I like to think I had a pretty idyllic childhood. The youngest of 4 girls, there’s quite a big age gap between me and my 2 oldest sisters. My earliest memories involve my mum and maternal grandmother, and being so very loved. I remember being confident, self-assured, and I’m sure a lot of that was thanks to the secure attachment I had with my mum.
Then she had an operation to remove a benign brain tumour. Seeing her in the hospital, her beautiful long hair all shaved off, her head wrapped in bandages, she didn’t look like my darling mum. And, for a brief while, didn’t act like her either. I never thought much about it, other than it being an upsetting time, but now I realise that that was a traumatic time for me and, obviously, the whole family.
After the operation, my mum was no longer able to care for us the way she used to – this was back in the late 1960s, so her recovery took a long time. Looking back, I now know that was when my confidence and security took a nosedive. And that was also when I started to become a ‘people-pleaser’, a ‘good girl’, making sure I didn’t do anything to ‘rock the boat’… I didn’t know it at the time and for a long time afterwards but that was all in an effort to ‘bring my mummy back’.
Life carried on, I grew up (obviously!) and left home to continue my studies in England. The plan was that I’d go back to Malaysia and get married and settle down there. But then I met Neil who was still in the Navy and about to leave for a posting in Kenya, which turned out to be his most favourite posting ever. We corresponded the entire time he was away; by the time he returned, we’d fallen in love. When he proposed, I accepted in a matter of seconds! We got married in 1989.
The man I fell in love with was a good guy, a fun guy, a real stand-up guy. He made me feel loved and safe, and I knew I could depend on him for anything. When I started writing, he supported me 100%; he even supported me with things that he didn’t completely believe in but which he knew were important to me. When I wanted to start riding lessons, he encouraged me to go for it even though he’s allergic to horses and dogs.
Before Gordon came along, I’d had a miscarriage. Again, Neil looked after me well and was so protective – it’s weird the things people say when you’ve had a miscarriage; it’s like they don’t know what to say but feel they have to say something. Personally, I think if you don’t know what to say, then say nothing other than ‘sorry for your loss’.
Gordon was born in 1995, and Liam came along 2 years later. Neil turned out to be a pretty good father even though he himself said he knew nothing about it. He was attentive, took time out to play with them, look after them. As they grew older, he’d take them for walks, teach them what he knew of the outdoors, introduced them to swimming in the sea, built sandcastles with them… He was so happy when they showed interest in trains, especially steam trains, which he’s passionate about. I was happy too – no longer did I have to go with him to ‘ogle’ steam trains as they all look the same to me!
Life was good with barely any indication of what was waiting down the line. In the years leading up to the divorce, I struggled to remember those good times; I was too caught up in the pain. It was actually Gordon and Liam who helped me realise that it is possible to look back and take comfort in those fun times. They remembered the fun they’d had with Neil, at the beach, going on walks, riding steam trains and were happy that they could do that without those memories being tainted by the sadness and anger.
So, dear ones, remember - no matter what happens in life, no matter what heartache is waiting in the wings, never forget the happy times. Don’t let the hurt you feel in the present colour it. Although there will be times you don’t feel it, those loving memories will, in time, soothe and heal you because love is the most powerful energy there is.