Posted by: Admin | April 3, 2011


Dear Mother,

aged 16

Today is Mother’s Day. I have sent my loving card to the woman who raised me from the age of 4-18, who I am still happy to call “Mum”, but I am sending this letter to you. It is a letter I wish could not exist.

They told me that you saw me, just once, before you died, but I suspect that was a kind lie. You had, after all, been rushed by ambulance from Hertfordshire to London after the caesarian. They said that if they hadn’t cut me prematurely from you, my life would have been shorter than yours. Below is an excerpt from your mother’s memoirs, describing those last hours:

…that evening after I left her standing at the gate, I turned at the bend in the road to look back and wave to her.  I knew I would not see her again.  I don’t know how I knew, but the feeling was very strong and I cried all the way home.

A few days later the phone rang at my place of work.  It was Roger telling me they were taking Carole to Whittington Hospital in London where there was a neurologist.  She couldn’t be moved from the Herts and Beds until after the birth, so the baby was being born by caesarian.  This was 2nd July 1961.  Apparently, there was pressure on the left side of her brain caused by fluid which they had tried unsuccessfully to drain at Bedford. After the baby was born they said she might have a chance if she was kept very still and they could get her to the Whittington.  I cannot even imagine the agony of mind Roger must have suffered that day as he lay beside her in the ambulance, trying to hold her still.  He told me to wait at home and he would ring me in the evening at my friend’s house as soon as he knew anything.

I waited, praying for what, I did not know.  My brain felt numb.  At about seven o’clock, the doorbell rang.  It was Roger.  He put his arms around me and said there was very little hope – Carole was dying.

I just wanted to go to the church.  Roger fetched Jack and, between them, they walked me to St Mary’s.  They didn’t understand why I wanted this, but they said nothing.  I knelt by the altar rail and prayed.  Well, God heard my prayers, but he did not grant my request for her life.  Hard as it is to understand, I’m sure He knew best.

Carole laid for a week and each day I travelled to North London to see her.  She was unconscious, but I felt she knew I was there… The day before she died, on the 13th of July, the doctor told Roger and I that the crisis would come that night.  They had no accommodation at the hospital so we were advised to go home.  I lay fully dressed on my bed and, at four am, the police came to tell us she had died.

You were just 21: younger than your granddaughters. I cannot imagine the anguish of carrying a baby to term then not being able to hold it, if you were aware at all. Who would I be if you had raised me? More pertinently, who were you?

That is a question I have asked all my life. It was thought best, as I had never known you, for me to not be told anything at all. Dad promised me that when I was older he would let me have a photograph of you, but that didn’t materialise until I was 16. Even now, I have barely a dozen photographs – enough to know that my smile resembles yours, but I don’t know what you looked like when you weren’t smiling for the camera. I know, because I have a dress that you made, that you were tiny, though around my height. I know something about you as a child and as a teenager, because Nan wrote about you in her memoirs. I know that you were kind and loving and modest, because that is how your sister remembers you. Dad told me very little. People did what they believed to be for the best. Unfortunately, all my life I have associated my birthday with the tears and mourning of my early years.

pregnant with me

You would be 71 now – probably still very much with us and part of our lives. Of course, then I would not have had mum and my (half) brother and sisters, but putting that aside, I would have loved to have had you in my life, just because you were mine. What would you think of me and my life?

I so wish you could have met your grandchildren, and your great grandchildren. It is through having children of my own that I have been able to experience the mother-daughter bond that I like to imagine we would have had, and I am so grateful for that. I had a connection with your mother that I believe can only be attributed to the fact that we were blood. I was her only connection to you, and she mourned your loss to the day she died. I knew that she loved me, even when years passed without my seeing her. I knew she’d love me no matter what I did, and that certainty was such a crucial anchor for me, and she provided that, partly, for you. It is thanks to her that I have been able to be the mother that I am.

all I have is a few creased photographs

Well, there isn’t a lot more I can say. Do I miss you? I never knew you, so I don’t know what to miss, but I do know your absence left a hole in my heart that I have never been able to fill. I hope that you would be proud of me, that you would like me as well as love me. I am grateful to you for your fortitude when the pregnancy accelerated whatever it was that killed you, and for the greatest gift of all – my life.

Finally, my biggest regret in my life is that I cannot hold your hand, just once, look into your eyes and speak my heart. What would I say? Simply, that I love you, Mum.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Love, Joanna x



  1. Very moving.

  2. […] few – photographs of my mother, whose life ended at 21, four days after I was born. Again, I wrote about her on my personal blog. All I will say here is that if these few precious images had been electronically captured in the […]

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