International Women’s Day has been around since 1911, and in 1975 it was recognised by the United Nations as a Big Thing. It’s a day to celebrate the women who inspire you, and to reflect on what you have personally achieved, as someone who happens to be a woman.
I don’t want equality for women – I want equality and respect for everyone, everywhere.We are all born equal, but inevitably, life intervenes, and equality gets pushed way down the ‘To Do’ list. Along the way, we deal with challenges, get through them and keep going. How do we do it? With the help of the Strength of the Weaker Sex, of course!
Women everywhere, all through time, have tended to solve problems with compassionate emotional strength, rather than engaging in physical conflict on what is inevitably an unequal playing field. There have, of course, been notable exceptions, such as the Amazons – the female warriors, not the online selling site – Boudicca and Joan of Arc. Generally, though, women get through life on tough love tempered with tenderness, whatever the situation.
Thinking about writing this post, and the women who have inspired me through my almost three score years and ten, there way are too many to mention. I’ve been inspired by writers such as Jane Austen, J. K. Rowling and Sylvia Plath, and actresses including those fabulous Dames, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. I admire the singing of Cilla Black, Patsy Cline and Annie Lennox, and the dancing of Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing), Darcey Bussell and Ginger Rogers. And there are countless women whose intelligence, strength of character, courage and innovation skills have helped fashion the modern world and its values.
However, every single one of the women I’ve mentioned has one thing in common – their first influences, for good or otherwise, came from the family. And I realise I am fortunate to have had the most wonderful women in my life, from the day I was born. So this International Women’s Day article is dedicated to the ladies I love the most – my mother, my grandmother, my daughter and my granddaughters. It’s also for those who are still to come, so they can look back and see just how much they are loved and nurtured.
I’m going to start with myself. Why? Because I am so proud of what I have dealt with in my life, and I am even more proud of who I am now. I am more compassionate, more caring, more in tune with my inner knowing, and a stronger person. This is not in spite of what’s happened in my life, but because of the lessons I’ve learned from the challenges I’ve faced.
I’ve had two unhappy marriages – my first husband died, and this one won’t! There’s a serious point to this joke – which I first heard from Jethro, the brilliant Cornish comedian. I am not a victim, who blames outside forces for the bad things in my life. I know that I am not responsible for the thoughts, words and actions of other people – only my own. I can’t control them, but I can control my responses to their behaviour, and therein lies my power and my strength.
I choose to forgive them for what they did, whether intentionally or otherwise, and to forgive myself for putting myself in a position where I enabled people to hurt me. It won’t happen again. As a writer, my style is to find a lighter touch in the most serious of subjects, so the articles are balanced but not disrespectful to the readers or the subjects I write about. My little joke is my indication that I can put things in perspective and move on.
Yes, my two marriages ended before death did us part, but there were so many good times before things changed, in both cases. I didn’t fail as a wife because I didn’t stay with them when things went wrong. I succeeded as a person because I recognised that we could never put things right, and refused to live a life lacking in authenticity and happiness.
My maternal grandmother, who was a major influence in my life until she passed when I was 27 and expecting my younger son, was also a strong yet compassionate lady. She married my grandfather when he was a widower with four children, one of whom was always having health problems and passed away as a young man.
That was heartbreaking enough, but she also lost three of her own children. Identical twins Gwendoline and Marjorie passed at six months old from scarlet fever, and my mother’s twin, Michael, was stillborn.
As a family, they were always short of money, but would share anything they had with anyone who needed it. I asked how they could do that, and Nanny Jones, as I called her, replied, ‘When you are able to share what you have, there will always be someone who will share what they have when you need it most. It’s the way life works, sweetheart.’
I didn’t realise it at the time, and nor did she, but Nanny Jones was living the Law of Attraction long before it became a Big Thing. Even in her 70s, she would still do anything for anyone, and when Grandad Jones passed, she spent a lot of time with us. Rather than sit with her knitting or read stories to my brother and me, she’d work away, cleaning and cooking, to make life easier for my Mum.
I’m still learning from her even now, as well – 40 years after she passed to Spirit. She’s come through at a couple of psychic nights for me, to say she realised when I was a young child that one day I would be working with Spirit myself. She did something she never did in life too. She told the medium – Ricky Whitemore, who has since become a good friend – that it was about time I started using my psychic powers, as she was fed up with waiting. So I had a telling off from beyond the veil from someone who never criticised me in life!
My mother was very different to Nanny Jones in her approach to life. She was more direct, and she wasn’t particularly spiritual. Tellings off were common, because we were very much alike in nature, and if I wanted to do something and couldn’t, I expected a reason. For me, ‘Because I said so’ was not a reason.
Nan would try to explain why she was getting a telling off when Mum was being rebellious, but had to resort to ‘Because I said so’ in the end. Mum, unlike her siblings, was stubborn, and she passed that on to me. My daughter is now the official torchbearer for stubbornness in the family, because she would never take a telling either and still doesn’t!
Mum had to be strong and think outside the box, and she’s passed that down too. She was just 20 when she married Dad, who was 10 years older, and had come from a family of tradespeople. They were going into business themselves, and had to bring the wedding forward by six months. This was because the person they were going to rent a fish and chip shop from when he retired passed away suddenly.
They didn’t want to lose the premises, as it came with living accommodation and was well situated for both passing trade and regular customers. Back in 1949, they couldn’t just move in together before marriage, because nobody would have supported a business where the owners were ‘living in sin.’
As it was, there was lots of gossip that Mum ‘had’ to get married, so I must have disappointed a few of the local busybodies by turning up almost three years after the wedding. Mum had the last word though. When the worst offender gushed over me in my pram and said, ‘What did you have then?’ Mum replied, ‘An elephant, obviously, since you told half the street I was pregnant when I got married.’ That must be where I get my sarcasm from!
Fast forward 17 years, and I too was pregnant. Maybe Mum was still a bit of a rebel, because she told me not to get married just because there was a baby on the way. Even in 1969, that was pretty radical, and Mum was 40 years old and already a widow, so life was hard enough for her as it was. I did get married, because I was in love, and I went on to have three wonderful children.
I don’t do regrets, but I am sad that Mum never saw her youngest grandson. By the time he was born, she was blind, as a result of dangerous hypertension. Even that didn’t stop her from knitting, although I had to sew the garments up and pick up the stitches so Mum could knit the necklines.
When my daughter Elizabeth was a toddler, I mentioned to Mum that I’d been looking for a nice dress and matching cardigan, with a lovely chevron pattern that was very popular at the time. Mum said she knew what I meant, and if I got the wool, she’d see what she could do. ‘What she could do’ was to knit a beautiful dress with a matching little jacket, without a pattern – since she couldn’t read one. She worked with two colours, and an intricate pattern, and never made a single mistake. What’s more, it was exactly the right size for Elizabeth.
Mum never let anything stop her doing what she wanted, whatever was happening around her or to her. She must have worked some of that perseverance and determination into the stitches of that beautiful dress and jacket, because Elizabeth is exactly the same. It’s infuriating at times for those of us closest to her, but it’s been a lifesaver – literally!
I’ve written before about the devastating brain stem stroke, which almost killed her in 2013. It’s just about the worst stroke you can have, with a very low survival rate, and only a slightly better recovery rate. It’s a long process – or rather it is for most people. But then, my daughter isn’t most people!
For two weeks, her life hung in the balance. She couldn’t move or speak, and she had locked in syndrome. It was six weeks before she took her first steps and managed to eat something normally, but just two weeks after that she was discharged from hospital.
Elizabeth enters the Wimbledon ticket ballot every year. She’s not always successful, but in 2013, she had tickets for Number One Court on the middle Saturday of the tournament. We were going to send her tickets back, as she was still in hospital in mid June, but she insisted on going – and she did! She was in a wheelchair, but she went, and by December she was back at work as an ambulance care assistant.
She has been left with a few tiresome but not life-changing problems as a result of the stroke. Some time ago, she asked her consultant if her condition would ever improve. He confessed he had no idea, because in 30 years in medicine, he had never known anyone to make such a good recovery from a brain stem stroke!
Coming bang up to date, the next generation of women in my family are making their mark, and already showing signs that they, too will grow up into exceptional young women. At 13, Chloe is academically bright, popular among her school friends, and also wise beyond her years. She’s shown incredible understanding and maturity as my son copes with being a single parent to four children following the recent breakdown of his marriage.
Lauren is 9, and is usually away with the fairies and unicorns, in the nicest possible way. She’s not afraid to be exactly what she wants to be, and sees no need to explain her choices to others. She’s a free spirit who has already realised the importance of self care and self confidence. She will go far, and she will be happy, whatever she decides to do with her life.
I’m bursting with pride as I read through this before posting, and I realise I have so much to be grateful for. The women in my family have come through everything life has sent their way with strength, dignity and focus. Their experiences have not hardened them to the suffering of others. They have learned to show kindness and respect to those who need it most, because they have been in that position themselves.
This is for each of you and all of you, with love from me. Thank you for your guidance and inspiration, which has helped me to become the kind of person I would want for a friend. We are true soul sisters.