“all these rode my Mother and sat on her shoulders like a roosting of ravens and doves.”
from Cider with Rosie, by Laurie Lee.
Ever since my teenage years, when I stopped seeing a mother and began to see the woman that my mother was, this quotation has stayed with me.
In her later years, my mother’s life was shaped and changed by my brother’s mental illness which manifested during his teenage years. I now find it hard to remember what she was like before. I only know now that our childhoods at least were beautifully normal.
The diagnosis came when he was nineteen. I was sixteen. Some faulty wiring buried deep within his brain had begun to make his behaviour irrational, volatile, socially unacceptable. Suddenly, in all of the most vital ways, his life was over before it had ever really begun and there would never be any release for him, only years of mental torment.
Mum knew that then. It was thirty years ago and during those years she showed her true colours, the most enduring one, her vehemently protective mother-love for her most vulnerable son. At times this would be to the detriment of all else, and anyone else, but someone had to put him first.
I think it’s fair to say that from that time on, my mother was never truly happy again. That may sound dramatic. It was. I never fully understood the depth of her pain until I had children of my own and understood what maternal love is. A love I had learned from her.
So, she was not happy, but I know that her life was fulfilling. And I know that she knew joy. She was intelligent, and wise from experience and she taught me in many situations what to do, and in some situations, what not to do, and that’s okay too. That is progress and all part of her teaching. Hopefully I have learnt not to make those mistakes with my own children. I do not need to repeat hers, I make enough of my own.
She loved and was loved by her children, and adored by our father. She was blessed in so many ways and yet there was a sadness in her which I could never fix. I still feel it now that she’s gone. When I think of her, I see the amazing things and the terrible things she carried with her. I still see ravens and doves.
Bernadette ∗ 1933 – 2011