Ravens and Doves

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


Elvis Has Left The Building

These words have been running through my mind on repeat lately. They have the power to make me laugh one minute and cry the next.

I have touched on parenting before in The Pride and The Pain. But it occurs to me that parenting comes in many guises. Over the last few years, the man I had turned to all my life with anything that mattered – good or bad, began to struggle, and as the tables turned, I found myself to all intents and purposes parenting my father. We managed pretty well for a time, the roles still swapping back and forth as Dad had good and bad days, but eventually we reached a point where he needed more help than I was able to provide.

A tailored home-care arrangement came next and plugged the gaps for a couple of years but eventually that was not enough either. I had put off the day when we would have to “give in” and move Dad somewhere more secure, but that day did come and finally, at New Year he moved into a local care-home.

Now as I walk through the flat that was supposed to be his last home (carefully chosen as a manageable space for the end game) the same words keep running through my brain on a loop – Elvis Has Left The Building. That’s the only way I can describe how it feels.

All the things which I thought mattered, the ‘essential’ gadgets I had acquired to help Dad manage alone, the treasured items my mother chose, an artist’s work, a family’s history, all the things that made up those lives are still here – untouched. But now they are redundant, meaningless because he has left them without so much as a backwards glance. When it came to it, he just went like a lamb, and there’s the rub – they are redundant because the only thing that really matters, is absolutely fine.

Elvis is alive and kicking, and ripping it up round the corner in the local Order of St John’s Trust care home. And he’s more than fine. He’s better than he has been in long time. It’s me that needs to adjust, and that might take a little longer.

So, the message here is this: to anyone facing a similar decision on behalf of a loved one; don’t be afraid. It’s a tough call, but do the research, make a good decision and roll with it. Decent elderly-care homes do exist and for some people, are the solution.

What I can’t tell you, is what to do with all of the left over things and all of the left over feelings you may have, you’ll have to figure that one out, but my suggestion might be: go and visit your loved one as often as time allows. Go to them with anything that matters – be it good or bad, and you never know – you just may get an encore.

“Elvis has left the building” is a phrase that was often used by public address announcers following Elvis Presley concerts to disperse audiences who lingered in hopes of an encore. – George Plasketes, Images of Elvis Presley in American Culture, 1977-1997: The Mystery Terrain.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, “There will be one million people in the UK with dementia by 2025”. 

The Pride and The Pain

It is a complex thing, parenting a teenager. Knowing when to step back and let them try, and recognising the occasions to stop carrying them and let them manage, are not easy things to judge. A fledgling young-adult still needs support and guidance, but they also need the space and self belief to begin making larger decisions for themselves without interference.

That’s a fine balance, a tight-rope for parents to walk when only yesterday, parenting revolved around making sure they were warm and fed and loved. Checking spelling homework is easy. Making sure they’ve brushed their teeth and answering questions like “when will it be tomorrow?” are not taxing. Knowing when and how to let go? That is much harder.

For teenagers, the stakes are high. They are potent years. For some, the pitfalls will become chasms, for others, doors open onto the world and if the encouragement and the appetite are there, anything becomes possible. If they are lucky, they get to try these things with the safety net of home still in place. Many are not so lucky.

When writing teen-fiction, these are the moments of risk and wonder that need to appear on the page. These are what make it such an exciting time to write about – creating characters and putting them through so many “firsts.” Watching an identity emerge, a sense of self that is ready to take on young adulthood.

So, writing about it is one thing, but for me this week, it got personal. This week, my eldest along with many eighteen year-olds, received her A level results. She romped home with a perfect score and I am prouder than I can find the words for, but I am also just a little bit heartbroken, for now she will leave and open the door to her own world.

That she is strong and ready to fly, that she is ready to go and start making some mistakes and achieving some greatness on her own, fills me with unparalleled joy and pride. At the same time though, she will take one chunk of my life work with her which won’t come round again, one which is irreplaceable, her childhood.