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Sunday, 30 November 2014

Boarding School Survivors

Occasionally I wake in the deep of the night from a recurring dream. I've been having this dream for over forty years but, when I first wake, the feelings of despair, of fear and of my world closing in are as strong as they ever were. In this dream it is the night before I am to return to boarding school. I have to leave the safety of my cosy bedroom with its sloping walls, uneven floor and diamond-paned windows overlooking the garden and the village green, and take my place in a dormitory full of twenty or so other girls. If I am lucky I will occupy a cubicle with a barely adequate curtain to give me a little privacy. If not, my iron bedstead, with its lumpy mattress, will be at the bottom of the dormitory in an open area with five others for company. Only beneath the sheets, which, to begin with, still smell of home, can I hide my tears.

This week I took my daughter for a spa day, as part of her twenty-first birthday present. We went to Ragdale Hall in Leicestershire and each of us selected a special treatment. I chose an angel card reading combined with chakra silks and my daughter had a crystal treatment with chakra balancing. As part of this she was taken into a guided meditation and during the treatment she was visited by my mother who died nine years ago.

"Grandma has a message for you," she said, gently, as we sat at the table, waiting for our lunch. "She wants you to let go of the hurt you still feel about being sent to boarding school. She had no idea how it would affect you long term. She has mellowed. She is sorry."

This came completely out of the blue. We had not been talking about boarding school and although my mother is mentioned often, her name didn't come up on our journey to Ragdale. I felt overwhelmingly emotional.

"Grandma wants you to know that she is incredibly proud of you and all that you have achieved," my daughter continued softly, as my tears spilled over.

My boarding school experience was not a happy one. Those seven years altered me and I spent many subsequent years chasing after the person I was before being sent away. I thought I had put all of that behind me. But the fact that my mother in particular had refused to believe me when I said how unhappy I was still hurt. So, with this out of the blue message, can I totally put it behind me now? To be honest I'm not sure. The message and the unexpectedness of it is still sinking in. It was the last thing I thought would happen on a relaxing, pampering day out. Maybe the ultimate test will be whether that dream recurs again.

Whilst I don't like labels, I do consider myself to be a boarding school survivor and there are many of us. In the intervening years I have negotiated my own way through the fall-out but if you need to talk to someone The Boarding School Survivors Association can offer help. To those of you who have not boarded, the term 'survivor' and talk of healing 'wounds' may sound over-dramatic. It is not. The wrong school for a child can strip them of their essence; being a boarder magnifies that. There is no-one to turn to, no place of safety, sometimes the only way out can lead to drastic and tragic consequences.

I want to end on a positive note. Experiences such as mine, whilst influencing your life do not have to prevent future happiness. From hard times come valuable lessons, ones which I am grateful for. One of the main things I learned was the importance of listening to my children and what they are trying to say, not just when they were small but now they are older too. I hope that I shall never stop listening. As parents we are bound to get some things wrong. When we do it is important to say sorry. That is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. Saying 'sorry, I got it wrong', can help to heal.

Thank-you for reading. As we move into Advent, I hope you have an uplifting week.


  1. What a shock that must have been when your daughter spoke those words. I'm so glad that you felt you could write about it and share the hurt. Take care.

  2. Gosh, how strange! And, I hope, comforting.