rose 03 Nov 2017


I was gardening and I looked up at the clouds skudding past the late afternoon, autumnal sun and I thought of my mother who also loved gardening when she was alive. I remembered that before she died I promised to give my dead brother’s headstone an annual clean. He died when I was eight years old and he was five.

I hadn’t cleaned it in over the year since she had died. I felt guilty and sad.

I am old now. His destiny was a short life. My mother’s was to care for him during those first so very needy years, (he was brain-damaged), and then lose him. It left her unable to subsequently relate to children easily, if at all.

In contrast, I have spent my whole career working with children and young people and having some lovely ones of my own too. What did she let go of which somehow enabled me to relate to children so easily? I don’t know.

And without going into that, it is obvious how the existence of our families…. and the deaths of loved ones, not only shape how we feel in our lives, but also what we do in them and how we do it.  Regardless of whether we realise it or not.

So, are we also shaped by the generations that came before us? My answering feeling to this question must be a resounding ‘Yes!’. I think there is no disputing the fact that we must be shaped by them; even though we don’t realise it, and even though the more scientific amongst us use long words and talk about epigenetics. Of course, it would be too much if all our ancestors could talk directly to us, but surely we would not be here without them. Nor their particular experiences, relationships and dilemmas about how best to do this human being business. We may not know them in this world of linear time. We have our own experiences, relationships and dilemmas to deal with and there is only so much we can take. But our ancestors, obviously, did all the things we do, (breathe, eat, feel etc), including struggle with love and loneliness and death, just as we do.

It is a defining characteristic of being alive that we all must die. Death gives life it’s importance. This is why we must not let ourselves be seduced by the smooth tongues of warmongers and their political and media apologists.

I was in Amsterdam last week where Gandhi, Luther-King and Mandela were all being celebrated. All three are dead now; dead people who stood up for resisting prejudice, violence and the associated diminishment of the importance of each human being’s experience which includes that of small children whose lives are caught short by circumstance, and too, those of mothers who have lost their babies, like my mum did.

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

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