The process of discovery is not always easy.
This week we found out that our grandmother committed suicide.
Dad had found his biological brother a few months ago. Both Dad and Jack grew up without their mother. Dad had been given for adoption shortly after he was born. Jack’s father had separated from their mother and took the 2 year old Jack back to Britain. Both Dad and Jack have in various ways searched for traces of their mother Betty Isabel Doncaster Vauqulin (nee Sowman).
Till now no traces were found.
Dad had tried to contact the Sowman part of the family. A lady was helpful and helped Dad find a marriage certificate, a birth certificate and some other information, but then the trail grew cold.
After Dad got in touch with Jack, we managed to source an engagement announcement about Betty from the Times of India in 1945. But for some reason this marriage does not seem to have happened. Another dead end.
Then last week Jack sent us the bomb-shell.
He said that for many years he had the name 'Walker' on his mind. A check of shipping records finds on Henry Walker who along with B.I.D. Walker left India for Britain. Henry Walker is recorded as being a Naval Officer.
They then found out that a Betty Walker died in Birmingham in 1961.
Jack applied for a death certificate and got this:
A death certificate for Betty Isobel Doncaster Walker.
She died in Birmingham on 1961.
The cause: burning. Underneath is typed out ‘killed herself’
The image I have is blurred, but it seems to say she was a cook. The address is of a hotel. She is listed as wife of (unknown).
I feel immensely sad for Betty. In 1961 Dad was at college in the US. He was blossoming as a young man – questing forward with the spiritual discoveries and passion that would define the rest of his life. At the same time his mother’s life spiralled to an end. Suicide is one of those things that will always defy a full understanding. No simple words can express the horrible complexities of someone ending their life. But here we have typed out on a document black-on-white words which certifies that this is how Betty died.
I was talking to Stefan this evening on the phone about Betty's death and he said something important. He said that till know we are just talking about ‘my Father’s biological mother.’ True enough. Nothing false here. But also a very abstract and remote way of talking about Betty. She is our grandmother and though we know so little about her – I realise that I have been shielding myself – cutting myself off from any emotional involvement – building a little psychic wall of isolation.
Grandma Betty was born on 26th October 1915. She died on 14th November 1961. She was a tragically young 46 at the time. Only 3 years older than I am know. My beautiful grandmother lived what seems to have been a short life with a great deal of sadness entwined in it.
My heart goes out to Dad and Jack as they process this death. In one way is the end of their search for their mother. They have found her. To an extent at least. The very slim off-chance that she might still be alive – or slightly greater hope that we might still find some happy siblings who would tell us about how Betty lived a life of joy - seems to have died as well.