Although I have always read your column, I have never felt the need to write until I read Rosalyn’s recent letter about her desire to return to her Irish birthplace. It touched my heart.
Thought of the day
October is marigold, and yet
A glass half full of wine left out
To the dark heaven all night, by dawn
Has dreamed a premonition
Of ice across its eye . . .
From October Dawn by Ted Hughes (1930 – 1998)
I was born in the West Indies. My parents later travelled to the UK, leaving me with my grandparents. I was ten years old when they sent for me in 1960.
I was very happy living with family and protested. I didn’t want to go. ‘Just a holiday,’ they said.
From the day I stepped out of the BOAC plane until this day, I have never regarded the UK as my home. I was removed from a loving, happy, friendly, warm community and brought to a cold, unfriendly place. I had no bond with my siblings who’d been born here. I cried for a year.
Then I realised I was not going back to my grandparents.
I trained as a nurse and met a man I thought was the love of my life, who said he understood my longing to return to live in the West Indies. We had a son, but my husband decided he’d never go back.
My need to go home to my birthplace was stronger than my love for him. We divorced but I decided I must see my son through school before returning home. He has become a brilliant young man and married a few years ago.
I got more qualifications, ready for my return home. On holiday there it felt like being in heaven.
I feel such peace of mind there, and the love of my family around me could not be better.
Displaced people who long to return to their birthplace have a stronger need than any passion.
During my 40 years in nursing I listened to so many Caribbean people talk of their strong desire to return to their homeland.
Sadly some never return, but die broken-hearted.
As I approached retirement, the pull to return to my birthplace was stronger than ever.
I met a man also approaching retirement, who was adamant that he wanted to return to live in the West Indies, too.
This time around I was well aware that people can say whatever they reckon you want them to say, but thank goodness, this man meant it.
We both want to spend our twilight years in the West Indies, so we married and are planning to return to the Caribbean. I hope Rosalyn clings on to her dream. Can you understand that it can be even stronger than human love?
This week, Bel replies to a reader who has written about her deep longing to return to the West Indies, insisting that the desire to go home to your birthplace can be a stronger passion than romantic love
When I answered the letter from ‘Rosalyn’, who lives in a state of permanent longing for Ireland, many readers wrote to say how much they identified with that particular kind of homesickness.
For example, Valerie told me she married a New Zealander and lived there for more than 40 years before coming back home.
She wrote: ‘I gave myself two years to see if it would work or if it was a nostalgic dream. Now I’m 75 and have never been happier, with a home, a job, and a daughter and two grandchildren three minutes away. I think for some people it’s in the DNA or the genes.
‘I used to walk around and feel my whole being resonating with something in the soil, in the atmosphere. It was like coming alive and aligned again.
‘I think for some of us there is a deep, almost spiritual, connection. There’s a lot wrong with my homeland and I get upset at many things. But that connection is still there.’
Valerie expresses how I myself feel about my country; in fact, back in those far-off days when my husband and I could holiday elsewhere, I felt almost ashamed to be so absurdly glad to return home.
So I do understand, Beverly, how passionately you feel about the place of your birth. I’ve never been to the Caribbean (although my husband once worked all over the region as a photographer), but watching the blue skies and sea of the TV series Death In Paradise is totally seductive.
England must have seemed grey and cold to the Windrush generation so needed here.
Your letter is timely because it reminds us that those who come to Britain as migrants, or refugees, or for family reasons are all individuals who are bound to have complex feelings towards what we might call being ‘transplanted’.
Recent events made me reflect that although refugees from Afghanistan will feel relieved to escape the Taliban regime, that won’t stop them longing for the sounds and aromas of their homeland for ever. A safe haven is not necessarily a happy one.
But that, in turn, need not mean they lack thankfulness. There are more facets to the human soul than are dreamt of in knee-jerk responses (pro or con) to migration.
You make the point that, for you, the lure of home has always been stronger than human love. But I’d guess that’s not true for most people. That Irish lady, ‘Rosalyn’, had a beloved husband who didn’t want to move from Scotland, so her situation cannot be easily compared with yours.
But none of this matters to you and your soulmate who also wishes to return to the West Indies. I wish you joy and peace in that life.
Why can’t I mourn lying husband?
My husband of 45 years died three months ago, and I still haven’t shed a tear. Ours had been a marriage in name only for the past five years, after treatment for prostate cancer put him off intimacy.
One morning, I woke to find him naked in bed, masturbating. He continued with this ‘inappropriate behaviour’, as the hospital called it, and tried to sexually assault me.
When I defended myself with my walking stick, he attacked me with it. I called the police and he was taken into hospital.
Despite tests they could not find any cause for his sudden deterioration. He was kept in a side ward on 24/7 medication, with a permanent ‘carer’ for his and the other patients’ safety.
Recovering from my own major operation, I visited him a few times, but he didn’t know me. Unbearable. I hadn’t seen him for ten days when he eventually died. I didn’t cry.
When people offer me their condolences I feel like admitting I am happier now than I have been for several years, but they would be appalled. Am I hard-hearted or just honest?
I cried when my mother, brother and a good friend died, but I don’t seem able to cry for the husband I no longer loved. Yet we were friends. Maybe part of the problem is that three years ago, I discovered he had lied to me and our daughters over a minor thing.
He’d always said he served abroad doing National Service, but when we applied for visas for a holiday he admitted he’d never done National Service.
He’d been ashamed because his widowed mother got him deferred from serving and all the stories he’d told us were his friend’s. I began to doubt everything he’d ever told me.
Now I’m wondering if others have to disguise their feelings because it wouldn’t be acceptable to be honest. Can you give me some advice or reassurance that I am not stony-hearted?
Both of the letters I’ve chosen this week are admirably honest and cause me to reflect that absolute honesty is quite rare. It seems to me that (perhaps because of the internet) too many people adopt the views of others in order to look good.
What’s more, our feelings about family members can be complicated, yet a sentimental consensus shies away from honest statements such as: ‘My brother was awful and I felt glad when he died.’
Of course, if we are skirting the truth to spare the feelings of others, then I’d say such tact trumps frankness every time.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
Reading your story I feel great pity for your sick husband and I’m glad that you can still describe him as your friend — even after everything you’re able to cherish that thought.
When you are feeling negative, it might be good for you to remember happy times when that friendship (a version of love, after all) was formed. Never mind tears, or the lack of them — it’s vital not to let the last horrible months or that memory of disillusionment spoil the whole, long story of your marriage.
Why did he tell that silly, pathetic fib about National Service? Shame, yes. His friends went off and did their bit and had great times; he stayed at home because his mother got him out of it, probably because, a widow, she needed him at home. And he felt inadequate.
So when he met you, he decided to big himself up with anecdotes of jolly japes in Army camps and so on. It’s sad, but I wish you hadn’t judged him so harshly. Many people tell tall tales about their past simply because they want to impress — and honestly, it’s far from the worst example of wrongdoing.
I do not think you ‘stony-hearted’, but I do suspect you are still very tired. You have been ill yourself, you had to deal with the shock of a terribly changed husband who then deteriorated and became a stranger, you had to deal with everything surrounding his death (even organising a funeral can be really draining) — and now you are picking up your life again.
You are free to be yourself and to be happy. Please relax into that feeling and view this new stage in life with positivity.
A pilgrimage, prayers and a pool of tears
You may have noticed I was away last week, and it was the strangest ‘holiday’ I can remember. We’d booked two nights in St Davids, on the Pembrokeshire coast, but it didn’t turn out as we expected — mostly for family reasons.
Eagerly anticipating choral evensong in the magnificent cathedral, I ended up crying quietly on my husband’s shoulder outside, as the sun shone and the rooks cawed. That was no mood for sacred beauty — so we didn’t go.
A quick dash home, and then we set off for Liverpool, carrying half of my father’s ashes in a cardboard canister with a moon on it, ready to inter them in a family grave. This was a pilgrimage, and so we also visited the council house and the flat we lived in before moving south. Then we met my dear cousin Gina and her husband Mike for a dinner full of childhood reminiscences.
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
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Gina had arranged for a stone to be laid immediately below that of her parents, and when we met in Holy Trinity churchyard, Wavertree, I was overcome to see the family names, including those of my great-grandparents and great-uncle, who was killed in North Africa in 1943.
It felt so right to be taking Dad back to the Liverpool soil he loved, and to utter a prayer for his soul right there. Oh, but the tears . . . I felt like an over-flowing infinity pool. That’s when you understand the real meaning of the term ‘wrung out’.
We left Liverpool for Coventry, where I was to take part in a recording of the 500th edition of Ernie’s Rea’s marvellous BBC Radio 4 programme, Beyond Belief. The subject was poetry and religion — both of which I find absorbing.
Before the recording in the Belgrade Theatre, Robin and I revisited Coventry Cathedral — that glorious hymn to faith, art, light, rebirth and grief. My eyes filled up. Why wouldn’t they?
So the sun shone all week, but my ‘holiday’ was awash with painful emotion. It will stay with me for a long time.