Sunday, 29 November 2009

In Memoriam: Angela Nadine Witts: A life that taught.

My Auntie Angela died last week and the funeral was on Friday.

Angela was mentally handicapped. I should say "learning disabled", or "special needs", or something a bit more modern and P.C. However, I was born in the sixties, brought up in the seventies and that is what we called her then. To change now to a more fashionable description of her condition seems to me to somehow diminish her.

She was born with an abnormally high roof to her mouth that restricted the development of her brain. It was estimated that she had the mental age of an eight year old.

Auntie was difficult.

She was prone to sudden and profound rages, born, I think, not of malice or even of attention seeking (well, not all the time....) but more of an irremediable frustration at the world, its inexplicable complexity, and her own inability to decipher its codes, adhere to its requirements, or bend herself to its shape.

She challenged us. She tried our patience, perplexed us, and was a lifelong source of worry to my grandmother, and, latterly, very much so, to my father and mother.

The way they rose to meet those challenging behaviours says much of them, and all of it good.

For the last 22 years, after Nana Witts' death, the burden of care fell increasingly heavily on Mum and Dad.

Although Angela had been found a place in a block of wardened flats in 1979, (where she lived almost until her death), they not only visited regularly (an often thankless exercise) but also saw to her finances with a care and unimpeachable probity that our politicians should aspire to but won't, should achieve, but can never.

Their only thanks was an increase of the burden: as the withering of age compounded Angela's condition, they stepped up their efforts to the point where my now octagenarian father could go no more. It cost him more in pride, love, and care than lesser men would have been bothered with in the first place, to admit that Angela was beyond his ability to support, and that it was time for Social Services to take over.

They did their best in a difficult situation. Indeed, when four of Angela's support workers turned up at the funeral, I was impressed: not only by their attendance, but also by their calibre. Social workers get such a bad press. A bouquet for these from me though.

Angela died of age and weariness in hospital last Thursday.

In her life, she taught.

She challenged.

She tried us.

I learned of her, but imperfectly, tolerance, acceptance of difference, and most importantly, and least perfectly of all, patience.

Her leaving was quiet and fuss free, marked with such terms as "end of life care".

All that could have been done for her was, however, done.

I hope that now she is in a place where she is allowed a full flowering of a spirit denied in life: does a caterpillar know it will become a chrysalis? Does the chrysalis know of the butterfly it shall become?

Rest now, Auntie. No need to be cross any more. Stretch your new-found wings and fly.


  1. Aww that's a lovely tribute John, may she watch down on you & your travels with a smile..

    (Takey Tezey)

  2. John just had to leave a comment on the fabulous "tribute" to Auntie Angela and our parents. I could not have said it better and wholly agree with all your sentiments. Bless you and thank you. Love Nikki xxxxx

  3. Sitting here with tears in my eyes as I read.