The Miracle of Grace by Kate Kerrigan
Publication date: November 1, 2015 by Head of Zeus
eBook; ISBN13: 9781784974879
Grace's life changed with a list. Left in the kitchen by her mother, Eileen, this innocuous 'To Do' list states, below bread, telephone bill and bins: "Tell G I have ovarian cancer, probably terminal."
Brought up in rural Ireland in the 1950s, Eileen's life has been ruled, in order, by the church, her husband and her child. She's had little time to think about herself.
But now time is running out. And Grace is determined to know everything about her mother before it's too late.
THE MIRACLE OF GRACE is a poignant, but ultimately uplifting, novel that reveals a unique relationship between a mother and her daughter.
**Extract from The Miracle of Grace**
I knew the instant I learned I was pregnant, from the moment of his conception, my child’s future was away from me. I had to take my punishment. Keeping the child was not an option; not for respectable girls who understood that it was in the child’s interests to be raised by a good Catholic family. I did not want to give my child away but I had no choice. The ability to measure ‘morality’ against my own right to happiness did not come until it was too late.
I took the train to St Albans on the day I was to hand Michael over. In my purse I had a postal order for six shillings to pay the foster-parents until a permanent home was found for him. I carried a small knitted bag with Michael’s belongings in it. Four white vests, three pairs of nappy pants, five nappies, a romper suit, two pairs of tights, a wooden rattle, a tiny blue rabbit, a dummy and two bottles.
Michael was wearing a brand-new outfit, a two- piece sailor suit with matching hat and mittens which I had bought in British Home Stores. It was a little too big for him but would be good for another few weeks. He was wrapped in a soft wool blanket which one of the girls leaving the house had given to me. As the train clacked past the outskirts of the city, I held my baby in a protective cocoon and thought vaguely of what I might do and where I would go when he was gone. We passed stations with pretty names: Cricklewood, Hendon, Mill Hill – London offered endless places to hide and explore; life here was an adventure waiting to happen, I told myself. Despite that, up until the moment we were separated, I did not fully believe I would have to give Michael away. It didn’t seem real – possible, even. It was as alien to me as the awful fact of pregnancy had been from the joyful reality of Michael when he was born. I was like a child playing on the train tracks, never really believing the train would hit me until it was too late.
I took a taxi to the orphanage, introduced myself at the office, signed the release papers, explained the con- tents of the bag and handed over the postal order without fully taking it in. When the woman smiled and reached out her arms, I did what I had always done when someone in authority asked me for something; I conceded.
As I handed Michael over, I lifted my son’s head to my face and breathed in the sweet scent of him for the last time. This was love, as certain a love as I knew I would ever find. There was nothing grey here, but a bright white certainty; love that came with no price, no duty, no questions. I breathed in on my tears, kissed him a silent goodbye, then breathed out bravely and placed him in the arms of the worker. I held the edge of the blanket for a few seconds, realizing that I wanted to keep it as a memento. When it came loose, the worker looked at me quizzically. I said, ‘Sorry,’ then tucked it back into the crook of the stranger’s arm which now held my son. I did not touch Michael one last time. I loved him so much I was able to give him away. He would be taken into a good family who would give him a good life. I could not keep him because I had nothing to offer him. All I had was a mother’s love. It was hard giving him up, but the past few months had taught me that sometimes life required you to do hard things.
At twenty, I could not possibly have known that it would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do in my life.
**Blog post by the author, Kate Kerrigan**
Falling in love with my mother
I OFTEN joke that if I ever left my husband it would not be for another man, but for my mother. I fell in love with my mother again in my early 30s and we are markedly close.
Through my 30s and 40s my mother has become a companion and friend as well as a supportive and nurturing parent. One of the things that surprises me about our relationship is how coveted it is among my friends. Not just our relationship, but my mother herself.
"I wish my mum was more like your mum,” friends often remark and yet I think this says more about the attitude we have towards our mothers than it does about the woman themselves.
My mother, while she does have exceptional qualities, is not so different from her peers as my friends perceive. It is the fact that I have made an effort to treat her as a woman and not just a mother that has allowed our, in the past, often fraught mother-daughter relationship to flourish into a deep friendship.
Our mothers wore the long flowery skirts and the platform shoes but they left the free-love principles behind. They eschewed contraception AND remained loyal to catholic wedding vows, many stuck it out in unhappy marriages and found they were still primarily cooking and cleaning and minding their children when they thought they would be taking over the world. While society around them partied, the majority of my mother's generation of Irish emigrants spent the '60s and '70s picking rusk crumbs out of their Draylon-covered sofas in the London suburbs, cooking big dinners for tired husbands, feeding babies and taking their daughters to Irish dancing classes in chilly church halls.
Joan Baez was singing on their kitchen transistor about revolution. Erica Jong, The Female Eunuch, Gloria Steinem, free thinking, free love . . . it seemed like everyone was free except them. The revolution was happening on their doorsteps but not in their homes, they could smell the freedom but they couldn't taste it.
She gathered me into her arms and comforted me. I realised then that there was no other human being on earth who would ever love me enough to sympathise with such ugly feelings. And crucially, I realised I still needed her as a mother. I made a conscious decision to let all of the past go and form a new relationship with this person. This woman who had all this love towards me: how would it be if I didn't dismiss her love as a given but took it on afresh? What would happen if, instead of the immature expectation I had always had of this cure-all love, that I simply started to ask for her love, ask for her advice? And crazier still, perhaps even, from time to time, take it on board.
MY generation of women are particularly hard on our mothers. We urge them to be more liberal, more like us. And yet they have witnessed and weathered the almost complete disintegration of their value system whilst still managing to fling their daughters forward into a new era, fuelling us with their dreams as well as their disappointments.
What I have discovered through my mother and her friends in the past 15 years is that these women, with a tremendous amount to offer, often lack the confidence to achieve their potential. What makes them more hard-done by than the generations before them is that liberation was within their grasp but their arms were not long enough to reach it.
Throughout my teens and right up to the end of my 20s I held my mother responsible for everything that went wrong in my life: my inability to form a satisfactory relationship with a man, my bad teeth/feet/legs and fluctuating weight. The biggest thing I blamed her for was the gap inside me that craves love; the gap we try to fill with drink, or food, or sex or therapy . . . seeking the satisfaction of complete fulfilment which we will never find. The only love that is big enough to fill that gap is surely a mother's love. However it's not until you become a mother yourself that you realise the hard truth which is that no matter how big your love is for your child, ultimately they will have to make it on their own.
My turning point with my mother came when I was 31. I was staying in her house in London. I was unemployed, single and childless and my youngest sister had just become pregnant by her boyfriend. I would like to say I had conflicted feelings, but that would be too kind. I was furious and bitterly, bitterly jealous. My mother came into my room early one morning and found me howling, pounding the wall shouting, "It should have been me!"
I am happy to report that I have traced the most successful and happy days of my adult life back to the moment I got sense and finally started listening to my mother.