Given the problems that people are facing at the moment, mine might seem trivial but it has left me feeling hurt and angry.
For 20 years I have worked in my office, with staff of about 20. Over those years I have contributed to colleagues’ engagements, weddings, and special birthdays. In the past two years there have been three 50th birthdays, two retirements, one engagement, three babies and two weddings.
Thought of the day
If you remain generous
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind…
From Time To be Slow by John Donohue (Irish poet and priest, 1956 -2008)
Recently I had my 40th but all I got were texts. During lockdown two colleagues went on maternity leave, laden down with gifts — and they were relatively new employees. I didn’t even get one card. I might have expected a bunch of flowers, since colleagues who turned 50 got expensive jewellery.
I’m not married and don’t have children so wouldn’t it have been nice if someone had thought, ‘Let’s get Sue a present for a change’?
They are nice people and would be horrified that I’m upset. They’d say, ‘Oh I didn’t think,’ but that’s the problem. They didn’t think of me.
I live at home caring for my elderly parents and don’t have many friends and my colleagues know this. I spent a lot of my birthday crying in private. In the next few months I will be expected to contribute to gifts for two pregnant colleagues and I don’t want to.
I feel ignored and disregarded. It is the story of my life — expected to assist others while getting nothing in return. I am angry but mainly hurt. Do I wait until I get an email requesting the next contribution? I don’t want anything now because it wouldn’t mean anything. How do I deal with this?
This week Bel advises a reader who wonders why nobody makes a fuss of her on her birthday
From time to time a letter resonates like a powerful sermon or lecture from a genius, or a wise warning from a thinker. Your simple, sad email is such a one.
The problem you regard as small, even trivial (and many people, reading only the surface, might agree), contains depths of pain and longing I consider important. So thank you for writing.
For what does your question say to every single person reading this page? It’s a vital message for all people — two words that stand between civilisation and chaos: Be kind.
Some folk will think I’m making too much of a single lady who got no birthday cards or gifts. Not so. For what it takes is just a moment’s thought (as you so truly say, Sue) and every one of us can make somebody else’s life that bit better.
This is the Golden Rule, of treating others as you would wish to be treated yourself. Don’t behave with carelessness or outright indifference towards a friend, colleague or family member when you know quite well how wounded you would be were it to happen to you. When in doubt, make an effort. Then, you know what? It will come back to you.
You will realise how much I sympathise with your sadness and wish just one of your colleagues had thought to do a whip-round for a bouquet. You’ve worked there 20 years and I imagine you are regarded as fondly as the kettle everybody depended on for a coffee break before lockdown hit.
That kettle is ordinary but essential, yet few people contemplate it in its true glory, even though they’d notice if it were missing.
It’s a rough truth, that mostly people rush on with their individual lives, noticing the noise of other people, but not the quietness.
At the moment you are angry and don’t see why you should fork out for the next whip-round.
But can I suggest, very gently, that you continue as before? Why? Because not to do so would be to give into anger and allow other people’s carelessness to triumph. You, Sue, represent the quiet goodness that’s everywhere — getting on with life, looking after parents, giving endless tenners for the well-being and enjoyment of others.
To cease being that person would only make you more unhappy, as it would betray all you have been up to this point. So try to row back from feeling a bit vengeful.
All those ‘nice people’ who sent you texts thought they were remembering you. They did! I’ve no doubt they reckoned you wouldn’t want a fuss and they got it wrong. But it’s over now. Nothing to be done but plough on, and that’s a painful truth the majority of us have to take on board at some point.
But there is a lesson here. It reminds me of a key speech in Arthur Miller’s play, Death Of A Salesman. The ‘hero’ Willy Loman is, in the eyes of the world and himself, a failure and reaching a crisis.
This is what his wife Linda says: ‘I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.’
That is a lesson for us all — to pay attention. And Sue, try to flip your take on this so you can see yourself not as their victim, but the one with right on her side. Happy (late) birthday, and onwards to a better 2021.
I long to heal rift with my grandchild
In 1994, I divorced. My two boys were in their late teens and I continued to see them as much as possible, travelling 600 miles (round trip) every six weeks.
My youngest son had two children, in 1994 and 1999, by two different girlfriends. My wife and two sons kept the elder grandchild, a boy, secret from me for 17 years.
Though it was a shock to find out, I was eventually able to make contact with David and we have a good ‘friendship’.
After my granddaughter Anna’s mother died in 2002, my ex-wife adopted her. She’s now 21 and still lives with her nan. Anna had holidays with me every year, sometimes abroad.
But around 2013 I was informed by my ex’s husband that I would no longer be allowed to see her. I tried writing to my ex, tried mediation, and eventually had a court hearing — unaware that my ex was being treated for breast cancer. Had I known, I wouldn’t have proceeded with the case. The court found in my favour, and I had access to Anna again.
In 2014, when she was 15, the visits stopped. She was of an age to decide for herself, but living in a house where my ex, her husband and also my eldest son live, I believe she was influenced. I text her, and when I visit her city we meet.
Our communications are not as they were: she seems quite distant. I thought her father’s death from cancer might have brought us closer together.
Anna stands to inherit a substantial amount of money from me one day. How can I make the situation better, and have my granddaughter as friendly as she was toward me?
With regret I must plunge in and tell you sadly that your relationship with your granddaughter will probably never be what you wish.
People change, feelings corrode, circumstances disappoint. It would be wrong for anybody to pretend to you that this young woman from a very mixed up background could now go back in time and be the little girl who was happy to have fun times with her grandfather. We have to work with change and sometimes that means rolling with the punches, I’m afraid.
Your uncut letter tells me you have remarried, but nothing about what your wife thinks about this issue, or your will. I’d also be curious about the reasons for your divorce, because it will have affected your ex’s attitude to you.
Crucially, you also give no detail about why your ex’s husband suddenly told you you could no longer see Anna, precipitating the stressful court case.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
All the while, we must not forget, a vulnerable teenager was watching her nan struggle with cancer and (assuredly) hearing the adults say hostile things about you. That included her uncle, your elder son — which is another relationship you are silent about.
This is clearly very complicated, yet you have reached a stage where you do in fact see Anna every so often, when you find yourself in her city. Is there anything stopping you making that a tad more frequent? Restrictions permitting, you could institute a bi-monthly slap-up meal at a place of her choice? Building on your knowledge of her as an adult is key.
She is now 21 and presumably working or learning or both, with her own set of friends who will be much more important to her than you are. That’s a reality you must accept.
Does she know about your will? I’m not suggesting she should, because affection can’t be bought. But she might like an indication that she can one day have a degree of freedom. Then, what about David? I’m assuming that any money will be left equally to both grandchildren.
I study your longer email and recognise an ‘ordinary’ family, a story of every day people marked by dissent, divorce, irresponsibility (your younger son’s), shame, damaging secrecy, and anger.
What’s to be done? Nothing, other than keeping up warm, regular contact with both Anna and David, aware that feelings can always ease and wrongs be put right. Because those two hopes are as real as all the negatives. But you have to accept you can’t go backwards.
And finally…Treasures that give us all hope
Do you watch BBC1’s unexpected hit series The Repair Shop? Like the people on the show, I love to cherish old objects and their memories. If something breaks, I mend it. The rooms of our home are crammed with knick-knacks or maybe it’s treasure. . .
My love of ‘stuff’ goes back to when my parents, older brother and I were all living in my grandparents’ small, rented semi in Liverpool. My childish mind took in gleaming brass objects, framed embroidered mottos, china ornaments and so on.
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]
A pseudonym will be used if you wish.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
My nan cleaned other people’s houses for a living and kept her own immaculate. She dusted the objects possessed by the rich and created her own home in a humbler image.
Many people had a ‘best’ front room containing a three-piece-suite and ornament-filled display cabinet. Nan had crockery marked ‘foreign’ (which meant made in China), shell souvenirs (bought in Blackpool), and treasures such as the little ‘pearlised’ cruet (donkey, flower-cart and girl) on which my 12-year-old father had spent his savings (a whopping 2s/6d) in 1934 as a gift for Mam. I still have it.
In my childhood (1940s and 1950s), hard-working folk took immense pride in their homes; every single object was a sign that you had laboured, saved, chosen, displayed.
The city council might own your home, but the possessions inside it were yours. Those horse-brasses shining in the light of the coal fire and flying ducks on the wall announced your presence.
In this changing world, full of anxiety, millions have been forced to withdraw and cherish what’s familiar. Perhaps the contemplation of treasured family souvenirs can remind us of the good times and the normality that will return.
Experts say we mustn’t be defined by our possessions. Pah! I love mine and they keep me going. They speak of beauty, family, history, humour, art, nature, nostalgia and a deep sense of belonging. Oh, and a wealth of love, of course.