I would really love to know what you and your readers make of the below story, which happened only yesterday evening. I will admit, it had me pretty shaken up at the time, and even now still has me baffled as exactly what happened here…
A bit of background: My husband (an only child) is 20 years older than me (I am 30, he is 49), and for this reason my MIL, “Joan”, is also considerably older than my own parents. To cut a long story short, my MIL (a very sweet old lady, of who I’m very fond) has had early stage Alzheimer’s for some years, which this year was horribly compounded by her being rushed to hospital for major abdominal surgery in January, then, while she was in hospital, a pipe bursting in her home and flooding the place completely out (a fact we ourselves only discovered on bringing MIL home again after three weeks in hospital). My husband and I immediately took her into our own home (a one-bed flat, so we slept on the floor during this time), and I took time off work to care for her (she wouldn’t permit my husband to do any of the awkward stuff like toilet assistance etc, so I had to). After a few weeks, when she was more recovered from the surgery, I managed to get her into a short-term rental apartment deliberately just around the corner from us, while I took on the mountain of insurance bureaucracy and months of repairs involved in restoring her flood-damaged property (she’d never in a month of Sundays have ever been able to do this herself). During the time she was in the short-term let, I went round to keep her company every weekend while my husband was at work, helped her with the shopping, stocked her freezer with home-made food, looked after her administrative affairs, and just tried to keep her spirits up during what she also found a horribly stressful and disorientating time.
I don’t say this to sanctify ourselves or anything – God knows, there were more than a few silent screams on my part at the time (even still now on occasion – dementia is seriously frustrating to deal with at times), but just to put into context the story to come.
Six months on and things are mercifully back to what qualifies as “normal” with Alzheimer’s – my MIL is living back in her own house again (with support from us, she can more or less live independently, albeit with the short-term memory of a goldfish), and we have settled into a nice routine of taking her out for a country pub (we’re in the UK) for dinner twice a week. The conversation always runs on a five-minute loop on these occasions, but she enjoys seeing us and we are more than used by now to repeating ourselves ad nauseam over dinner.
It was on one such pub dinner last night that the ehell incident occurred – we were just leaving the pub after a lovely dinner, when we bumped into an army buddy of my husband’s, “John”, at another table, who my MIL also knows vaguely. MIL is always rather more repetitive after a glass of wine or two, and in her enthusiasm to see John again repeated the same phrase (“it’s been so long since I’ve last seen you!”) about ten times in five minutes. The only thing I said (in a nice way) during this short conversation was, “You saw John at the wedding, “Joan” (we got married 3 months ago), but it didn’t seem to register, so I just smiled at John and left her to it. She also told John several times over that my husband and I “always look after me”, “take me out every week” and that she’d “be totally lost” without us.
It was at this point that I noticed a woman on the next table looking absolute daggers at me (and me specifically), to the extent that even my husband noticed it. I thought that perhaps our conversation was annoying her, as we’d been standing have a catch-up with John and his fellow diners quite close to her table for about five minutes at this stage, so we said our goodbyes and left the pub – only to have dagger lady run out after us across the car park, shouting over and over, “I’m a PSYCHOLOGIST, and you (meaning me) were treating that lady with disrespect!”, and waving her hand in my face (my husband didn’t seem to have incurred similar wrath).
I would like to say that I responded with some dignified etiquette put-down, but I was so shocked and taken aback at the time (I’ve not been in any sort of confrontation like this since school), that in the event I didn’t manage anything more eloquent than, “Who the hell do you think you are? You don’t have the first clue of what we’ve done for this woman over the last year!”, and a few other things that annoying I now can’t quite remember (combination of shock and red wine), to which she just kept repeatedly accusing me of unspecified “disrespect to that lady”. I don’t even know why I felt the need to justify myself to a complete stranger, but I guess she must have hit a sore spot… Having put MIL straight in the car to avoid her overhearing, my husband then intervened (he has a bit of a short fuse when provoked), angrily saying that she was making ignorant assumptions, and that I had nursed his mother back to health this year (referring to the surgery), to which she replied that you can’t nurse someone back from Alzheimer’s (as if we didn’t know!) and did we want her to call the police on us…?!!??
Having discussed this today with my colleagues, the only thing we can come up with that the woman was a) more psycho than psychologist (a true professional would surely not go around berating relatives of the mentally ill, particularly not in said person’s presence…?) or b) perhaps took offense at a shared “affectionate” smile with John at MIL’s constant repetition, or interpreted my reminding my MIL about having seen John at the wedding as patronizing somehow…?
I am certainly not proud of my or my husband’s response to this woman, and I definitely shouldn’t have allowed myself to be drawn into any kind of altercation with her, but I really can’t see I did anything there to warrant such an outburst. And yet, despite being in a pub, the lady did not appear drunk or anything like that, and she must have felt she had some sort of justification to come after us like that, despite that fact that my MIL was actually saying positive things about my husband and I in her presence…. Am I missing something here, or was this woman just barking mad…?
The “happy” ending is that my poor old MIL was totally oblivious to the whole thing, and just accepted our explanation that the woman was some random drunk / crazy person – in fact, she kept repeating the whole journey what a wonderful time she’d had and how she’d loved seeing us! 1001-12
That woman wasn’t a psychologist. It was a ruse to give her rant more credibility. Somehow you touched a nerve with her, which isn’t your fault, and she let her inhibitions down in order to vent her displeasure. Basically she stuck her nose where it does not belong. Are you sure she wasn’t inebriated? Not that being drunk excuses anything but I cannot image a normal person acting as she did without a little liquid motormouth grease.