I took a bus ride many years ago in Dublin with my young son Andrew who was almost two years of age at the time. We were heading into the city centre early one morning and we took a seat alongside an elderly woman. We were on the outside seat and she was on the inside one beside the window. My baby was sitting on my knee.
This woman began to chat away to me and to touch my son, chucking his cheek and holding his hands. Dublin is a friendly city so this was not unusual. After a bit of conversation she started to get emotional and began to cling tightly to my son. I remember feeling very anxious. I felt that I had nowhere to escape to. The bus was crowded and to move seats would be ‘rude’ or so I thought. When she began to cry I got really uncomfortable and wanted to get me and my son away from her thinking that she was somehow mentally unstable and that my baby was unsafe.
She gathered her composure and apologised for getting emotional and confessed that it was her grandson’s birthday that day. She told me that he was fourteen years of age. I congratulated her uneasily and asked her if she had bought a present for him.
In one of the most intimate public moments that I have ever had with a stranger, this woman told me that she didn’t know her grandson. She ‘confessed’ that her eldest child and only daughter who was twenty two at the time, had announced a pregnancy fifteen years previously and that her husband, her daughters father had cast their child out of the house because of his religious beliefs. She was moved out temporarily to live in a special home for “unmarried mothers” until her baby was born.
This lady cried bitterly on the bus beside me as she told me of her weakness in not standing up to her husband, and how her daughter was forced by him to hand her baby up for adoption. She told me that she actually hated him for it and could never forgive him although she was silent about it and was still married to him and living in the family home with her two other unmarried sons.
She said that her daughter went on to marry the father of her baby a few years later and that they were happy together. They subsequently had three lovely daughters together but no sons. Her son in law was a lovely man who completely loved her daughter and his three girls. She never spoke with him about the baby that was conceived, born and given away before they were married. Her husband wouldn’t allow it.
This lovely gentle lady told me how she walked the streets of Dublin all the time, looking into the faces of young boys wondering if they were ‘hers’. She had never forgiven her husband for forcing the adoption of her only grandson, and she told me that together she and her daughter were secretly counting the days until this beloved baby was eighteen years of age in the hope that he would contact them so that they could beg forgiveness from him for having given him up.
She hugged me and my son as she left the bus and told me how lucky I was to have a child that I loved and who belonged completely to me.
I snuggled Andrew closer to me all that day and felt overwhelmingly sad for her and her daughter’s loss. I have never forgotten that encounter, and I sincerely hope that she and her daughter were eventually reunited with the child that was torn apart from them by the combination of having a religious zealot for a husband/father, and the savage doctrine of the Catholic Church that rendered unmarried and pregnant women speechless and powerless during that shameful time in Ireland.
Destiny is acknowledging that the rose coloured spectacles of our own past can be a disguise for the hurt and loss experienced by so many …