I am very fortunate to have been born into a loving family. My parents had come through the second world war in their twenties and did not find each other until later in life. My mother was forty-seven when I was born, my sister and I were very precious to my parents. My father was a parish priest and my mother a paediatrician so both had a sense of service to their community and empathy with people. They gave me much to admire and find inspiration from.
I was sent to a local girl’s private school, which was a very unsupportive environment. The leadership of the school was through a bullying culture to both girls and staff. Public humiliation was accepted. My report when I took my O levels was very negative. I remember hearing my parents discussing how I would do and my father being very disappointed. My mother said, “Let’s wait and see how she does before we pass judgement”.
With hard work and my mother’s support I smashed it, went onto my A level course, and on to university to read occupational therapy. The feeling of being so dispirited and not worthy has followed me throughout life; I wonder if teachers have any idea how vulnerable you are as a teenager. I think that however hard you work in life there is always a thought that you don’t deserve success – I often apologise when there is no need or it is not appropriate. You have the feeling that you are rather ordinary – and then life opens up in front of you and you find that others think there is something to be admired in you – and this takes you by surprise! It is a wonderful feeling and fuels you to strive on and support others when you can.
From my parents, I acquired life-affirming skills such as sailing and riding, which gave me the opportunity to learn out of school. These have supported my self-esteem and happiness throughout my life. I still, to this day, go driving each week in a pony and trap with a friend. It enhances my life hugely and has given me a focus along with great comfort and joy.
My mother died when I was twenty-two and my father remarried within three months. My stepmother wanted to assert her authority from the start with my sister and me, so things were not easy! Luck had shone on me though in the form of my husband Con. We met at university when I was eighteen and we married two years later, so my mother knew and loved him and we had great fun planning our wedding together in our family home. Con said not long ago that when he met me he knew he was not going to let me go. Thank goodness, as he has been the love of my life.
The loss of my mother has been a great sadness to me throughout my adult life. My sister had her first child two months after she died, such a joy, but so hard for her and it seemed to intensify the grief for my mother. A year later we then lost our first child, who only lived for two days. I had to wall myself up from my own emotions, but then found I felt other peoples’ acutely. I still to this day shed a tear for any emotional documentary or film on television. I am not sure if this a good approach or not, but it has got me through. Helping and supporting others is also very cathartic.
Through my mother I had a feminine role model of an intelligent, respected independent woman. This comes at a cost of taking responsibility for one’s actions, working hard and being courageous when sometimes it would be easier to curl up in a ball! It has been easy in many ways as life handed me a husband who had a great role model in his own mother and a career that enabled me to flourish. Also, perhaps to my surprise at times, I know I have a steely determination and this, I think, has been the key to success. My son recently went for a job interview with a large successful firm developed and owned by a woman. He was asked how he would feel working for a woman. His reply was “If you met my mother and sister you would not need to ask that question!”
I specialised in paediatric occupational therapy, loving the intellectual challenge of the art/science balance alongside working with children and families. In my thirties I took on the challenge of a Head Occupational Therapy role. After a few years I also managed physiotherapy and equipment services. I did a further Open University degree in Heath Service Management. Developing the service and supporting staff became a real focus for me. I was also on our national professional body committee which gave the opportunity to develop national policy and our profession. I have met and learned from some fantastic people through my profession. It has also given me great opportunities and inner confidence.
However, as my children were growing up my career meant they were left with childminders and I could not do after school clubs and activities such as hockey. I did rush around for years trying to be a ‘good mother.’ At one point, I was at the height of responsibility for my career working full time and every evening I had at least one activity to take the children to – I just couldn’t let them down. I would get up early to drive to do the ponies before work. Looking back, I have no idea how I made it all work! The dog was ‘walked’ running alongside the car and the microwave was the only oven I used.
I always knew though that there were moments to be treasured. I can vividly remember riding my dear horse, Lady, with my two children riding along behind me chatting away then arguing, then falling off and getting straight back on again! They were their own personalities riding behind me, those perfect little people. I remember thinking “where have they come from?” – and knowing I must remember this moment for the rest of my life as I am doing what I enjoy most in the world – something which lifts my spirits and feeds my soul with courage and delight for life.
We recently had a terrible fright when our business in Ireland was caught and destroyed in the financial crash. It happened very fast and took us completely by surprise. My husband and I were in complete shock. We felt humiliated that we were in our fifty’s and had not protected our backs. We retreated back to our home in the New Forest finding comfort that we could be near my father in the last eighteen months of his life. However, we were completely in denial about our financial situation. Our strong, intelligent children – those who had got straight back on their ponies after falling off – took control; guiding and supporting us to get going again, lending us money for food, paying the mortgage and for petrol for me to get to work. There was never any blame, only kindness and love; my goodness how lucky are we to have these wonderful people in our lives.
I returned to work taking on a purely clinical role with preschool children. I love using my clinical reasoning skills particularly with sensory processing techniques. I am able to make such a difference to children’s lives – and their families’, I get the most wonderful feed- back from the families. It really does help you prioritise the important things in life.
In recent years, I have loved developing my understanding of my own thinking; by reading and listening to TEDX talks on my fabulous iPad. Great thinkers of our generation; Edward de Bono, Eckhart Tolle, Bene Brown, A. C. Grayling, Maya Angelou, Rick Hanson and of course the Dalai Lama. This has not only helped me to use my thought process more proactively but also in my understanding and tolerance of people in my life.
A few years ago, my husband’s Australian cousin came to stay for a few days. He had been a catholic priest who was based in Rome for a number of years; he is now a counsellor and takes groups on spiritual retreats in the Himalayas. He made a huge impression on both of us which is hard to define – he just had a wonderful kind manner that made you want to be with him. He asked about us, listened, and praised. There was no judgement, only affirmation for our lives. He was fantastically well read, I am sure, but only wanted to know what books were beside our bed. He was traveling around the world with a very small backpack; when he borrowed one of Con’s jumpers when he was cold he insisted he did not need to take it with him when he left. We were both sad when he left, feeling our time together was too brief. There are lessons to be learned when you meet someone like that – not only how much he gives to others but how he lives each day of his life with grace and spirituality.
It is a wonder to me how we all keep going in life with the ups and downs that life throws at us. I think for me it is many elements of our personalities, people who love us – and maturity. I think almost daily of my father, who although no longer here would say “You can do it my love, you can find a way.” And I always do. I hope he would think that I am living my own life with grace and spirituality. I think I am.