It’s Never Too Late

My mother Betty was born in 1921. She was the youngest daughter of Alice and Enos Sherborne. Her mother Alice had been a milliner and a window dresser for Harrods, the now famous department store in London. Alice married Enos, a cabinet maker and they had six children. Betty was the youngest daughter. After leaving school at fifteen, Mum worked at the Vickers Armstrong aircraft factory in Weybridge until she was called into the army at the outbreak of the second World War and eventually posted as a telephonist to Bordon Camp in Hampshire, the Canadian Army base.

Mum met my father Percy at a dance in Byfleet in 1945, shortly after his return from a harrowing five year posting abroad. He had served in the 8th Army as one of Field Marshal Montgomery’s ‘desert rats’ in the North African campaigns. After a brief courtship, they married in the local church. I was born nine months later and my brother, Robert,  was born in the Spring of 1948.  In 1953, the year of the Queen’s Coronation, my father’s new job in local government prompted a move to the village of Barnack in Lincolnshire, where my youngest brother, Jonathan, was born in 1955.

Unlike my father, who was traumatised by his war time experiences and was reluctant to talk about the gruelling five years he spent in the desert without leave, Mum loved to socialise.  She was a stalwart of the local Women’s Institute and a committed member of the Operatic and Gilbert and Sullivan Societies. A keen sportswoman and hurdler in her youth, she played tennis most weekends but was bitten by the bowling bug in 1960 after our move to the nearby village of Wittering, one of the oldest flying stations in the Royal Air Force. Mum was a talented flat green bowler and was still coaching new players at the age of eighty five, despite two hip replacements. A National Champion on five occasions, she also served as National President of the English Women’s Bowling Federation.

Suddenly, without warning, Mum’s world collapsed when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 1999 at the age of 78, exactly twelve months after my father had passed away with the same disease. She was told after surgery that her cancer had spread to her lymphatic system but she refused radio therapy on hearing that it would only give her a 50:50 chance of recovery. Within several months of her operation and undaunted by her colostomy, she regularly attended a support group to boost and offer encouragement and advice to those finding it hard to come to terms with their own condition or that of their spouse.

On one of my visits, Mum declared that she had always wanted to try painting in water colours and before she ran out of time, she was eager to make a start. Her first attempt was to copy a framed photograph of the bluebell wood near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, that she had been given as a gift after my father’s death. Mum continued to paint bluebell woods and it pleased her to hear that bluebells were healing and grew where pain and sorrow have imprinted the land and her friends were delighted to receive her paintings as gifts.

In 2003, at the age of 82, Mum made a decision to sell the family home and moved to an apartment within a sheltered housing complex, to start a new life and to continue her painting in earnest. Shortly after her move, her check up with the oncologist gave her the ‘all clear’. Progressing from painting bluebell woods, she began to paint flowers and birds. She enrolled at an art class to learn botanical drawing and made regular visits to a local print shop, where she photocopied her paintings and then busied herself making cards and framed pictures for friends and family to support fundraising activities. She rummaged through charity shops with a keen eye for old picture frames which she used to frame her own paintings, to give as gifts. She was thrilled when Rainbow Light Trust used several of her paintings to illustrate a booklet of guided writing for the bereaved in the Sunflower Book in the Helping Hands series and her flower paintings enhance the pages of my Sensory Rainbow manual. I remember when she excitedly telephoned me to say that a sixteenth century Inn in Easton on the Hill near Stamford had commissioned several of her paintings for their recently refurbished bedrooms.

Mum’s new found confidence gave her the courage to reveal a secret she had painfully and silently kept for sixty years.  I was living in Yorkshire and she rang and invited me unexpectedly for the weekend. When I arrived, I could see that she was extremely anxious about what she was about to tell me and all sorts of scenarios were going through my mind.  We sat together on the sofa with a cup of tea and she hesitatingly told me that she had had a relationship with a Canadian soldier while stationed at Bordon Camp during the war and had become pregnant .  When Mum eventually plucked up the courage to tell him, she was horrified to hear that he had a Canadian wife back home in Canada.  After he left her that day , she didn’t see or hear from him again and shortly afterwards, she was visited by his Commanding officer, who offered payment towards an abortion, which she refused and with my grandparent’s support, she gave birth to a son Martyn, in June 1944.  However Mum’s ongoing regret was that she hadn’t kept Martyn with her and he had been adopted by a local couple in her home town.

Now, sixty years later, after the death of my father, Mum was determined to deal with her guilt and face the fear of possible rejection and she declared that she wanted to find Martyn and tell him that she was so sorry for what had happened.  Mum’s heart wrenching revelation of that painful secret she had kept hidden for so long, helped me to understand why she and I  had experienced difficulties in our relationship with each other over the years and also the tension I had witnessed in her relationship with her own mother, my Grandmother, which she had never wanted to talk about.  With the assistance of a National organisation, Martyn was traced and after several letters and phone calls, the first meeting was organised.  Mum asked me to be with her on that special day and we met Martyn and his wife in June 2003.  It is to Martyn’s credit that he bore no ill will, telling my mother that he had had a good life with loving parents who had since passed way. He had three adopted children of his own.  Thankfully, Mum was able to forge a close relationship with Martyn and his family in the nine years that followed . Since Mum’s death, Martyn has continued to join in family visits and celebrations.

Bluebell Wood Betty Wartersjpg

Delphinium Betty WartersMy mother’s secret and its impact, helped me to understand some of the difficulties we had experienced as a family. We all do the best we can, making mistakes along the way, getting it right and getting it wrong.  For me, Mum demonstrated the belief that if we  follow our heart and our intuition, it’s never too late to discover our own unique gift, which if activated, is the key to our own healing. Through our healing process, we may be inspired to offer our gift to help others. Mum spent many happy hours at her table painting flowers and I believe that the surges of positive energy she felt in these moments, enabled her over time, to release the trauma and pain from the war, her illness and the difficulties she had endured in her relationships. Suppressed emotion eventually melted like snow in sunshine, dissolving into the enjoyment of her activity. She celebrated her ninetieth birthday with family and friends and passed away peacefully six weeks later.

This is a brief video of my mothers’s story created by my friend Louise Oliver for her Art and Alignment project.