A nurse has told the emotional story of how she cared for her long-lost Irish mother who had given her up as a baby, without ever revealing who she really was.
Phyllis Whitsell, 62, grew up in a Birmingham orphanage after her alcoholic mother had given her up for adoption at birth.
The nuns that cared for Phyllis had always told her that her mother had died, but she felt deep down that wasn’t true. She remained determined to trace her ancestry and learn about her biological background.
At the age of 25, having just given birth to a baby daughter herself, Phyllis felt the time was right to confront her past.
She knocked on the door of a house she believed to be her mother’s, and sure enough stood face to face with the woman that had abandoned her as a baby.
However, Phyllis says she didn’t feel anger, but instead wanted to help her mother, after seeing how vulnerable she had become following years of alcoholism.
Phyllis’ profession as a nurse enabled her to make frequent visits to see her mother, and the two struck up a friendship. Phyllis cared for her for nine years until she died of dementia, but never revealed her true identity.
Phyllis’ mother had a tragic life. She was called Bridget Mary Larkin and had fled Ireland to escape an abusive relationship with her elder brother.
She turned to alcohol to dull her pain, and was dubbed ‘Tipperary Mary’ by the locals.
She had five children, all with different fathers and all were given up for adoption at birth.
The remarkable story has being turned into two books; ‘A Song for Bridget’ and ‘Finding Tipperary Mary’.
Looking back at her very first encounter with Bridget, Phyllis said: “It probably wasn’t the best time at all. My baby was only eight-weeks-old and I was there, full of hormones. In another way, it was now or never. I knew she was getting older.”
Despite being abandoned as a baby, Phyllis never felt any resentment or anger towards he mother.
She explained: “She’d had a baby out of wedlock, there was the pressure then, it was very much frowned upon. The mothers were made to feel like the sinners, it was dreadful.
“I do warm to vulnerable people. Some people say you should pull yourself together but I think nobody chooses that life.
“There has to be triggers and it’s a mental health issue. If you could choose a better life for yourself when you’re younger then you would. Addiction is such a hard thing to get over.”
It was because of Bridget’s alcohol addiction and erratic behaviour that Phyllis decided to keep her true identity a secret, in order to protect her own family.
She said: “Bridget wouldn’t have understood that I had a husband and children and that you can’t just turn up at the door.
“My mum would have been totally disruptive. It would have upset the children. She wasn’t just a bit merry [when drunk], she was throwing things and would look a state.
“Deep down in my heart I knew whenever I chose to tell her, it was going to be a trouble.
“At the beginning I wanted to tell her desperately but that’s when I was most nervous. I was never ashamed of her, I was just upset for her.”
Despite Bridget’s health problems, she and Phyllis shared some special moments together.
Phyllis said: “The only thing I’d hoped to get from her is friendship, which I did. She looked forward to my visits because she was lonely and she was comical at times. She used to have me in bits.
“She’d either be drunk or hungover – and if she was hungover she’d be in a bad mood.
“I’d like her when she was bit merry – she’d be quite comical – her favourite line was the ‘f****** do-gooders, she hated people telling her not to drink.”
Bridget developed dementia, and spent her final thirteen years living in a care home. Although Phyllis continued to visit her, she no longer recognised her long-lost daughter.
Phyllis hopes that the moving story will be made into a film.
She said: “Looking at my mum, when she was younger. She had hopes and dreams. People were abused and it was all covered up. What my mum went through, she turned to drink and couldn’t think clearly.
“I’d love it to be a film, it’d make a beautiful film. There are so many twists and turns.”
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