Loss of a mother

The Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) was founded in 1875. Striking Wrennaissance style hostel was my abode for years.

It was when I was in my late 20s and residing at Francis St. Hostel, London – which faced on to Archbishop’s House at the rear end of Westminster Cathedral – that I was befriended by one Harold Humphries. He was from Tunbridge Wells, and a teacher who worked with maladjusted adolescent boys. Sr. Pauline, Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul (DC) a teacher from Carisle Place, ran Cornerstone in a Conference centre that was annexed off the cathedral. It was for the purpose of the needs of vulnerable people like me who were living on their own, who could attend there for tea, chat and prayer. I liked to play the guitar, so went there on a regular basic to join in with Sr. Pauline, who was also a guitarist and songwriter of sorts. It was also nice and handy, as it was just around the corner from the hostel. There were group sessions held there – which attendees were very much encouraged to attend – whereby they could talk openly about their personal lives. I tried to evade these discussions like the plague, so oftentimes would offer to wash up the tea-cups. I had to desperately find a way to get out of the discussions, as I never knew a thing about myself – or sometimes I’d automatically become giddy and destructive until I became such a nuisance that I was asked to either refrain, or temporarily leave the premises. I was so pugnacious, but did not know why that when it came to people asking cumbersome personal questions. I found it so unsettling. I knew unreservedly nothing about myself. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. It was a time in my life when the word ‘family’ never ever made any sense at all. Sr. Pauline was very intuitive, and could incontrovertibly read between the lines. I couldn’t. Anyhow, one day Harold Humphries – who was a friend of Sr. Pauline – befriended me and asked if I would like to go with him for a cheeseburger at Kingburger on Victoria St. I thought it considerably appreciable that this respectable man would want to have any personal contact with me. I delighted in going with him. He talked about his ill mother a lot. I sympathised with him. As per usual, he was talking about inter-familial stuff, that with others, I’d over the years become rather exceptionally adept at remaining quiet and being a fervent listener. I was the perfect counsellor. So, every week thereafter Harold H. arranged to meet me, and I looked forward to his encounters, as he was a very genuine nice man and good company. I felt very safe in his presence. However, despite him telling me that he was training to be a therapist, I took it, that he was just regaling me about his personal life due to me being a sort of friend. The penny never dropped, that in reality he was really engaging with me in a therapeutic capacity. I was so unsophisticated. I did not know the job-prequisites of a therapist. The 1940s and 1950s marked an important expansion in the field of counselling, but at the time I knew nothing about psychotherapy or Freud or Jung. Harold H. would send me telegrams before changing arrangement times. I could never fathom why somebody would go so far as to send telegrams because they could not make an appointment. He came up from Tunbridge Wells by train almost without fail every week excepting those times he sent me telegrams. However, throughout our very long encounters – which lasted for a year and more – I never once divulged to Harold a thing about my Irish Goldenbridge institutional past. There was nothing doing on that score. I had no past, so how could I talk to him about something that never existed at all. So all there was for Harold to discuss was his own dear mother. I had no comparisons to make, as I did not know the meaning of a mother. It was just a word. A bad word that had Goldenbridge flogging connotations, that long ago had been completely erased from my mind. He kept pleading with me over and over again to go and see a counselling priest that he knew, and who would put me in touch with a psychotherapist. I was clueless as to what the term even meant. At that time of my life, I didn’t even know the meaning of a solicitor. I was very socially maladroit. Eventually I caved in, and said that I would visit the priest, if he thought it would help. Mind you, I didn’t know what the priest could do to help me, as I wasn’t aware of having had a problem. He swiftly made an appointment for me to see a Jesuit priest at the Westminster pastoral centre. The priest was very kind, and arranged for me to go and visit a psychoanalyst in Westminster vicinity. I was just going along with it to keep Harold happy. Subsequently I went to visit this very artistic woman, who kept asking me about my mother. I found it unfathomable. I did not know how to answer the question at all. How could I, when not even knowing a single thing about the meaning of the word. Mother word meant nothing. It used to irk me so much, as every week it was the same old ‘mother’ spiel, being played out by the therapist. I then decided that meeting this woman was far too stressful, as I’d had absolutely nothing to talk to her about at all. I was a poles apart person with a poles apart name living in a poles apart body, so what exactly was it that Harold and the therapist wanted to know. I certainly couldn’t provide the answers. The reasoning behind it baffled me no end. It was like somebody asking me to explain the meaning of planet earth. How should I know the meaning of planet earth. I had blocked out my past so much, as a young person that I almost believed I never had one. I didn’t even know I’d blocked it out, because I’d lived no other way. I lived in a peculiar world in my head. Not a single person in the whole world knew a thing about me, especially, not even myself. That was the truth of the matter.

Nonetheless, it never stopped me from secretly wondering where I may have come from, but that thought was something hidden deep in my brain that never should be divulged to a sinner. I used to inwardly quibble with myself for thinking such a thing. Somebody had to have brought me into the world? I couldn’t understand why I was so alone in the world without any kind of family to turn to at all. I had been long enough out of the institution to know from seeing families that how come they were the only ones to have that privilege. Especially at holiday times. I would just want to put my head under the covers and wish my life away. I sometimes reacted negatively to others who appeared to be so contented with their loved ones. I yearned to have a piece of the family action. I remember when I was a child at Goldenbridge once going up to a young lady with long hair – who was part of a firm who hosted a party for inmates. I asked her if she would be my aunty. I knew the aunty term because of having had to call the mother of the daughter who took me out on holidays from Goldenbridge, aunt Dinah. She gave me a jar of ponds cream, and went to the nun to ask to take me out. I was overjoyed. Alas, when I returned from the visitation I was flogged by the nun. How dare I go up to a stranger and force myself upon her.

Another time, Jenni, a friend I had made at Medway St. hostel, Westminster, had invited me to Farnborough, Hampshire to visit her mother. I had got a good inkling, then, of a mother, from the special closeness I had observed between Jenni and her mother. I was also invited to a convent in Mayfield, East Sussex by another friend, Liz, from Medway St., whose sister had joined an enclosed order. I saw from the sad reaction on Liz’s face, the pain she was experiencing because of having a sister, whom she would never see again, as she was heading off for india. From these close up perspectives, I had outwardly learned the meaning of family. I had also been an observer – throughout m whole incarceration period at Goldenbridge of the protection young siblings had towards each other. I was always on the outside looking in at family tender living interactions.

I did not last long in counselling, as every time I went to a session the subject of a mother came into the equation. I just did not know how to answer the ubiquitous question, and certainly did not know what the therapist was wanting to drive home by continually sounding like a broken record. First it was Harold Humphries on about a mother and now this new therapist. I finally gave up on all. I threw in the therapy towel. My cup was overflowing. It was all so confusing.

I had grown up believing that I once had a mother, but that she was dead, as this was what the nuns in Goldenbridge had told me. Even though they told me that my mother was dead, I did not understand what the actual meaning of the word signified. I’ve already pointed this out in the shunning article – that the word ‘mammy’ and ‘daddy’ words were synonymous with beatings at Goldenbtdige whereby these words were hollered out on the landing and in St. Patrick’s every day by children when they were being flogged to bits by the nun in charge.

I also remember a Goldenbridge day jam-teacher telling me on the corridor when I was approximately eleven years old that my ‘mother was a lady.’ Lady, to child inmates was used to refer to both genders of visitors who took them out. Did your lady visit you, could have been a man. Or did your people visit you.

Subconsciously the few therapy sessions and the long hours over a long weekly period spent with Harold H. must have triggered something in me.

As I said at the outset – I was living in a hostel in London and out of the blue took a vagary and decided to return to Dublin to find the grave of this mysterious mother. I remember the incident so clearly, as if it happened yesterday. The very thought of confronting my past sent shivers down the back of my spine. I had lived a life that had cut Ireland out of my mind completely, as the country was indicative of unimaginable pain and suffering. Ireland scared me to death. Dublin was the pits. The mere thought of Goldenbridge was just like something from Dante’s inferno. It was the unmentionable shaft-hole. The ineffable dungeon. The cavity of my bottomless fears. It was a country that saw me flee to the other side of the wide street of Dublin whenever a nun in a long swishing gown was to be seen. I got flashbacks of the wicked nun in Goldenbridge, who fled like lightening in its unholy hall of terror that inmates would wet themelves in fear.

Not long after I had arrived into Dun Laoghaire harbour, I exhaustively wended my way to the door of the Boyne family at Boyne St., off Westland Row. The daughter, Esther, who took me out at weekends, was domiciled in Glasgow, Scotland, so I knew she would not have been available to see me. However, I’d hoped that her sisters and brother John, who left the priesthood, would be able to help me in some way. Besides, I did not know a sinner in Dublin. it was a strange land. I was thoroughly frightened of the mission I was undertaking, as I knew it would have entailed having to go and visit a grave of a strange woman of sorts. I was in unutterable trepidation of what lay ahead of me, but whatever it was it had to be dealt with at all costs. I was so underweight. I was extraordinarily sad and lonely. I knew it was going to be a daunting task searching for a grave of a strange unknown woman. My cup was brimming to the top with so many tears for some unknown entity. I was looking for a grave of a person, and as far as I was concerned I felt as connected to the woman as another woman living in far off Japan. A total stranger, but yet, I needed to know something about myself. I always lived with the thought that I had to be connected to some human being in the world, as I knew that I did not come from another planet. I just could not understand why it was that all the nice people I had known had so much peace and quiet in their lives, they didn’t appear to live in their heads like I did all the time. They were interested in studying and learning and singing and dancing and being jovial. But not me, there was a big blockage. Even if I was not aware that I had a problem. I was a very angry person, lost in an alien world, with no connection to anyone in it at all. I had spent my childhood looking out the Sacred Heart window every sunday, looking at all the other children having family and visitors and there was never anyone to come and see me. I forever cried into my sleeve and hummed a tune to self soothe.

One man who stands out for me so clearly is the poor father with the crutches and a special height on his boot, who came up to Goldenbridge each Sunday to visit his daughter. I watched his slow movements like a hawk from out the wet-the bed Sacred Heart window, as he slowly dragged his feet up the long avenue. He always had a brown paper bag full of goodies clung under the arm. His daughter was the only child, I knew that had such a serene contentedness on her face. She knew she was loved by the father.

What was it about me that the world saw to it that I must remain a complete stranger. Even some Goldenbridge inmates could identify with the sisters and brothers and it kept them grounded, that they went on to form positive adult relationships. Why was I in this permanent quagmire.

There was a man in Cornerstone who worked in the civil service, who became obsessed with me. Every morning at 6am when I looked out my window, he was to be seen with a newspaper under his arm. He once went to America and wrote me a forty-eight page letter. He spent an inordinate amount of time at Cornerstone, considering he lived way outside London. I was very patient with the man, despite him getting completely on my nerves. The local Franciscan priest and Sr. Pauline had noticed his obsessive behaviour – that with the result – the priest asked to speak with him privately. I know that he was asked what his intentions were vis a vis me. I’d no personal interaction with him at all, and it was apparent that it was all one way. Anyway, one day his mother – who was supposedly a very religious respectable person – arrived unannounced at the centre – making a complete fool of herself, I believe, looking for the Irish bastard, whom it appeared to her nobody knew anything about, and who had distracted her son to the point that he was demoted in his government job. I was not present at the centre at the time. It really scared me to find out afterwards that she’d been there and caused such ructions. I never ever forgot the horrible nasty words she had said about me. I did not deserve to be treated in that despicable manner. She touched a raw nerve. I know that I could never have defended myself had I been present, as I never knew whether I was a ‘bastard’ or not. I believe Sr. Pauline and the priest were totally outraged at the behaviour of the woman. Not long afterwards, the man turned his obsessions on another attendee. To make matters worse, a man who tried to comfort me started a similar obsession lark, but once bitten twice shy. I’d learned big time from the experience. I was recently in communication with the person who saw a piece I’d written about Sr. Pauline, who has since passed away in Liverpool.

I had discovered only in recent years upon receipt of Goldenbridge records for the commission to inquire into child institutional abuse, that I had been found wandering alone in the centre of O’Connell St. and had been spotted by the nuns’ black Maria with one of the nuns in it. I was nine years old. I was hauled back to Goldenbridge and never stayed with the Boyne family again. I also never had visitors in Goldebridge from that day forward.

I knocked on the front door of the Boyne’s house – which was no 11. The red brick house that was part of a complex of upstairs downstairs houses owned by Dublin City Council was exactly the same as when I’d remembered, I couldn’t help noticing the window of the room where I slept as a child with a lot of the sisters. Old coat were used for keeping warm in the winter. The lamp on the street lightened up the room, so it was very cozy, not at all like Goldenbridge and he row of iron beds and big windows that that when the shadows of the tees appeared on them at night it frightened me so much. But then everything about the institution frightened me to bits. Mrs. Boyne opened the door to me. I instantly asked her if she remembered me. She looked at me askance, and then said, ah, you must be the nurse. She beckoned for me to come on in. I then entered the four roomed toy house, that 10 children and more were reared in. It was sad for me gazing all around, as so many memories came flooding back to me of the times I’d stayed in that humble house. I started talking to her, and kept asking her if she knew who I was, she just smiled and said, well I was obviously the nurse from the health authority. I said, no, that I was not a health worker. I then pointed out who I was, and it still did not register with her. I was feeling sad that she did not remember me. I became confused as to know what to do next. I thought, well if she did not remember me there was no point in hanging around, that I’d best get accommodation sorted out, before the day wore on. I went over to the sink to wash my hands, and then as I was standing at there, she said, ah, ‘your the orphan,’ yes, yes, now you know who I am. She got very upset, it was whichever way I’d tilted my head at the sink that triggered off the memories. I then asked her how the family was. She said she was going to contact them immediately. I’d noticed a very swanky old-fashioned phone on the tiny porch stand as I entered the house. In the interim, she proceeded to show me all the expensive clothing belonging to her daughter – whom I found out later was second in command at a clothing factory. I deduced from the clothing that her daughter was still living at home. Not long after she made phone-call, her two daughters and son-in-law, Alfie arrived at the house. They were so overcome at seeing me. Alfie had always reminded me of Elvis when I was a child. He was one of the most kindest persons I’d ever remembered who visited the Boyne’s. The daughter who was still at home, was disappointed with me in the way I dressed, she thought I was too hippyish, in my jeans and jacket. I thought she was too overdressed with her leather gear. It didn’t fit the humble style. The daughter who was married to Alfie, a timid person, was all fidgety and nervous. She told me of a robbery of a vast mount of money from the clothing factory. She also told me that she had adopted a lot of children, and when I told her that I came to Ireland to look for a grave, she went into a hysterical fit. She was reminded that one day the children she had adopted might go and look for their biological parents. This was an awful lot to take in after just coming off a boat at Dun Laoghaire. She pleaded with me to let sleeping dogs lie. I couldn’t understand it. I kept telling her that nobody adopted me, so there wouldn’t be any need to worry about anything of that nature. I said that I was looking for a grave of a person and not a live one. I asked the if they could help me. So – Alfie said leave it all to me and went off somewhere. So within a half an hour Alfie came back and said, you are coming to stay at our house and we are join somewhere tomorrow morning. It was at Alfie’s house that I’d learned that Aunt Dinah, his mother-in-law was in the early stages of dementia. At the time, I knew a little about older people. as I’d worked at week-ends in a voluntary capacity at a nursing home in Hastings, East Sussex, and would have been acquainted with such like conditions. It made sense then as to why she didn’t instantaneously recognise me. I was handed a glass of  red lemonade, and remember asking Alfie what it was, there was no such type of drink in England. He said that when I was a child at the Boyne’s that I craved the drink.

Next morning the two sisters and a nephew of another deceased sister – whom I’d clearly remembered as a baby, as he came to stay with the Boyne’s permanently and was spoiled rotten by the sister, who was not overly fond of me, I’d always sensed it as a child, despite her kindheartedness. I had baffled her. They found me to be a strange child that they could not warn to. Ironically, it would have been at the time that the baby came to stay with them that I was found wandering aimlessly. The grandmother’s hand’s would have been very tied up, not with only looking after the baby, but me as well. I know i had become a handful. I don’t think it was right of Esther in Scotland to have taken me out of Goldenbridge and then to be left entirely with her mother. I very rarely saw Esther & Gerry during my time there. I think they had plans to adopt me, but somehow it never came to fruition. I would have gone to live in Scotland. Anyway, to get back to the next morning at Alfie’s, he told me to get prepared that we were going for a long drive. I kept asking, where to, he flatly refused to tell me, and kept saying, you’ll just have to wait and see. I then saw the signs on the dual carriageway that said Wexford. I’d never been to Wexford in my life. However, as we drove along the NII I told them that it was en-route to Wicklow. I said that there was a summer home there where the children from Goldenbridge who had no familes went to during the school holidays. It was then that I learned that one of the oldest members of the family had gone to visit me whilst I was there. I told them that an old mysterious woman all dressed in black came to visit me once, and that she had a small brown bag of sweets. It was strange at the time. I never mentioned to any other inmates that an old woman all dressed in black came to visit me, as they would only laugh at me getting the tiniest paper bags of sweets. So that was one mystery in my young life that was cleared up. It used to go around my head a lot, I used to wonder if the person was connected to me biologically. There was a great sense of relief being with the Boyne’s as I did not have to put up a front of who I was – they knew everything about me as a person having stayed with them.

It was two hours later when we arrived the Still, Enniscorthy. We stopped of at Doyle’s pub. Alfie and the nephew went off somewhere, and came back with a man with a country peak-cap. He said to me I want you to go to him and give him a kiss, as he is your uncle. I was out of myself, I just had not seen this coming. The tall gentleman with a stunned appearance took of his cap and clasped on to it real tightly. He was a farmer who lived just up the way. I wanted to know where I could visit a grave of his sister.  He said that his sister, Joan-Carmel was living in Birmingham. I was dumbstruck. I kept asking about the sister who was dead. He looked very puzzled, as he knew of no sister who had died. Alfie, knew more, but said nothing. I wondered then who the sister was who was living in London. Everyone was shocked at the news. We bid the farmer adieu  and headed back to Dublin. I then realised that the woman living in Birmingham had to have been my mother if there was a sister who had died. I had lived in London, a mere 100 miles away from Birmingham, and here was I in a car with a family – who took me out as a child from Goldenbridge, driving out of Wexford to Dublin – trying to put the jig-saw family puzzle together. It was so surreal.

I was never to be the person I was that took that journey to Ireland. It changed me forever. Alfie had all the necessary documentation and knew that that Joan- Carmel was my mother, but he did not know she was alive, and living in Birmingham. I never found out how it took him the gut of a half-hour to find my roots. He obviously knew important people in the government to get such information.

I became hysterical when we arrived in Dublin. I wanted to scream at the world. I was so bad that they wanted to get a doctor for me to give me an injection to calm me down. That very thought worsened my condition, I just wanted to head of back to the hostel in London, where I didn’t have to deal with anything from the past. It was so horrible. I needed to be back in my old familiar surroundings and not have to contend with anyone.

So I went back to the hostel. I felt a pang of guilt at giving the Boyne family a hard time. I had turned on them for deserting me and leaving me to rot in Goldenbridge. I told them that they had adopted a whole rake of children, but left me in Goldenbidge, and it was not fair. I said that I felt like I was treated like a puppet on a string to be dangled up and down and dropped at will. I let the sister know that she never liked me as a child. I had observed her at Alfie’s favouring Afie’s own child, as opposed to the adopted one. Just like she did with me as a child.

I then discovered that my mother was alive and living only a hundred miles away from me in Birmingham. I couldn’t understand it at all. I went looking for a grave, not a person. I was out of myself, the shock horror, the Boyne’s who helped me to find out wanted to get a doctor. I returned to London where my mother tracked me down. Not long afterwards I got a phone call and this woman with a soft country Irish accent said ‘I’m your mother’. ‘My mother is dead,’ I said. ‘I’m not that person,’ and she said, ‘you are, you are,’ and she pleaded with me to forgive her, and not to have any recriminations towards her.” I replied “how can I forgive someone that I have never met in my life. It was unfathomable. She likened it to the phoenix rising from the ashes. She started to tell me that she had fed me herself for one whole year and that I was very much loved by her. It was so surreal listening to this woman talk in that fashion. I had never known a human being in my life to talk in such a deep knowing way. I was gobsmacked that there was a human being on the planet who knew me even before my time in Goldenbridge. Whatever about hiding my Goldenbridge past, my life before it never came into the equation. I didn’t even know when I entered the institution. I never knew I had a life before Goldenbridge and that the womqn on the phone had insisted that she was a part of it. Now I had not only Goldenbridge to hide, but the life before it, was what was racing through my mind. The woman on the phone kept asking me about my life, and I found that there was very little to tell her, as I really didn’t have a life at all. I never talked about Goldenbridge, or asked any family questions on the phone, as the whole situation was so utterly unreal. I had lived this other life, and it was hard to just come out of it in an instant. I still thought the woman on the phone was a hoax, that she was some person who may have lost a daughter and wanted me to belong to her. It was very stressful dealing with this very gentle-natured person on the phone and there was no one to turn to. I’d moved on from the short counseling and Harold. H. Besides, I would not have talked to them about such a peculiar situation. I was mentally in another world. The person inside me who had hidden her past and who had taken up this new identity had to not sort out the problem, but the new one had to. That meant that the new identity was now carrying a new secret of this woman who had come on the phone and said that she was her mother.

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2 thoughts on “Loss of a mother

  1. Your story is fascinating. Please continue with what happened next, and how you finally related to your mother when you met her. Thank You.

  2. Thanks, Edel-R. I took a wee break from writing it, as it was a very confusing and complex time in life, and needed to step back from it a bit. Shall resume shortly.

    Has number two become number three by any chance? Hate asking questions of this ilk, as they’re of such a delicate nature?

    Take care. Hope you and yours had a nice Easter!

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