Those in the know often say blogging should start with an introduction to who you are and what the blog is to be about so I hope the following short, true, story will offer some insight - less about me but more of why I believe passionately in, and love to 'do what I do.'
I was attending the funeral of a long, dear friend's Mum (Bette) last week; sad but also a celebration of her 97 years' life filled with family, grandchildren, friends and love. I met the family at home and was made aware that one of Mum's friends, Mary, was also coming to the house to travel with the family as she was a very anxious lady and wouldn't know anyone else. I noticed Mary come in and how she tried to blend into the corner of the hallway almost like she felt she didn't belong here and wanted to be invisible. The truth is she belonged here far more than I did; whilst I had met Bette many times, my role today was one of support for my friend, Bette's daughter. Mary's grief and loss was founded on nearly 20 years of friendship with Bette, shared laughter and confidences and at 85 years herself, so much more profound.
I went to speak to Mary and introduced myself, explaining I wouldn't know anyone else from the family at the crematorium so it was lovely to meet one of Bette's friends who knew her so well. (Forgive my little white lie, it was true I didn't know most of the wider family but I did know well some of my friend's own support circle who would be there). Mary told me a little of her friendship with Bette and how they met and Mary's gentle, honest, goodness was evident. Mary also shared her apprehension and fear of coming to the funeral and that she feared being among 'intellectual' people'. Now don't get me wrong, my friend, her husband, children and their wider family are all lovely people but they wouldn't describe themselves as intellectual! I asked Mary if we could travel together and perhaps support each other during the service but she'd have to forgive my less than perfect singing of the hymns: Mary's relief was tangible and her agreement swift.
As we traveled and then stood in the beautiful unexpected February sunshine before and after the service, we talked about Bette and how she had been one of the phenomenal women who had worked in the munitions factories during the Second World War. Mary shared her experience as a Land-Girl but here she diverged from the stereotypical version of a rosy-cheeked, dungaree-clad young woman bringing in the crops in the English countryside with recollections of bullying, abuse, fear, put-downs and constant criticism. She fleetingly mentioned how this too had been the 'story of her marriage' but she'd finally ended that and brought up her four children alone but had 'never made much success of herself or been very clever'. I had a sense this was her own strap-line for her life.
So here I am, outside a crematorium following a goodbye service for a truly lovely lady, hearing and seeing in a matter of minutes, how another beautiful person's spirit and self-esteem has been blighted by abuse. I could feel the sadness and anger rise up in me in equal measure. We sat on a bench looking over the gardens and I quietly told her that I was so sorry she couldn't see in herself, the many things I was in awe of. How she'd survived as a young woman working so hard to support her country at a time of massive national threat and fear in conditions no-one should have to tolerate; how she'd been so strong, loving and loyal to survive a hard and damaging marriage and then found the courage to end it and successfully bring up her 4 children alone and at a time when support was practically non-existent; how she'd gone on to live a peaceful life with her family, grand-children and friends and still even now, facing her fears to come into a social situation which terrified her. I told her I truly thought she was amazing, with hidden depths and strengths, with the emotional 'cleverness' that many others with different intellects can only dream of and I really hoped she would take some of this to heart. I hoped she would know that even though we'd probably never meet again, I would always be glad I'd met her and remember her. She squeezed my hand, welled-up and simply said 'Thank You, I never thought of myself like that'.
Mary hadn't wanted to join the family and friends at the wake so left after we shared a hug and I thanked her for looking after me and again said that I'd always be glad that Bette had brought us together.
So this is why I do what I do. This is what inspires and drives me to work with people who have experienced abuse - what right does one human being have to so damage another who simply cares, loves and keeps giving? I love seeing survivors of abuse gradually releasing the invisible balls and chains that can often hold them back and impact on them, whether the abusive relationship is just ending, has recently ended, or whether it ended decades ago. We can't undo the past but sometimes we can demystify it, deconstruct and throw out the illusions, the lies, distortions and the sheer badness and find ways to celebrate and build on those strengths that always kept us going.
(Names have been changed to protect anonymity).