This is something of a personal blog for me. My Mum is 91 and has vascular dementia. She’s also an alcoholic. We’ve had a bumpy year so far, with repeated stays in hospital and a temporary stay in care. As the year has progressed, she has become more and more prone to quoting Philip Larkin’s famous polemic about parenting. Here’s a sanitised version of the first stanza:
“They mess you up, your Mum and Dad. They may not mean to but they do.They fill you with the faults they had, and add some extra, just for you.” And so it goes on.
I’ve wondered why she’s started to quote this poem so frequently now. Her own father was an alcoholic and from time to time she shares a little more about her own childhood, and also her assumptions about what caused her father’s alcoholism. He was a surgeon, and an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps in WWI. He was gassed at some point (I’ve been trying to locate his service record) and as a result spent the rest of his life in rural NE Yorkshire working as a GP. He was 54 when he died. According to Mum, it’s a story of unfulfilled dreams. She has lived her life similarly, allowing herself to be defined by her experiences in a negative way, and at the age of 91, seemingly incapable of changing that view.
There’s something so incredibly sad about the path both she and her father took. A strong belief that this was pre-ordained in some way, because of what happened to their parents, and from their childhood observations. There’s also the lack of access to the kinds of services we can take advantage of today, which enable us to move forward from past experiences by changing our perception of them and choosing to do things differently. In my Mum’s day, it was probably sheer force of will alone which enabled you to move beyond your stereotype. And she struggles to find that resolve on most days.
So, I wonder about events and experiences in your lives which you are struggling to move beyond. If you look inside yourself, are there things you do, or ways you behave now, which you know aren’t helpful but you don’t know how to get past them? Maybe you aren’t even consciously aware of them and perhaps there’s just a niggling voice somewhere which says ‘that sounds like me’. If you listen to or read the Larkin poem, does it ring true for you?
Rather than head off and Google ‘This be the Verse’, I found you a version on YouTube, read by Philip Larkin himself. Be warned, the poem contains bad language which you may find shocking. If the poem does ring true for you, then perhaps there are some unhelpful beliefs and behaviours which you would like some help to change?
I don’t know about you, but I choose not to be defined in this way, or to allow past events that I could not control, to dictate my behaviour today. When will YOU you choose to ask for help and move forward?