Ego Integrity: 5/8 A matchless family life?

This is the fifth in a series of eight “old age” reflections on this period of my life. (The process and place of such reflections is described in the final paragraph.) It conjures up the words, pride, completeness, adversity, optimism, Buddhism, compassion, bonding. I hope you can see how they arise in this post.

Family, and everything the word means, has been central to my entire life. My values and beliefs were planted in me, almost by osmosis, by my hard working and loving mother, and thankfully I found a wife who had been brought up the same way and in similarly difficult conditions. Dr C and I were students together doing research for our doctorates in chemistry in Glasgow, she was from Kathmandu partly sponsored by her government, I was from Cumbria fully sponsored by British Steel Corporation. I know it’s a bizarre analogy, but we were like the same two poles of a magnet, we didn’t repel, we were just ….. the same. We were not opposites attracting each other, we were the same! We married as students and planned our lives together, a white Englishman and a brown Nepalese girl, mixed marriages were relatively rare in those days. Frugality was a shared value, and living together as students we started saving for our first house as I completed my doctorate and she became a Post Doctoral Fellow at Strathclyde University.

Our first house was a 3 bedroom detached house in North Wales and our first child, Michael, was born 12 months later. Sharon Hera was born 2 years after Michael and our family was complete; as a father AND a psychologist, watching them grow and develop across infancy was a complete joy. Just before Michael was due to start school we moved house across the border into Cheshire, a 4 bedroom house with a village green in front of it. Our children played for hours on this patch of grass, often having fun with older children playing cricket. But times were hard; from memory our mortgage interest rate was 12% and inflation was running at 16%. We’d had no holiday in 5 years and couldn’t afford to go out for meals or anything like that. But a strong memory is that every Saturday evening we’d take it in turns to cook a 3 course meal for each other using a cooking magazine we bought weekly for ideas. Table laid, candles, a bottle of wine ……. then washing up, all to be done by whoever’s turn it was. We still remember and laugh about Lettuce Soup, bizarre choice and a challenge, but it worked!

Apart from a couple of camping holidays on the North Wales coast, our first proper holiday was in 1983 ……. to Kathmandu. This was 12 years after we’d married and would be Dr C’s first trip home to see her family since 1968! I have written extensively about this momentous trip entitled When Nepal Was a Kingdom so won’t say much here (click the title link to read in full) but here is background:

“Imagine marrying someone from a different country from your own, and for 12 years they are not allowed to return! The reasons are extremely complex and nothing to do with family and everything to do with politics. My wife, Dr C, was the first ever woman from Nepal to get a PhD in 1971, the year we were married. Yet despite her being granted British citizenship we were told that the Nepal government “wanted her back”!”

What I want to say here though is that the return air fare to Kathmandu in 1983 was approximately £950 for all 4 of us, money we didn’t have! So, we started saving every spare penny we had, children too, putting it into a jar, then taking it to a building society ceremonially at the end of every month. It took almost two years, all we had was air fare, but Dr C knew her family would take care of us. [We do hope you will read that post and the series that followed, or maybe take a peek at the book we are writing A Year in Nepal also on our blog.]

That holiday made two lasting impressions upon us as a family; firstly the level of poverty and deprivation in Dr Cs home country, and secondly the “power” of small savings over time becoming something bigger. We had both been brought up to save and now our children were completely hooked on it too. So, a story to emphasise it. A year after this holiday we had saved another £1000 thanks to a pay rise and Dr C starting to work again, and we decided to put the money into a Unit Trust. Each week I would check the value of the stocks in the newspaper and the children became fascinated with the whole process. To help them understand I created “shares” in the M&G Recovery Fund with pieces of paper as certificates they could buy for 50p each. Then we would look at the newspaper each week and work out the value of each certificate! It was a fun way to teach them the basics of investment, but they did get grumpy when their 50p shares, which had grown to 60p fell back to 55p ……. and Michael promptly wanted his money!

As time went on we became the “complete family”, regularly visiting my mum in Cumbria, taking holidays in Europe, and becoming engaged in school life as we moved to The Cotswolds in 1986 where we currently live. Our children were both very bright and outstanding at sports, Michael at rugby and field athletics and Sharon at hockey and netball. Both became Head Boy and Head Girl at their school in different years. Both went to university, Michael to Durham and Sharon to Chester/Liverpool …… and …… both read psychology! (Not sure how much I influenced that) Sharon followed up with a Masters in International Management at Oxford. But sadly this is where Michael’s story, and life, ends. In August 1997 he was diagnosed with Germ Cell Cancer and died on Christmas Eve of the same year. Many of you reading this now will feel the horror of it and wonder how on earth we can write about it. The simple answer is pride, pride in Michael’s handling of it, pride in how his memory fronted a campaign for Cancer Research that raised £325,000, pride that many of his school and sports friends have kept in touch with us, and pride in how his memory has bound Sharon, Dr C and I even closer. It was at this time that my Buddhist beliefs and meditation kept me sane, and still does to this day!

Sharon is married and lives just 10 miles away from us working internationally and travelling around the globe as a leadership consultant for a large American corporation. We still have holidays together annually, usually to wine regions in Europe, and always spend Christmas together. My mum passed away 8 years ago at the age of 91, but spent the last 13 years or so of her life living in sheltered accommodation in our village. Her ashes are with Michael’s in our village cemetery as will those of the rest of us when the time comes. As a family, always together.

{The type of reflection in this post was described by Erik Erikson who was a psychologist and existential philosopher! One of his most significant pieces of work was to propose a series of life stages we all go through from birth, with the final stage being labelled as “Maturity”. Nothing very significant in that. But …… he postulated that each stage triggered a conflict within us, a tension between two polar opposites, which for Maturity as a stage is the battle between Despair and Ego Integrity. In simple terms Ego Integrity would be having satisfaction with your past and what you have done, and feeling a sense of wholeness. Despair would be having disappointment in oneself and having regrets. My earlier post Reflections on Old Age explained this in more detail and now I am publishing a series of posts on my own Ego Integrity reflections}


Categories: Philosophy

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7 replies

  1. This post about your family life is so well written with a lovely tribute to your son. Losing a member of the family is so traumatic, but the love you all have for each other has made it bearable.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very touchy!!! and inspiring for us which teach to stand for a family in a good and bad time together. Couple made is heaven!!!! loads of love…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Babita, you have been part of our good times for many years now, it’s a shame you live so far away and can’t visit. Maybe your possible move to Canada will make it easier.


  3. I read your post and was captivated by all of it, and your beautiful heartwarming and heartbreaking life story. The coming together of two souls from opposite ends of the world and yet so alike and the return to Nepal ( which I am going to read right after I write this response) and how you scrimped and saved to make it happen. So eloquently written and such an incredible life story. It felt like my heart stopped for an instant reading about your sons passing. My brother died at the young age of 24, and I do know how this impacts a family and how challenging loss of a loved one can be. I am so moved by all of it. Buddhism teachings has helped me too to deal with much that life throws at us along the way.

    Thank you for this profound piece of writing and of life itself.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Peta, it’s been quite an exercise writing them all and I’ve been further reflecting on them holistically but it’s all a bit of a jumble at present. The loss of your brother will surely equate to the loss of our son, part of your life is strong memories of time together but then a big black space of emptiness. We have wonderful memories of his 22 years with us, but wanted so much more. Something one never gets over, impossible. I’m interested in your own Buddhism but can’t access your blog for some reason, perhaps you could just paste the link as a reply here?


  4. Another fascinating insight into your lives. I too bought my first house in North Wales. Like you travelled a lot around the world. Now at last at 69 I seem to have settled in Gozo a nice calm island. Thanks for the update.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, it’s been a worthwhile exercise for me, cathartic in a way. I maybe should have written them as if in conversation with Buddha! We lived in Buckley in Flintshire/Clwyd, where were you?


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