Preferred Citation: Cohen, Lawrence. No Aging in India: Alzheimer's, The Bad Family, and Other Modern Things. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.

Two Alzheimer's Hell

Granny, Lost 5 Yrs, Found In Murphy Bed!—She Was Mummified

A woman's final trip to her old family home turned into a horrifying nightmare when she discovered her grandmother's mummified corpse stuffed into a folding bed—still wearing her favorite nightgown.

Police in suburban Liverpool, England, say Abigail Larson, 72, died when her fold-away bed—commonly known as a Murphy bed—lurched backward into its cabinet as she slept, pinning the gray-haired granny between the mattress and the wall.

As the granddaughter, the voice of both innocence and irony here, discovers that her wandering grandmother has never left home, she offers us a different trajectory for the old woman's movement, one in which wandering and fixity continually shift refarents:


Abigail's granddaughter, Janet Biggers, told officials she hadn't seen her grandmother for more than five years, and the family assumed the spunky senior citizen had run away after a bitter fight regarding their plans to put her in a nursing home.

"Grandma was starting to fail, and my mother-and uncle both felt it was unsafe for her to live in that big house all by herself," Janet explains. "Mother was especially fearful Grandma would fall down the stairs and hurt herself.

"However, Grandma couldn't stand the idea of selling the family home and living in a nursing home, and she told my mother so in no uncertain terms. She threatened to run away before she'd let them take her away."

According to Janet, the discussion ended on a bitter note, and several days passed before her mother decided to visit the stubborn old woman. But when she arrived, the house was empty and Abigail was nowhere to be found.

"We searched all over, certain she had fallen or hurt herself, but we couldn't find Grandma anywhere," Janet notes.

Mindless wandering may or may not be desperate running away; being stuck in a nursing home becomes being mummified in a Murphy bed. The desire by Larson's children to sell that big house and rid themselves of its burden affirms the disposable figure of the granny. The article evokes the image of Mrs. Fletcher, roughly contemporary with it, a figure from an American advertisement for a communication device designed for old people. In the ad, an old woman has fallen down and pathetically intones, "I've fallen and I can't get up." Repeating Mrs. Fletcher's monotonous cry for help briefly became an American national craze.

"We notified authorities she was missing, but they gave up looking after a couple of weeks. All we could do was hope she would call and say she was all right."

Five years passed, and Janet's family decided there was no use in hanging on to Abigail's three-bedroom home. "My mother cried when she called the real estate agent," she says. "It was one of the hardest things she's ever done. She knew Grandma would be furious, but after five years she felt she had no choice. The upkeep on the house was breaking us financially."

Here is tabloid irony the crocodile tears of the other victim: Janet's mother, all too eager to sell the family home in the first place, now can afford to wait five expensive years with Larson gone. Then, the final revelation:

Janet stopped by later to clean up and walk through the house one last time. On impulse she opened the folding bed in her grandmother's bedroom, and it was then that she made her grisly discovery....

"There was Grandma laid out flat, still wearing her favorite purple and pink nightgown. Her skin was withered and tough like leather, but other than that she looked as if she were still asleep. I guess the Murphy bed just flipped backward and took her with it.... "

With this inverted fall and the image of the dead granny, pathetically lost in her own home, among her own family, the embodiment of conflict shifts once again, from the fallen back to the lost and confused senile body:


Janet notes the family is saddened by her grandmother's passing, but relieved to know she isn't out in the street lost and confused.

"I'm just glad to know Grandma died in familiar surroundings," she declares. "I'm going to miss her a lot."[8]

The absurdity of this piece—suffocation in a Murphy bed transformed into a wholesome death in familiar surroundings—underscores the irony of intergenerational conflict. Care is interchangeable with control; the rhetoric of falling justifies institutionalization, but once Larson is lost and her children are free five years seem blithely to go by. Confusion and wandering are presented as far less dangerous than the lonely and deadly embrace of the family home, where Grandma can be missed because she is fixed, all too literally, in the plans of her children.

Two Alzheimer's Hell

Preferred Citation: Cohen, Lawrence. No Aging in India: Alzheimer's, The Bad Family, and Other Modern Things. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.