Author: Lady Colin Campbell
Title: Daughter of Narcissus
Publisher: Dynasty Press
Daughter of Narcissus is a stunning analysis by Lady Colin of her own dysfunctional family positioned at the heart of upper class Jamaican society from the middle of the 20th century to the present day. Covering the end of the British Colonial Age and the rise of a liberated generation, whilst addressing the narcissistic personality of her mother, the author brilliantly interconnects the sociological, political and personal. As she dissects the family dynamics lying beneath the appearance of wealth and power, Lady Colin’s understanding of personality disorder is revelatory: compelling the reader to comprehend the destructive and tragic reality concealed by rational language and behavior.
Set against a backdrop of glamour, wealth and fame, this compulsive book is both a fascinating history of one socially prominent family, and a uniquely detailed analysis of narcissism, its manifestations and how to survive them in order to lead a purposeful and affirming life.
It’s funny how the really important moments in one’s life are always squeezed between the mundane ones. I had just taken my three Springer Spaniel bitches for a walk around the domain of our family chateau in South-Western France near the great Cathedral city of Albi, birthplace of the French artist Toulouse Lautrec. It was a typical Midi-Pyrenean afternoon: warm and sunny and at least five degrees centigrade hotter outside than it was inside, where the massive stone walls, a metre thick, provided an air-conditioning system nature had neglected to give the lush and majestic countryside.
The summer of 2004 was turning out to be unusually hot, and would get even hotter still. The dogs and I walked out of the park surrounding our French home, up the old avenue of elms planted in the time of Napoleon I and into the late-nineteenth century avenue of plane trees, before heading into the woodland. Maisie Carlotta, the eldest of the three generations running around me, was really beginning to suffer from the heat, so I cut the walk short and headed back to the house with my panting pack.
It was my intention to start cooking as soon as I returned. I had a friend coming over for dinner, and my two sons had requested that I cook one of their favourites: sea-snails in garlic butter sauce to start, followed by breast of duck braised in olive oil, salt, black pepper and garlic, and ending up with a fruit salad of mangoes, bananas, oranges, pineapple and apples. As I was walking up the steps to the massive oak double doors, the telephone in the entrance hall began to ring. I ran to get it before the answering machine picked it up; frustratingly, many English-speaking people failed to leave messages, seeming to think that because the standard France Telecom message was in French, they were obliged to leave their message in that language.
This time, however, I didn’t need to worry. It was my sister Libby. The way she plunged right in, I knew she had something of significance to report.
‘It’s me,’ she said, before pressing on without further ado, ‘Mummy left yesterday. Kitty flew up day before yesterday to pick her up. She’s with her tonight, and tomorrow she returns to Cayman.’
I remained silent, which my sister knew meant that I really wasn’t very interested in hearing that our mother was flying with our younger sister from Boca Raton, where Kitty lived with her husband and seven-year-old daughter, back to her home on Grand Cayman.
‘I’m phoning to tell you that Ben thinks Mummy doesn’t have long to live,’ Libby continued, referring to her husband, who is a well-known physician and diagnostician.
‘You can let her run rings around you if you want,’ I said impatiently. ‘That bitch has had all the sympathy she’s going to get out of me. Not for a second will I be falling for her latest act – whatever it is. Be her dupe if it makes you feel better, but I don’t intend to be so gullible.’
All my life I had seen our mother, who had the constitution of an ox in the delicate casing of a beautiful petal, play the health card whenever it suited her purposes. Never would I forget the anxiety she had put the whole family through in October 1967, when she told all of us the doctor feared she might not have long to live as he was sure she had terminal cancer; then, when she had got Daddy to buy her the diamond ring upon which she had her heart set – and which he had hitherto refused to get her – the health threat disappeared into thin air. Well, I knew exactly where I was coming from and what she was all about. ‘Dearest Mamma’ – as I usually called her ironically – was an inveterate manipulator and anything but anyone’s dearest anything. Indeed, she had never been anything like a mother at all to the four of us siblings, much less one to whom anyone could ascribe adjectives such as ‘dear’ or ‘dearest’, except when being sarcastic. Those words, said without side, were ones we had always reserved for her elder sister Marjorie, our beloved Auntie, who had died the year before and whose estate had been the source of Mummy’s most inglorious moment in a lifetime full of inglorious moments.
‘No,’ Libby said. ‘It’s true. She’s not the same person you saw last year when Auntie died. She’s not even the same person I saw in February.’ That was when Libby had flown down from her house in the Midwest of America to straighten out the mess of our mother’s creation surrounding Aunt Marjorie’s estate. At the time, our mother had been seventy-five but with the looks of a sixty-year-old and the energy of a thirty-five-year-old on speed.
‘She’s aged twenty years in the last few months,’ Libby insisted. ‘I was really surprised when I saw her.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ I replied irritably. ‘When are you going to learn that Dearest Mamma is a consummate actress and utterly ruthless with it. She’ll do anything to prevail. When she can’t win, as she hasn’t in this instance, she then tries to snatch a victory of sorts out of the jaws of defeat by making everyone feel sorry for her. That way she remains the focus of all activity and thereby satisfies her lust for constant attention, which in her sick way of thinking, means her will is still prevailing. Well, I don’t feel sorry for her, and I’m certainly not about to give her an opportunity to reinterpret her attempt to rip us off and her ignominious failure to carry it off as anything other than what it is: a low down, despicable act of treachery and one, moreover, which doesn’t deserve anything but contempt.’
‘I appreciate why you feel the way you do,’ Libby said, ‘but she really isn’t faking it this time.’
I was anything but convinced by what Libby was saying because I knew where she was coming from too. She was so intent upon being seen to be fair and even-handed on all occasions, and had such convoluted issues with a mother who had been nothing short of abominably abusive towards her from her earliest childhood until her husband had made the fortune which he now had, that she frequently erred on the side of fuzziness. Well, I had seen too many people fall for too many of our mother’s acts to fall into that trap.
Because Libby and I had different issues with Mummy, I could afford to call a spade a spade and usually did so. In my view, one of the reasons why individuals like Gloria got away with their behaviour was that most people, especially those closest to them, simply did not want to accurately define their conduct. It was as if they feared that by giving a label to the unvarnished facts, their whole world would come tumbling down. So they obfuscated, minimized, prevaricated and, in my experience, remained trapped in a game they neither liked nor wanted to play. Not for one second did it occur to me that I might be caught up as a living participant in the tale of the boy who cried wolf and that our mother was genuinely dying.
‘I’m not buying that,’ I said. ‘This scenario is just typical of her. It has all the hallmarks of Mummy’s modus operandi: screw people, then when it backfires on her, the very people she’s screwed are to dance attendance on her with lashings of sympathy and attention. No, my dear, not for one nanosecond will I express sympathy I don’t feel. If you must know, it’s us I feel sorry for. I may not know why God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to inflict such a poisonous mother upon us, but I do know it’s my duty, to myself as a human being and to my children as their mother, to make sure that Mummy doesn’t get away with her antics. If you want to assume the role of sympathizer when it’s us she’s been abusing, you go right ahead and waste your sympathy on the undeserving. For my part, I have better things to do with my time and energy.
She’s damned lucky I’m speaking to her at all, after that little trick she tried to pull in January.’
‘I appreciate what you’re saying,’ Libby replied, ‘but it really isn’t like that this time. Ben says she has twelve to eighteen months to live – twenty-four at the most.’
‘We should be so lucky,’ I said wryly, convinced this was one of those occasions upon which she, the inglorious Gloria, was intent upon avoiding the consequences of her actions when she couldn’t enjoy the ill-gotten gains of yet another act of manipulation.
‘No,’ Libby continued, by now quite used to the invective our mother inspired. ‘This time she isn’t putting on an act. She’s lost a tremendous amount of weight and has become a wizened old woman overnight. She can barely get around. You know how she loves flowers. Well, I took her to the botanical gardens in Kansas City with my grandchildren, and she was near to collapse after fifteen minutes. I promise you, it was an effort for her to walk anywhere. She isn’t the dynamo you saw last year at Auntie’s funeral. Ben was so concerned about her that he insisted on checking her out. He took her to the hospital and put her through a full battery of tests…all of which he paid for, of course. It emerges she’s developed cirrhosis of the liver. He sat her down and had a long talk with her. You know how mean she can be with money. He even offered to pay for her to go into rehab, but she said she doesn’t want to. She said she has nothing to live for and she doesn’t see the point of giving up drinking to prolong a life that she doesn’t want to live.’
‘All I can say is, if I had three children who as a rule behaved towards me lovingly and who were even prepared to have me come and live with them, despite my despicable behaviour, as well as six grandchildren who were prepared to give me love, even after I abuse them, not to mention a legion of acquaintances and relations and friends and enough money to enjoy them all, I wouldn’t say I had nothing to live for,’ I replied, thinking to myself how counterproductive it was when people who had everything to be grateful for ignored what they had and focused on what they lacked. If there was one lesson I had learned from observing my mother, it was that happiness and fulfilment are not possible unless you can count your blessings and have a genuine appreciation for them.
‘Maybe she’s depressed,’ Libby said, doing what dysfunctional families so often do. They alight upon the symptom, not the underlying cause, and try to explain everything away in innocuous, everyday terms. However, Gloria’s lack of regard for us deserved recognition and attribution if ever we were to understand what she was all about and how that had affected us. Without that knowledge, we could never be truly free of her malign influence.
The fact was that, unless we were prepared to accurately and dispassionately stare the truth in the face and acknowledge it, no matter how ugly it was, we would remain hostages to time, trapped in the prison of misery she had constructed so ably for us since early childhood. Sure, much of the truth we had to face was disagreeable, and confronting it was painful; but some of it, I had come to realize, was actually positive. It was in our interest to face all the facts squarely, for only then could we appreciate the reality of what we had experienced – and continued to experience – at her hands. It really was a case of the truth setting us free, and I couldn’t see how seeking refuge in superficially acceptable explanations could ever provide the freedom I sought from the tentacles of our vicious mother.
‘Maybe she is depressed,’ I agreed, seeing no merit in pointing out to my sister that I disagreed with her attempt at palliation. ‘If I were as cretinous as she is, and hadn’t been able to snatch all that lovely money out of the mouths of my daughters and grandchildren, I’d be depressed too.’
‘Be that as it may,’ Libby said in softer tones than usual, ‘it really is going to be curtains for her if she doesn’t give up drinking. Her liver is now severely damaged. As Ben explained to her, if she gives up now, it will regenerate. But if she continues for even another three months, it will be too late to reverse the damage, and she will die whether she then elects to take up his offer of rehab or not.’
‘Have you tried to talk her into going into rehab?’ I asked, knowing very well how unlikely it was that Libby would do any such thing: not when Mummy had set out, since Libby was three years old, to crush her.
‘You know what she’s like. No sooner did I try to broach the subject than she cut me off,’ Libby responded, alluding to the frosty obstinacy which was so much a feature of our mother’s character, along with her bright intuitiveness which ensured that she always knew what you were going to say before your lips formed the words. Moreover, Libby and I both knew from bitter experience that no conversation – not even ones which were ostensibly pleasant – between Gloria and any of her children ever took place without her getting in one of her favourite expressions as a reminder to us that she was intent on maintaining absolute control. ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ she would trill rather than speak, as if the world really were a stage, and she the star, director, and producer. Meanwhile we, her children – mere children, mark you, and therefore subservient in every way, despite now being in our fifties – were expected to defer to her greater authority. She always made it absolutely clear, both by what she said and by what she omitted to say, that she ‘ruled the roost’ – another of her favourite expressions which was also trilled rather than said, the very sound of the words being as much a claxon as the words themselves.
Gloria made sure that she left us in no doubt that she expected us to adhere to our allotted role. And what was that role? The audience. And, as all well-rehearsed audiences knew, we were not to try to take over the production. Because we could not contribute to the script, we must sit appreciatively, waiting for the cues the play offered: to laugh, to cry, to be sad, to be happy – but always following the lead of the playwright and, at the end of it all, showing one’s appreciation with the applause that is the due of every great playwright. In Gloria’s world, there was no room for Italian audiences, who booed and generally showed their displeasure whenever their vision did not accord with the playwright’s. No. Gloria’s audience was to be properly Anglo-Saxon in demeanour. It was to approve, and if it didn’t, it was to stifle its disapproval and direct no trace of such unwelcome sentiments to the far more important arena of the stage, where she reposed with the absolute certainty that the world existed for her convenience and enjoyment.
‘Yes, I know,’ I said, sympathizing with my sister’s lot. ‘But you can’t help people who don’t want to help themselves. As Mummy herself is so fond of saying, you can take a horse to the water, but you can’t force it to drink. And a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. I think it’s important that we respect her right to make her own choices. She’s always been excessively selfwilled, and if her failings are catching up with her now, and she’s going to have
to pay the price, all I can say is that seventy-five years of getting away with murder isn’t a bad innings. Most people can’t ever escape the consequences of their actions for hours, much less decades. So on some level she’s way ahead of the game.’
‘You were always her favourite child. Maybe you should say something to her,’ Libby suggested.
‘No, no, absolutely not. Do you remember in 1976, when I introduced Brian Cox, that army officer who was a recovered alcoholic, to her? How she turned on me and spent the next several years going at me hell for leather?
“Georgie is a little stinker who set Alcoholics Anonymous on me,” she kept on saying to anyone who would listen. “And I’m going to make her pay.” How she did! Oh, how she did! One malicious scheme after another. As if trying to get her into treatment was a crime. There’s no way I’m running the risk of a repetition of that,’ I said emphatically.
‘I just thought that now that Daddy and Mickey are dead, maybe you could get her treatment the way they did.’
‘I don’t think so. In 1996, Mummy issued me with a stern warning, and I’ve heeded it ever since. Moreover, I propose to continue doing so. I’m not you. I don’t have a rich husband to support me. And I have my two eleven-year-old children to think of. I need every penny of the money she inherited from Daddy, our brother Mickey, Grandma, and Auntie. You know how she’s always threatening to leave everything to “a puss or dog charity” if we don’t do exactly what she wants. She told me in no uncertain terms in 1996, and I quote: “I’m a big woman. Older than all of you, because I gave birth to you. I intend to continue drinking, and I don’t want any interference out of any of you. Do I make myself clear?” I remember as if it were yesterday exactly what I replied. Although I felt like responding in kind and making the acid observation that she’d made herself only too clear, since we’d been getting on better than we had for twenty-five years, instead I said, “You’ve touched upon an important philosophic point. You’re telling me you have an absolute right to do whatever it is you wish with yourself because you are an adult. I agree with you. I shall respect your decision in that regard until such time as you indicate to me that you wish to change it. If, indeed, you ever do.” “Good,” she said with rather more pleasure than one usually hears her employ when expressing herself. I meant what I said then, and I mean it now. I will never try to get her to stop drinking unless she indicates to me that she wants me to do so.’
‘But you’re the only one left who might have some influence with her,’ Libby persisted, as if I had ever had any influence with our mother when it had come to anything of any consequence. She was clearly confusing teenage events – such as the times I approached Gloria to get us permission to go to the cinema or to a party when Daddy had told us we could not – with something of greater significance.
‘Shall I tell you the truth?’ I said, chary of being roped into a situation not of my own making, which could have adverse financial consequences for me and mine. ‘It’s her life, and if she wants to destroy it, she can do so. Moreover, I dispute the fact that I’m her favourite. If anyone is, it’s you, because you’re the only one to whom she ever accords even a modicum of respect. She has absolutely no respect for either Kitty or me, doubtless because we don’t have the money you do.
I agree it would be good if someone could get her to stop drinking, but I really think you’re better situated than either Kitty or me to do so.’
‘If Ben had no success, I won’t either,’ Libby sensibly observed. Gloria was always open about preferring men to women, and her son-in-law to her own daughter. ‘You know how rabidly protective she is of her drinking.’
I remembered only too well the last time the subject of Gloria’s drinking, which had been a major problem for all of us siblings since our teenage years, had come up. It was May 2001. We had been at Libby’s house, where Gloria was staying for the wedding of Libby’s elder daughter, who was marrying into one of America’s great political dynasties Elizabeth, the bride-to-be, and I pulled up into the forecourt of her parents’ paean to the American dream; a spanking new custom-built house with several thousand square feet of superfluous living space situated in prime position on an exclusive golf and country club, whose membership seemed peculiarly representative of the status quo when Eisenhower was still president.
If the tone of Libby’s neighbourhood was pre-Kennedy in attitude, the services she and her kind availed themselves of were definitely Clintonesque.
Thanks, therefore, to the effective deployment of the instrument of communication my sister and niece called a ‘cell’ – and I called a ‘mobile’ – Libby was standing in the forecourt to witness our arrival as I turned my rented car up the driveway of the house I had never seen before.
In books or films, sisters who have not seen one another for two years embrace and exchange niceties before plunging into the maelstrom of family problems, but this did not happen.
‘Mummy’s been knocking back straight scotch by the glassful from ten o’clock in the morning since she came last week,’ Libby said with an intensity I recognized only too well, before I had even managed to swing my foot out of the car and place it on the smooth surface of her forecourt. ‘I’ve been so concerned that I just had to say something. I told her you’re upset with her.
Just so you know.’
‘I’m not sure I’m following you,’ I replied, taken aback by this development. It was one thing to have to deal with a mother who was perpetually three sheets to the wind, with all the attendant turmoil and malice, but quite another to be dropped into that particular cauldron when I had been determined to avoid it at all costs.
‘Scotch is so bad for her that I just had to say something. And I thought, since you’re her favourite, she’d be more open to your disapproval than to mine.’
As invariably happens in families, dysfunctional or not, there were wheels within wheels. This meant that one either went along with the flow and accepted a situation one found unacceptable, usually with a whole unforeseen and undeserved set of consequences; or one stood one’s ground and hopefully managed to avoid triggering one of the explosions characteristic of people
with too much will and too little sense of how life should be lived.
Libby did not need to tell me that our mother drinking straight scotch was an undesirable development. Nor did she need to tell me that it was as much a shock to her as it was to me. We had all thought that Gloria had been drinking white wine and champagne since her return to the bottle in the late 1980s after ten years on the wagon. Giving voice to the comfort we took from the switch she had made from her previous practice of consuming a bottle of gin and a bottle of port a day in the 1960s and 1970s, she herself used to say: ‘I don’t drink alcohol. Only a little white wine or champagne. And you can’t really class those as alcohol, for they’re effectively fortified grape juice.’
To an uninitiated bystander, the scenario as it was evolving might well have seemed preposterous: a middle-aged woman firing information at a machine-gun rate about her mother’s drinking to her elder sister, who had just flown halfway around the world, and doing so before she even had the opportunity to ask how her flight was. However, anyone who has had to cope with alcoholism will know only too well how the disease distorts the behaviour of everyone it touches, so that what is extraordinary in another situation is typical in the alcoholic’s context. Furthermore, Gloria was not your typical alcoholic. Whether drunk or sober, drinking or dry, she was a forceful dynamo of unpredictability and outspokenness who brooked no opposition to the implementation of her will. To know her was to be in terror, if not of her then of what she could do. It was the feeling that you could never be adequately prepared for what she might come up with next that unsettled practically everyone who knew her well.
If Libby had hoped to give me ample warning of what awaited me before our mother wrested the reins back into her own hands, Gloria disappointed her. Clearly she must have heard the car for she now opened the front door with as much self-possession as if Libby and I were both guests – and unwanted ones at that – in her house, even though she was Libby’s guest. She calmly cast her eyes over the scene of her two daughters and granddaughter huddled in a mass, patently talking about a forbidden subject, and without more ado literally hissed like a viper, turned on her heels in high dudgeon and sailed back inside like a stately galleon which did not condescend to acknowledge either the wave or the mess floating upon the sea.
‘But I never said any such thing!’ I protested, taken aback that Libby could have embroiled me in what was developing into yet another of the messes which had made life in our family something to dread rather than enjoy. ‘How could I when I didn’t even know she drank scotch? I thought it was a drink she never liked.’
‘Well, she likes it now, that’s for sure,’ Libby retorted, pursuing her lips to indicate how rattled she was by Gloria having just shown up the way she had.
‘I haven’t even counted the quantity she’d got through. But you can depend on it: it will be quite a few bottles.’
‘Listen,’ I said, trying to be as supportive as possible. ‘I appreciate what you’ve tried to do. But I have to tell you, you must keep my name out of your rescue attempts in future.’
With that, I headed straight into a house I did not know, walked from the entrance hall past the drawing room into the family room, where Gloria was sitting with haughty disdain, watching television and nursing a tumbler full of scotch.
Over the years I had learned how to deal with my mother. Of all her close relations and friends, I was the only one who was not afraid of her. I refused to take her rubbish while still maintaining the semblance of a pleasant, if sporadic, relationship. Dealing with her wasn’t easy. Sometimes it was downright tiresome, but I was resolved to have as ‘good and as happy a relationship’ with her as I could: a refrain I did not shy away from reminding her of when it was necessary or desirable.
This was one of those occasions. The only way to defuse the situation was to grasp the bull by the horns and look him in the eye. So, without further ado, I bent over and brushed cheeks with her in salutation as she sat on the sofa studiously ignoring me.
‘I want you to know,’ I said in a normal tone of voice, free of either resentment or fear, ‘that I never said anything to Libby about your drinking scotch. She’s concerned that if you drink spirits, you’ll do yourself more harm than if you drink wine or champagne. I happen to agree with her and think you ought to be made aware of the dangers. But, as I told you when you were taking me to Palisadoes in 1996, I respect your right to drink, and more than pointing out to you that wine is easier on the body than spirits, I have nothing to say on the subject. Frankly, I resent my name having been brought into it at all.’
‘I’m glad to hear it,’ she said coolly without bothering to look up from the television. To an onlooker, the very indirectness of this exchange might have indicated that she was still upset with me, but I knew otherwise. She was not conveying displeasure. She was communicating assent. The great Gloria had condescended to let insignificant little me off the hook this time. In her scheme of things, if she had given a more overt response, she would have been endowing me with greater significance than she wished to convey. She intended me to discern that I was too insignificant to warrant anything but the most tepid of responses.
Was I grateful? Absolutely not. Was I relieved? Only slightly. Was I resentful? Not at all. What is the point of resenting the fact that the alligator has a rough hide and sharp teeth and will devour you if you get too close to it, or that the fire will burn you if you put your hand into it? The alligator and fire are as much facts of life as you or I; and it is up to us to deal with them appropriately. If there was one thing I had learned about handling my mother, it was that she was every bit as dangerous as an alligator or a fire, and it was far easier to acknowledge her for what she was and deal with it, than it was to deny it and run the risk of suffering the consequences of that failure.
Yet Gloria still remained my mother, and my goal was to have as good and as positive a relationship with her as possible. So, after I put away my luggage, I returned to the family room, where she was still sitting, and sat in the wing-backed armchair opposite her.
‘Come and sit with me,’ she said. ‘And turn off that television. I can barely hear myself think with it on, much less talk to you.’
‘I don’t know how to turn it off,’ I said.
‘Libby, come here and turn this blasted racket off,’ Gloria ordered without even bothering to look up to see where her other daughter – and hostess – was. Libby, however, was quite sensibly absenting herself from the maternal presence, so I had to go in search of her. The television, it emerged, was one of those super-sophisticated systems that only a rocket scientist or a child of seven could work without studying the manual. So Libby came back with me, turned it off then fled back to another part of the house, the fact that it was her house making not one scrap of difference to the discomfort she was being made to endure by our mother.
Of course, I could not help but recognize how ludicrous it was that a woman in her fifties would have to seek refuge from a guest in her own house, but this was a pattern that had been set decades before. As Libby scurried out of the room, I smiled to myself, thinking how very fortunate it was for us as a family that we had always been able to live in places that afforded us the protection of size. Could one have survived a mother such as ours at closer quarters? I doubted it.
With the television off, I now had to focus on attentiveness rather than escape. Gloria, fortunately, always made it easy for each of us, in one respect if in no other. She was such a compulsive chatterbox that she only ever asked the most cursory of questions, as good manners decreed, before plunging right into her latest preoccupation. And so it was this time. After asking me about my flight and hearing that it was uneventful, then asking whether the children were well and hearing that they were – all of which took no more than ninety seconds – she was off and running. She had recently left Jamaica to move to Grand Cayman, and she was full of what she was up to, including her incipient romance with her sister’s brother-in-law, Anthony. For the remainder of that visit, Gloria was on her best behaviour and was actually as much of a pleasure to be with as it was possible for her to be. Her rampant egotism and incessant need to dominate seemed to have evaporated along with the scotch she had ceased to drink. I actually got a glimpse of what a joy it could be to have a mother who was somewhat kindly, cooperative,
pleasant and, above all, one of the gang rather than ganging up against everyone else. Whether this new attitude was because she was distracted by the hope of her budding romance or because her favourite granddaughter was getting married to someone of whom she approved – Quince was the descendant of two American presidents on his father’s side and a member of
one of Virginia’s oldest and grandest families on his mother’s – or whether it was because she was mellowing and making a greater effort to enjoy her children and grandchildren, I could not say. Nor did I care what the reason was. I was just happy to have happy memories and grateful for the occasion which provided them.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that Anthony was most likely the immediate reason for Gloria’s good behaviour and positive attitude, just as the very hopes he instilled in her would provide the catalyst for her subsequent betrayal of her daughters.
This, however, was still in the future, as indeed was Libby’s telephone call, which I was taking this June afternoon of 2004.
‘So, you’re telling me, this really is crunch time. It isn’t another of Mummy’s diabolical games,’ I said to Libby.
‘This is it. Unless she gives up drinking, which we all know she’s never going to do voluntarily, she’ll be dead in twenty-four months tops. And it could be much sooner if she gets flu or something like that. She’s so thin that she won’t have the resistance to fight off a strong virus or infection. She can’t weigh a pound over one hundred.’
Suddenly I felt as if someone had deflated my balloon and released all the anger that I had been feeling towards my mother. Could it really be that this force of nature would actually die? Would she really leave us – dare I say it, release us? God knows, there had been ample times over the past forty-four years when I had wished that I could be rid of her. Yet now that the time had actually come, now that the countdown to death was beginning, I felt neither relief nor elation nor any of the other things one is expected to feel when a millstone begins to be lifted from around one’s neck. What I felt was regret. Regret that it had come to this. Regret that we had so little to show or share in the way of positive memories of a woman who had occupied the most important role a woman can in the life of her daughters. She was still my mother. One could take a perfunctory view, the way so many people do nowadays, or one could take a spiritual view, which I preferred. I genuinely believed then, and still believe now, that the relationship between a parent and a child is sacred. I believe it is ordained by God and that we are put on this earth to fulfil a destiny which we can only ever partly understand but which, in its entirety, is one of our real purposes on this earth.
As far as I am concerned, this life is merely the first phase of life. In this, our earthly incarnation, we are bound by time, but upon death we are released into another dimension, which is timeless. It is therefore important for each of us to get our relationships and our souls into good order, as we will be stuck with the consequences of our choices not only for now but for all eternity. I
do not take the view that what happens today doesn’t matter tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, because the past is the past and will never return. I think the past never leaves us. Nor do I believe that our time on this earth, short as it is, is relatively unimportant. On the contrary, I think that our every action and choice is of utmost importance; for what we are today, what we choose today, is a result of our choices and beliefs from yesterday and all our other yesterdays, and they will be with us not only for today and tomorrow but for all eternity.
Each of us has a system, priorities and a scale of values. Mine are relatively simple. I have always valued the people in my life above all else. Believing as I do, I had little choice but to confront my mother’s mortality in as spiritual a way possible.
Although I did not know it at the time, by taking this approach I also gave myself the opportunity to find out what had really been wrong with our mother. The root of her problem had never been alcoholism, although her alcoholism had compounded the underlying problems. In my quest to discover what had motivated her, I would end up doing myself a huge favour, for there is no surer way of killing the ghosts of the past than by shining daylight upon them.
‘I’ll telephone her when she gets back to Cayman and arrange to take the children to see her,’ I said. ‘If she really is going to die, I’ll do everything in my power to see her out with as much love and affection and kindness as I can summon up.’
‘I understand,’ Libby said.
Lady Colin Campbell is a highly successful and prolific author of several books, including London and New York Times bestsellers, and has been a prominent and often controversial figure in royal and social circles for many years. She perhaps is best known for her international bestselling book Diana in Private, 1992, and her subsequent extended and revelatory biography of the Princess of Wales, The Real Diana published in 2004. She has written books on the Royal Family, been a long term columnist and appeared numerous times on TV and Radio as an experienced Royal Insider and expert on the British aristocracy. In 1997 she published her autobiography, A Life Worth Living, which was serialized in The Daily Mail. Born in St Andrew, Jamaica, she was educated there and in New York, where she lived for seven years. She is connected to British royalty through common ancestors and marriage. She has two sons and lives in London.
You can visit her publisher online at www.dynastypress.co.uk.