Mother’s Day 2021 🌹
A Reflection on Irish Mothers, particularly my own.
It’s interesting how it takes us to get to a particular age to understand the trials and tribulations that our Mother’s and Grandmother’s experienced before us. This was the topic of conversation between a lifelong friend and I recently, and where we both lamented that we now sound like our own Mother’s, recalling memories where we rolled our eyes when getting told off or when we listened to the many renditions of “you’ll know all about it when you’ve got kids of your own”.
I am the Mother of two beautiful kiddos and it’s at this stage of the game that I finally understand what my mother went through to ensure that us 4 had all of what we needed but also that we thrived on the love and nurturing that she so effortlessly gave us.
As an Irish Mother, my Mother, my Nanny (Grandmother to those across the water) and my Aunt Ann, were not strangers to pain and loss, an experience shared with the majority of Mother’s in the North (of Ireland). The ‘troubles’ as those years are referred to, were decades filled with worry that your child, particularly your son, would go out for the evening and never return – this may sound dramatic but it’s not, many of our males and indeed females; child, teenage, adult and older didn’t return whether it was because they were murdered with impunity, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, been involved in a gun battle to protect their community or imprisoned; interned without charge, stitched up or for being on active duty.
I don’t proclaim to know it all nor do I proclaim to understand the pain of all Mothers here but I now get the fear of when your child goes out, that they may not return.
Irish Mothers have been the backbone of our communities and families and have been at the forefront of protests and screams for human and civil rights here for Irish Catholics and working class Protestants. They have endured their pain with grace and courage; to carry on whilst their hearts have been torn from them due to the loss of their child in the fight for equality. I think today of the Mothers of those who died from Hunger Strike in prisons where they were treated and looked upon no better than vermin, I think today of those Mothers who lost their child to a bomb or gunshot and I think of those Mothers who lost the formative years, the loss of potential grandchildren and in-laws to the many prisons, here, in the South and in England, many of whom died still protesting their innocence.
I think particularly of my Nanny, Sarah today, of whom I learned so much and who’s loss I grieve for today, almost 13yrs on. Her fight for justice for her son and husband and extended family as part of the #Guilford4 and #Maguire7 inspired me to be someone who also fought for justice albeit in a different career; social work.
Both her son Gerry and husband Guiseppe Conlon were imprisoned for crimes that they did not commit, which was widely known within the political, legal and security realms at that time and now as more evidence appears highlighting this very fact. Her strength to carry on working, Mothering, Grandmothering and Friending in the face of such heartbreak and anger, indignation and frustration always left me in awe.
I often look at the photo of my Grandfather’s burial and focus on her demeanour, awed by her strength. Her husband had been refused release which contributed to his untimely death and instead of bitter, I see pain etched across her face, yet she holds herself upright and with dignity. Same can be said for the photos of her and Gerry in 1989 when he was “Proved Innocent”, and released; her eyes show that same pain but there’s a smile – a smile of joy that her only son had returned.
Similarly I think of my aunt Ann, who is also not with us. She fought the British Legal System with the strength of giants right up until her passing. Injustice had informed her formative years and her plight became that of righting the wrongs visited upon her family, turning all their worlds upside down in the most painful of ways.
She too was a woman of great strength, of humour, of ‘right, let’s sort this’ and of someone who I looked up to from a very early age. Ann was known for her kindness and as someone who was always there when things were going wrong. Her passing came too soon, she was too young and had much to live for, particularly for her beloved children and grandchildren.
It’s sardonic that I’ve experienced much of what my Mother did in life, albeit without the injustice she experienced as a teenager from the loss of her father and brother to the corrupt British (In)justice system. But my marriage breakdown has many similarities to say the very least. I remember how frustrating I found her heartbreak to be as a headstrong 17yr old. I very much regret that now, though I do appreciate the context in that I was a young person in a family where domestic violence had prevailed. In my young mind I only wanted space where there were smiles and happy times.
Whilst the irony of my own marriage breakdown occurring when my eldest was 17 isn’t lost on me, it has given me insight into the crippling pain that my Mother felt, the shattering of dreams, of hopes and potential, the loss of a future imagined during happier times.
Similarly, I now ‘get’ the strength that she had, putting on that face to us children every day; that we will get through, that she’s gonna be ok and that smile that hid the devastating pain she was feeling inside, even though we could hear her heartbreak in the dark of the night, behind her closed bedroom door.
I am thankful for my experiences as a young person within a “broken family”, because it has given me an invaluable insight into how my beautiful babies are feeling and as a Mother I have gathered that strength from my depths to prioritise their need for me to at least appear wholesome, in charge and capable of providing for, and to always protect them.
This has been a journey, a pretty tough one to be fair. The damage from a marriage that should’ve ended at least 4 years prior resulted in a diagnosis of fibromyalgia; which incapacitated me for quite a long time.
What has helped is the openness that my children and I share. The ability to communicate has been hugely beneficial and I’m beyond grateful to myself (take a bow) for being that type of Mum, the one who cares not that it’s an ‘embarrassing’ topic, I approached them all with the same vigour – an educated child will make informed decisions and thus less likely to get in trouble.
So roll forward to post breakdown and a lot of conversations ensued with my kiddos beginning with “give me 5 words” for how they were feeling. Oh, they resisted aplenty but persuasion and lighthearted humour prevailed and many many hours have been spent talking through emotions and feelings and despairs and hopes.
I’m proud to say that they are healing and as they do, so must I.
I often lie at night and think about the universe and it’s teachings. Sometimes I feel angry that my lesson had to be so painful so that I could understand the pain and hardships experienced before me but I also think about the resilience that my Mother possessed – and am blessed in knowing that I too possess a resolve and a resilience to be reckoned with. I know that it’s a silly, Ill-informed stance to blame the universe on my woes because that absolves my ex and I from any responsibility in our marital demise, sometimes it’s just easier though.
What I hope for going forwards is a more amicable relationship with him for the benefit of our kiddies, but alas it looks like history repeating itself. I am but me and cannot enforce a willingness from anyone other than myself. So whilst I hope, I must remain logical.
So, today, I choose to reflect on our joined experiences and strengths and love that I garnered from my Mother, it prepared me for much that life has thrown at me. Today I choose to reflect on the lives of my Nanny and Ann and the blessings of genes and nurture;- that I too may possess their courage. Today I choose to reflect on the greatness of women and their ability to carry on in the face of adversity. Today I remember #SarahEverard and the injustices faced by women across the globe. Today I choose to be thankful that my children’s Mother’s Day cards began with ‘To my best friend’ and ‘To the most important person in my life’ because I know now, like my Mother must have, that I’ve done the very that I could / can and that my children are wholesome and have survived the hurt, confusion and pain enforced upon them.
I can’t control everything that they will experience in life, no matter how hard I try and desperately want to, I am a Virgo after all, but I can continue to empower and build them up to be resilient and compassionate young people that have the capacity, like me to face whatever lies ahead.
I do have one wish however, that the lesson has been taught – my Mother and I have paid the price to the powers to be, My Mother, Nanny and Aunt have suffered enough for generations and that my children’s experiences with love and relationships, and life in the North of Ireland as, strong, intelligent and knowledgeable Irish young people, won’t be as fraught with hurt and pain as those who have suffered greatly before us.
Thank you Mama for all that you’ve done for and continue to do for me 🌹 Thank you to my heavenly female relatives for the strengths they endowed on me.