As I child I always wanted to ask and know about our story, though information was rarely forthcoming.
“Mammy, Did you and Aunty Ju fight a lot?
How naughty was I?
Tell me about me and Debbie?”
I wanted to know the details and the why/ how much/ why not? My own children were the same in adolescence – they wanted to hear about themselves as young children: Mammy, tell me about the time we…
When my Mammy came to live with us in 2006, I still wanted her to tell me the stories. She told me the same few stories that she’d always told about her own childhood. And good that she did, because before long, I was having to prop her up with those same stories that she was beginning to forget. As her short term memory lost it’s grip altogether, the deeper, older memories became stronger and more significant. It was like the roof had blown off and she had moved downstairs. As she forgot the recent and latter parts of her life upstairs, she also lost some of the show – the inhibitions, the secrets, the niceties and reserve were blown away like the loose fittings and the stories she told and the way that she spoke felt as real and profound as a fairy-tale. I learned so much about this beloved woman in those months. She was clinging to the old furnishings and we described them together over and over. Sometimes she would venture upstairs with me, but it was windy and precarious up there and there was little left, but sometimes she would like me to describe what it had been like before.
This was our special journey together down ‘Memory Lane’. It was important for my own processing and growth. Mammy also showed me surprising hidden closets from my infancy and before I was part of her story. There were times I felt lost in her world and times when we were both felt ‘lost down memory lane’.
It was those hidden closets and those Bogeymen in the cellar, that I knew I would have to have the courage to meet in my own life. I had spent a lifetime barricading the doors and papering over the cracks, pretending that I was sorted and healed, but it was not true at an emotional level and I could see that it was futile at best. I was not living the promised ‘life to the full’ because I was still afraid of the Bogeymen!
Burying my head in the sand, anaesthetising the pain, ‘not knowing’ and ‘forgetting’ were all coping mechanisms to avoid facing the fear of being afraid. I was ready to be sober and to look my Bogeymen, secrets and myself – square in the face. Well, I thought it was time I tried! I would make sure I did things differently and let go of the fears that were strangling my life and my voice. And so it began with a plan on New Year’s Eve, 2015…
The next few years were an exploration of Suzie’s stories as she told them to me and I wrote them down. A journey of getting to know and learning to love her by going down her secret Memory Lane.
This beautiful and courageous adventure into young Suzie’s life is the subject of my current writing project and the book coming soon…
In honour of this, I wrote a poem:
Free to be me, at fifty
At fifty, she’d had to confess,
that her life was really a mess;
She needed a chance to learn a new dance
and to heal, to grow and to bless.
But a word from the wise, whispered, “Open your eyes,
for the door of your cage,
(Prophesied the old sage)
She’d been trapped in the cage, this is true,
But at least it was space that she knew.
Could she survive, even thrive, in the open,
if she finally let go and flew?
Her heart was abused and her wings still unused –
What if she fell, couldn’t fly?
To make such a change felt fearfully strange,
Was she even too old now to try?
She pushed open the door and stepped out,
surrendered her will and her doubt.
She screamed and roared as she tumbled and soared,
but her Saviour never let go!
For He who transforms and renews the mind
taught her to trust, forgive and be kind.
He gave her a choice, gave her a voice
and courage to leave the old cage behind.
So she flew, she flapped, she served and dared –
whether feeling strong, brave or scared;
She was free to fly, free to be;
– to be me
– at fifty.