Farewell to a docker’s daughter

Posted by in May's Magazine

Lawrence Lettice looks back over the, often sad, life of his mother Sheila who passed away on Hogmanay

Among the many presents I gifted to my Mum during her last Christmas, was a DVD copy of the Walt Disney classic Bambi. It had always been a particular favourite from the very first day she saw it as a young girl. . 



Its most poignantly memorable scene involves the sudden death of Bambi’s mother followed by the young fawn crying out in loss and fear in the darkened forest: “Mother, mother.”

I can honestly say that it will be some time before I can sit down and watch that film again.

My mother Sheila’s sad and unexpected passing on New Year’s Eve following complications with pneumonia continues to leave me in shock, her loss leaving an enormous gap in my life

Born in 1936 – she was a true ‘Dockers Daughter’, always considering herself throughout her life as a true ‘Leith lassie’. Growing up in 6 Trafalgar Street, within a cough and spit of the Lord Nelson pub, she worked for a period in the old whisky bonds alongside my grandmother and several other members of the family.

Often she would regale me with stories of her youth inLeith, touching on her schooldays at David Kilpatricks (DK’s or “daft kids” as it was sometimes commonly known), going to Sunday school, visiting the old Kirkgate, Junction Street, Newhaven, and later dancing at the Leith Assembly Rooms, where she eventually met my Dad.

Despite the relative joy of her youth it is fair to say that those who knew my Mum – whether directly or indirectly – will recognise the fact that sadly she didn’t always have the happiest of lives.

The majority of her adult years were cruelly blighted by an unseen & torturous illness that deeply gripped and affected her life and the way she lived it.

From the beginning of the 1970s dark and malevolent forces invaded her mind, sanity and reason, often without mercy. Leaving her helpless, lost, bitter, tearful and conflicted.

From that period onwards, she suffered a nervous breakdown along with the crushing debility of clinical depression and a brain tumour, as well as finally being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. 

That last illness regularly left her with distorted and twisted delusional visions accompanied by a pronounced persecution complex. 

How much mental pain and anguish she suffered throughout the bulk of her adult life is beyond our guessing…

Och, there’s nothing wrong with her. All she needs is to give herself a right good shake and get on with things!

As can be expected, all of the above had a severely detrimental effect on her marriage and relationship with my Dad, as well as with family and close friends.

From what I can recall during that time, the general consensus directed towards her went along the lines of: “Och, there’s nothing wrong with her. All she needs is to give herself a right good shake and get on with things!”

That somewhat blunt assessment may have been okay for most people, but not my Mum. This after all was a time when any mention or hint of mental health issues alongside outward displays of emotional and behavioural abnormality were swiftly and abruptly dismissed. Ignored and swept under the carpet. To avoid any unnecessary embarrassment.

How things have changed, these days, much for the better.

Yet for my younger brother Gary and myself, despite the many emotionally traumatic difficulties we experienced down the years, we loved her without hesitation and did everything in our power to protect and help her.

As young boys growing up, she was always there for us, right from the word go. She clothed us, bathed us, fed us, protected us and loved us.

She was enormously kind, extremely thoughtful of others, possessing a warm heart, as well as a profound good nature, while her generosity of spirit was complete and unwavering. 

Regardless of the complex troubles and difficulties she experienced down the years, her love for her sons was incontestable and never in doubt.

Despite numerous obstacles both of us just wanted to make her later years as comfortable, as protective, and as happy as we could. It wasn’t always easy for us, but we did our best and I think in the end, she came to appreciate that

Susan Boyle making an unannounced visit to Penumbra

Along with our late dad Peter, she instilled in us good, durable, lasting qualities and values that I would like to think have remained with us down the decades.

Even though their marriage and relationship gradually splintered and disintegrated (they would both eventually embark upon new relationships with new partners) I think that there was a measure of deep affection and respect that always existed between them.

Despite the various serious health issues she endured, she ultimately possessed a sweet, loving, gentle, sensitive soul – a trait that endeared her to all who came in contact with her.

Like the many brightly lit and scented candles that often illuminated and surrounded her, the memories of the warm glowing light from her loving presence will never be extinguished. 

She was one of Leith’s finest.

God bless her memory.

Info: Penumbra, Mental Health Charity, 57 Albion Road, Leith
T: 0131 475 2380; e-mail: penumbra.org.uk

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