She never called them by their proper name. I don’t think she could actually say the word Smarties, but she loved them fiercely. Narties were her favourite.
And this coming Saturday I’m going to her funeral – a woman no one can really say they knew intimately. Except for the little things about Narties, her love of cats and bright trinkets.
Much of what you or I take for granted as basic rights and freedoms were permanently denied to Margaret by cosmic coincidence.
She never travelled. Never went to school. She never read classic literature or rocked out to her favourite band. I’m not sure she even had a favourite band. She never rode on public transport by herself or had the chance to vote. She never had a facial, a massage, spent hours drinking wine and talking long into the night. Never rode a horse or camped under the stars. She’s certainly never been to a yoga class!
She’s never been kissed passionately or been made love to all night long.
I doubt very much that she spent hours, weeks, months or years in the grip of depression or self-loathing. Not even that, something we wish we didn’t experience, was available to Margaret.
Because her world was very small. Contained. And yet she was in her way, happy enough.
So who was Margaret? My second cousin, the only daughter of my maternal grandmother’s sister. Having made it to her sixties (quite marvellous for someone with her life-long health issues), she passed away from kidney failure in the early hours of Thursday morning.
To use language which horrifies the politically correct, yet draws a swift and relatively accurate picture – Margaret was retarded.
Or, as per the name of the institution she lived in for much of her life – Janefield Colony for Mental Defectives.
Using kinder terms, I guess you’d call my second cousin mentally disabled, handicapped, special needs… whatever.
PC or no, I find all these descriptions rather vague. I’m not sure if they ever gave her a proper diagnosis.
Margaret permanently lived in her own Peter Pan world and I often wondered it was like in there. Internally, she forever had a mental age of perhaps eight, while externally her body aged like everyone else’s.
She didn’t have a bad life, not once Janefield was closed and she moved into a managed house with live-in carers.
My immediate family were good to Margaret when few others cared, especially once her own parents died. We’d bring her over for Christmas while she tolerated us (eventually her anxieties meant leaving her home wasn’t feasible) and give her small gifts suitable for a young girl – costume jewellery, cat toys, scented talcum powder, bubble bath, and sweets.
Many would look at people like Margaret and feel pity or sadness. Or perhaps they feel nothing when they see the Margarets of this world. Or embarrassed, even.
Hardly anyone knows Margaret and even for those that did… there will be no outpouring of grief. Because there was almost no way to connect, interact.
Is that what love hinges on? This idea of our connection to the object of our affections? Where that object reflects back for us a view of ourself that we really like? And how does one connect anyway, to a person who can’t share anything in return?
Although I’ve known Margaret for much of my adult life, I can not cry at her passing. But I want to. I want to cry and say I wish we could have talked. I wish I knew how your life went. I want to ask you what you experienced and felt. I want to know if you were happy, content even. I want to know what you wished for, and if your wishes came true…
There won’t be a crowd at the funeral, because she never met many people. Never had the chance to, actually.
Mum asked me if I wanted to attend and my response was, of course. She deserves to have people pay their respects, I said.
Because even though her experience was so utterly different to the general human consensus of ‘normal’ life, she is still one of us, of course.
We can’t relate, we can’t share what her life was like because she could never tell us, but we can mark her passing with what we do know.
So come Saturday we’re bringing flowers, Narties and toy cats to her service.
And we’ll farewell this human life as she is released from her very contracted incarnation and flows back to Source.
Margaret, you’re in my thoughts and prayers. May your passage through the bardos be swift, and may your next incarnation be an expansive and joyful opportunity.
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Hari Om Tat Sat!