Early in the summer of 2015 I attended a Conscious Writing Retreat led by Julia McCutcheon in Glastonbury. At that retreat I had the sudden realisation of what it had meant to me to have never had a father. In some turmoil I decided to see a therapist. She set me three tasks, to write a letter to my father, to my mother, and to my inner child. I recently came across the letters I had written to my mother and to my small child. I felt like reproducing the letter to my mother here. The photo above is of her at age seventeen. Here is the letter.
“My darling mother,
You often used to say to me: “we must try to understand each other better.” I would look at you without comprehension, I did not see what there was to understand. I have changed so much since those days and I can see now where you were coming from.
It makes me sad now to realise how lonely you must have been. If you were alive now I would be able to talk to you and understand you.
There was so little psychological knowledge in those days. You had done everything you could for me, brought me up, clothed me, fed me, but you could do nothing for my state of mind. You did once say to me: “I wasn’t brought up, I was dragged up.” I have often wondered whether you felt any guilt about me. You never showed it and we never discussed it.
If only we could have talked, but I was very incurious as a child. I never wondered who my father was or asked any questions about him, and I never asked you about your own life.
I remember you as a comforting presence in my life, you were always there as something secure and safe. I was quite selfish and self absorbed and took you for granted, as I suppose many young people do.
I am grateful because you gave me a good education and because you were a stable force in my life. Without you I think I might have gone off the rails.
This is not to say that there were not moments of happiness between us. But I turned out to be an oddball, not the normal, conventional girl you would have liked me to be. I know you were proud of me because I was clever and you were very ambitious for me. I was cripplingly shy and had no ambition at all, not in a worldly sense anyway.
You always said I was too mystical for my own good, but I think it is that quality that has got me through my life and to where I am now.
I know now that I have inherited a lot of your qualities, but when you were alive I felt dwarfed by you, you were such a strong woman and very gifted.
Of course now I could meet you on an equal level, as I have developed my own strengths and my own gifts.
It is a great regret to me now that I did not appreciate you more when you were alive and that we were never able to become close. It also makes me sad now to realise how sad and lonely you must have felt at times, and that I was the cause of that.
I know you would have been proud of me later on when my work life improved and I got the MBE for my work in NATO. I’m sure you would have been pleased at all the things I’ve done since I retired, my painting, my singing, my writing. Whether you would have understood them, I don’t know.
As the years have passed my relationship with you has changed and I have come to understand YOU much more. My love for you has grown and my profound respect and gratitude. What enormous courage you showed back in 1928, to give birth to an illegitimate child, and then, when you lost all your money in 1932, to start to work and build up a career for yourself with your cooking in schools, even writing a book about it!
In my later years I have tried to repay and honour you, first by painting you when you were a beautiful young woman, and later by writing about you and depicting the truly remarkable woman that you were.
Thank you, dear mother, for giving me my life. I think in the end it has not been in vain and that I have vindicated all the the hopes and trust that you put in me.
Your very loving, devoted daughter
You will be able to read about the relationship between my mother and myself in my forthcoming book, which goes up to my mother’s death. How I fared after her death will be the subject of the sequel.
Here is the very first painting in oils which I did in Paris of my mother, then in her seventies. She did not like it, I am not surprised, but for me it is a reminder of how she was, a comforting presence, and it is actually very like her.