Every day I see the empty house next door and wonder what has become of the beautiful lady who lived there for so many years.
Lin was a dream neighbour – not too nosey, not one to drop in, but quick to help when you needed it.
A WONDERFUL NEIGHBOUR
Each year she gave our sons little cards with money inside for Christmas and Easter.
She put up with all our crazy family noise – even when the teenage sons were partying with friends and loudly playing music.
When our house became the studio for band practice she never complained, always claiming she loved ‘happy noises’.
I’m not even sure I know how to operate a lawnmower, but Lin, close to 90 years old, could be regularly seen mowing her large yard – regardless of the weather.
At only 145 cm tall (4 f 10 in), this tiny dynamo had a huge heart and impeccable manners.
She was never interested in remarrying when her husband died (in his 40s) so lived alone in the house next door – her family all interstate.
She joined us for Christmas lunch on a few occasions – we felt she was so much a part of our family – but Lin was always concerned she was intruding.
THE DEMENTIA DEMON SHOWED ITS FACE
Several years ago what started as memory loss that goes with ageing became chronic.
Her family organised various groups to visit her home for meals and cleaning but Lin would often shoo them away, wondering what all the fuss was about.
“I am quite capable of looking after myself Tami,” she would say.
“Maybe they have me confused with someone else”.
For several months leading up to her hospitalisation, she would knock on our door several times a day asking if we knew where her keys were.
It was evident that her mind was deteriorating to an alarming degree but I was certain we could keep her in the home she loved so very much if we spent more time trying to help.
Getting her to accept the help was the issue.
Fiercely independent, Lin was born Linda May in Victoria in 1920. She was one of 10 children – five girls and five boys.
I once interviewed her for a project I was involved in and her insight on life was remarkable.
Even as she aged, Lin never became ‘old’ – determined to stay independent.
Constant offers to mow her lawn or help with other chores were kindly rejected.
She also had a beautiful tolerance of young people and the way they have changed since her youth and a healthy respect for all the technological changes she saw.
However, Lin celebrated her happy childhood free from technological distractions, such as televisions, computers and game stations.
“We had a radio which, in those days, we called a wireless,” she said.
“Mainly we just made our own fun”.
Lin loved school life.
She started around the age of five and finished high school when she was 17.
A HARD WORKER
In those days it wasn’t so easy to get a job for women, encouraged to get married and ‘settle down’.
However, Lin did accounts and secretarial work for a large company for five years.
“Wages were low,” she said.
“Not comparable to todays.
“Small though it was, I handed my pay to my mother who was still supporting and caring for younger siblings”.
Lin joined the Australian Air Force in June 1941 but wasn’t “called up” until December 8 that year, after the Pearl Harbour bombing changed the face of the war.
Before Pearl Harbour, it wasn’t considered ‘entirely correct’ for women to be in the armed forces, except for nurses.
Lin did clerical work for the WAAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force).
Lin spent five years in the air force and it was not until several years after leaving that she met her husband, also a member of the air force. They married in 1951.
Jobs were easier to get post-war and Lin scored a well-paid job at a textile agency almost immediately after leaving the WAAAF.
Sadly, she said, she and her husband were unable to have children so she worked throughout her married life at various jobs, following wherever her husband was posted.
I feel sad about that too – she would have been an amazing mother.
A DIFFERENT WORLD
Lin said she was unaware of any racial problems growing up.
“I don’t remember meeting any Chinese or Aboriginal people but we would have got on well together,” she said.
“In those days you just accepted people. Nobody seemed to really notice if you were different and you only became aware of problems when they were pointed out to you”.
Lin said she felt it was harder today to provide for a family.
“I think today would be harder. Homes are bought and furnished fully – not a room at a time. In my day we just made do.
Lin said we have lost things such as community spirit where neighbours knew each other personally without encroaching on each other’s privacy and feeling safe enough to be able to leave your door unlocked.
She said discipline and the little courtesies were not as strong as ‘yesteryear’ and families did not mix as much.
“We have changed much since the Second World War – working conditions have improved, homes are bigger and brighter with every time-saving commodity.
“We now have televisions, computers and all sorts of home improvements and, of course, homeownership, which is our Australian dream,” she said.
While Lin believed women may have lost some respect and a sense of being ‘protected’, she said things were definitely better for women than ‘in my day’.
“There is a realisation that women do have brains,” she said.
“We have shown that we are mentally just as capable as men.
“I love the age we live in. We are ambitious and have much to give in every aspect of life – sport, medicine, science and much more.
A HEALTHY BODY BETRAYED BY THE BRAIN
An avid walker, Lin’s physical health was excellent right into her 90s. So it seemed cruel and unfair it would be her beautiful brain that would force her to become dependent on others.
She was well known in the area as she did a lot of work at the local bowling club (mostly volunteer) and spent much of her days walking.
One day she kind of collapsed while walking and a local called the ambulance.
She was hospitalised and no matter how much she begged to go back to her home, the doctors would not relent. She was malnourished and wasn’t taking care of her hygiene. It was clear she had become incapable of caring for herself.
We visited her in the hospital, bringing clothes from her home, sometimes new clothes we bought, and any little treat we could think of.
Eventually, the visits appeared to make her unhappy as we became the reminder of the home she couldn’t return to.
Her interstate family were devastated they couldn’t help more but were suffering their own health issues.
A lengthy legal procedure ensued, involving phone conferences with her family and me by her side as her local support.
This was one of the saddest periods of my life.
The decision to move her into a nursing home was finally made. I haven’t seen Lin since.
We had already established our visits were a torturous reminder of her independence gone.
I think about you every day Linnie and I hope you are happy.
FIGHT THE DEMENTIA DEMON
Research has shown you can reduce your chances of fighting this demon by taking care of your heart, body and brain-stimulating your brain by learning new things is a great start.
If you would like more information about dementia, and ways to reduce your chances of getting it, visit Alzheimer’s Australia.
Wishing you the experience of wonderful neighbours, and a gleeful week, Tamuria.