees ("Didds") and they lived in New Town, Hobart for some years. They moved to Launceston, maybe in the thirties? During WW2 he was head accountant at Coats Patons woollen mills in Launceston.
Didds died of a stroke in December 1969. He lived long enough to hear that my little sister Sally was on the way. Sadly I don't remember him at all. We have photos, and he features in one reel of super 8 that my dad made, looking quite fit and dashing. Didds gave his old boxy Fiat 124 to Mum before he died, and that is the car I have strongest memories of from growing up. It stayed in the family at least until I had my Ls - I remember driving it but not whether I was solo or not. (It had a prominent squishy black rubber eruption on the dashboard shaped like a trilby hat, that squirted water on the windscreen when poked with the finger. Mum would often come back to the car after leaving us in it for a few minutes, to find the windscreen awash.)
After Didds died, Ibey lived alone for about 33 years. She had always had a very impressive grip on everything. As kids we found her a little forbidding, as she was quite straightforward and spoke her mind, while our other Grandma was purely love and cuddles with us, and we could do no wrong. Ibey was an insomniac, and read to fill the long dark hours. Books were always being passed around in our family. She had a big desk, with serious looking papers and a magnifying glass/lamp. She handled all her own finances well into her eighties. She didn't drive, and although she sometimes came to stay with us, mostly it was at her house that we spent time with her. I find all my memories of her are saturated in images of the house.
We saw a lot of Ibey through our childhood although she lived 150km away. Of her two children only Dad was in Tasmania, so we made frequent trips down to mow the lawn, pick the fruit, paint the fence, etc etc. On our visits there Dad would disappear with his pruning saw or his vinyl roll-up kit of spanners and screwdrivers. The rest of us would perch on the floral lounge suite and sip tea. I was a total pig about biscuits and fruitcake (much like Marcus is now), and Ibey would never let this pass without comment.
She had a remote control TV long before there was one at our house. It had huge silver buttons. She loved to watch the cricket, at ear-splitting volume. When Greg Chappell had his famous run of ducks, she felt he was being unfairly hounded. I loudly agreed with her then, although now she has passed away I can reveal I was secretly eager for him to be sacked so my hero Kim Hughes could be captain.
In recent years all the neighbours she knew had moved away or predeceased her. Her last sibling, Claude, died in 2005. As deafness, frailness and forgetfulness encroached on her, she had no other option but to move out of her home of nearly 70 years. She would forget her medication, and once fell to the floor and lay there, freezing cold, for about eight hours before a visiting nurse found her.
Even after going to live at the aged care home, she broke a leg in a serious fall. After that she spent most of her time reclining in and dwarfed by a huge wheelchair. Sally's theory is that as her responsibilities and relationships diminished to very few, she acquiesced to the unravelling already underway in her mind. If we can choose such things, I might well make the same choice in her position. If I had to either live in the present that Ibey found herself in at the end, or take myself back to a happy golden past, I would do the latter.
Two weeks before she died, Mum and Dad went to see as her as they did regularly. Ibey was very frail, but had a gleam of recognition in her eye. Mum is sure she knew who Dad was. Perhaps she knew her body was finally going to release her, and so this was her last chance to see her child, my Dad. She never knew it, but she became a great great grandmother five days before the end. And her eldest grandchild, Jacki, became a grandmother herself.
Jacki and Dad's sister Wendy are both in NSW, and weren't able to be at the funeral on Thursday. The four of us who were there - Mum, Dad, Sally and I - were all united in the feeling that Ibey deserved a peaceful end long before it finally came. It is painful to grieve for someone who is still alive.
I explained to Marcus that lately for Ibey, her life had been a burden for her to carry, and we are actually happy for her that she can now go onward without that burden. I am especially happy for Dad and Mum, as a long hard task is now over for Dad, and the energy Mum has put into supporting him can now go into other things.