A Place Where Things Are Mended. By Keith White  

It was the Spring Bank holiday, and with Covid restrictions still in place, we couldn’t go with our usual custom and practice and have a barbecue with an open house.  So we opted to be around and let things happen: no plans, except for having a pizza or two in reserve.

As we were welcoming two new residents to Mill Grove during the week, Ruth had quite a lot of practical preparation to do, and I spent the morning clearing out a garage so I could gain access to one of our Mirror dinghies and begin to get it and the trailer ready for the summer holidays.  It took me the best part of two hours to clear away dozens of roofing tiles, a bunk bed, and assorted wood and junk that had accrued over the past couple of years.  I was joined by one of the Mill Grove family (she had come as a child and, now in her mid-thirties, and is still living with us).  We chatted about old times, and because there was time to spare and no pressure, I introduced the subject of her relationship with her younger sister.

In a previous column for TTCJ I discussed the subject of the long-term effects of separation and loss on the relationships of siblings from the same family.  These two sisters had never been able to manage their fraught relationship without a lot of support, nurture, and patient encouragement.  But I was able to comment that we knew they were fond of each other, even though they did their best to disguise the fact, and usually preferred communication through a third party.  For the first time that I could recall she didn’t enter into denial mode.  She made no comment, but at last the truth could be spoken: although they had never resolved issues around the reason for them being taken into care in the first place, they were always concerned about each other, though separated by over seventy miles, and not having seen each other since before lock-down in April 2020.

It sounds a small thing, and it was an incremental step in a long process, but it is part of the mending of their relationship.  Ruth and I know how much they mean to each other, and so do they at one level, but anyone else would have difficulty gathering enough concrete evidence that this was the case.  A relaxed time on a bank holiday Monday had created the space for this sharing of a deep truth.

Then two of the Pre-School staff joined me in the orchard (where the garage is situated) taking time out from an online First Aid course.  Before long we were joined by another resident of Mill Grove, and when the staff left to resume their training, she and I were left alone talking about her plans for IVF treatment, adoption or fostering.  It was one of the most difficult, personal, and far-reaching decisions of her life.  With the old pear trees shading us from the sun, and with time to spare, she began to sketch out the issues, choices and her anxieties and hopes.  It is part of a long process of mending from the time her marriage ran into difficulty, and she separated.  She was still without the hoped-for long-term partner, and time was ticking away. Now she had just received the news that she would not be able to use her own eggs in any treatment.  Being with us was part of a delicate journey of mending her life.

I had just got the lawn mower out of the shed to cut the grass in the orchard when a family of five arrived. The mother of three had lived with us at Mill Grove as a child and had come back with her partner two decades later.  When the accommodation we were able to offer became overcrowded she and the family had moved into council accommodation nearby, where we continued to support them.  They had had a great morning together watching Peter Rabbit Two at the cinema and having had a take-away meal before arriving by bus.  They revelled in being with us with space and time to play, ride bikes, and chat.  There was some football, basketball, bike riding, and the youngest one helped me (as always) with cutting the lawn, putting the cuttings on the compost heap, and eventually putting the mower away in the shed and locking the door. Neither of the other siblings is the least interested in this, but for the two of us, it is part of what we enjoy doing together.

We all had a game of cricket in the playground using a dustbin as a wicket.  The six of us had very clear boundaries, not only to mark fours and sixes, but roles, tasks, fielding positions, and the order of batting and bowling.  It was a brief game, but each was involved and played well.  We enjoyed it.  Compared to the first time we tried it together, this marked a considerable improvement in relationships all round.  We went in for an evening meal of pizza and melon followed by a prayer time involving one of two songs with actions that the children asked for.

While this was happening a mother and her child arrived and sat outside the dining room on the grass that we call the bank.  Another resident and her adult son arrived with a rug and pizzas.  They were celebrating the sixth birthday of the boy.  Mother and child had lived with us before a chronic health condition resulted in them having to move a short distance away.  We had celebrated his fifth birthday during lock-down in June 2020, outside, in just the same place.  Ruth and I had no idea that this was the plan on this bank holiday Monday.

I opened the window and began to play Happy Birthday on my guitar.  As we all joined in the birthday boy beamed and came to the window thrilled that the same group were around a year later.  We finished our meal and prayer time and joined the families on the bank.  Before long the children were playing an imaginary game using the climbing frame as a base, possibly a house, while the adults chatted.  Another resident came to join us.  He had come as a little child, and then come back to live fifty years later.

The mother of the six-year-old and I started talking about a poem she had written describing her feelings about Mill Grove.  We had shared it at her request on our website and I wanted to thank her in person for such a touching piece.  Here it is.

Mill Grove

The sound of joy,

That spreads out with children’s voices,

In the orchard, across the sky,

Children now and children no more,

Handed me down, patched and darned with care,

Mill Grove is handed to the children.

Who watch the fireworks,

With a woosh and ahh…

Of something glittering in the sky,

That’s like an angel.

With an ahh and a wish,

That things will be better now…

We look down in prayer…

But we should look up,

At the bricks and the mortar

And the stories that hold a place together,

That gives….

And does not ask in return.

A place where absent hearts

Have grown again like new

Seedlings in the garden.

And the stories that join us

When dark falls on this place

I’m sure even the wildlife knows.

Broken things keep getting repaired: I noticed that.

They are mending kettles and gates,

And people all the time.

And friendships form, which is part of the mending and borrowing,

And chopping of wood and quieter moments,

When there is a deep knowing between friends that times are hard

Or times are good.

The knowing you find with

Brothers and sisters.

With a family.

Tonight the sky looks full over Mill Grove.

And if the sky should empty…be wanting?

We all know we will have shelter.

Children now and children no more,

Handed me down, patched and darned with care,

Mill Grove is handed to the children.

Who watch the fireworks,

With a woosh and ahh…

Of something glittering in the sky

That’s like an angel.

With an ahh and a wish,

That things will be better now…


It was the lines:

“Broken things keep getting repaired: I noticed that.

They are mending kettles and gates,

And people all the time.

And friendships form, which is part of the mending and borrowing…”

that really moved me.  And she confirmed in chatting with her friend that they both felt this was how it was.  They had become part of an extended family and this connection would remain wherever they lived.  It had been a place of mending for them both.

The following day I was talking to her friend and recalled the first day that I had met with her and her son.  I commented that he was obviously full of resentment and rage at the way the rest of their family had treated his mother.  She confirmed that she had felt awful: rejected and alone.  And that Mill Grove had become a place of healing and mending.  I replied that it was so good to see her son growing, relaxing, and playing contentedly with others much younger than him during the previous evening.

And so it was that an unplanned and unscripted bank holiday had been rich with conversations, play, celebration…and mending.  People of three generations connecting with a deep knowing…the knowing you find with brothers and sisters.  With a family.

I don’t understand the dynamics.  As a matter of fact, they become more a of mystery by the day.  But I have come to realise that it’s true.  It is a therapeutic community where healing comes in its own way and time.

Dr Keith J. White



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