When a Daughter Leaves the Convent

This story follows on from When a Daughter Enters the Convent. 


I was snuggled up in bed, still half-asleep, my head buried under the quilt. I could hear Andy moving about the room, getting dressed. Soon he would bring me a cup of tea, say goodbye and leave for work. Just another weekday morning. And then the peace of the early morning was shattered by the sound of the phone, intruding upon our day. Andy disappeared out the bedroom door, towards the kitchen, to answer it. I swung my legs over the side of the bed, and hurried after him. “Who was that?” I asked, as he replaced the phone in its handset. Who would phone at this time of day?

“It was Mother Prioress. She wants me to collect Felicity later this morning.”

Collect Felicity? My eldest daughter, who’d been enclosed in the convent for more than a year, was coming home?

“Why? What’s wrong? Is she sick?” The questions tumbled out, one after another.

“Mother said Felicity should come home for a while. She’ll explain more when I arrive at the convent.”

We’d thought our eldest daughter would never come through our front door ever again. But in a few hours’ time she’d be doing just that. A few hours? So much to do. Where would she sleep? Our youngest child, Gemma-Rose had taken over Felicity’s bed.

For several hours I was busy cleaning bedrooms, rearranging furniture, tucking in sheets. My mind was racing; thoughts whirled around my mind: “Felicity’s coming home. Why? She’ll walk through the door. She’ll eat dinner with us tonight. Is she okay?”

About lunch time, the car pulled up on the driveway. Andy got out and opened the boot to retrieve a small bag. Then the passenger door opened and Felicity appeared. The children ran down the back steps to greet her. With much excitement, they practically dragged her into the house. Felicity looked around and noticed some changes. We looked at her. She had changed too. She looked so small and thin and uncertain. Her head was covered with a scarf. Of course she needed it. She didn’t have much hair.

Andy thrust a letter at me. “From Mother Prioress. I’m sorry but I have to go to work.”

I read the letter. It explained why Mother Prioress was sending Felicity home. I don’t know if I still have that letter. Probably not. It contained painful words, words I didn’t want to preserve. But I remember basically what Mother wanted to tell me.

She was apologetic but firm. She couldn’t have Felicity at the convent. She was too volatile and emotional. She was making life difficult for the other nuns because of her moods. If she could learn to control her temper she could return. Maybe 6 months at home would give Felicity a chance to think about whether she really wanted to be a nun or not. She could use that time to modify her behaviour.

I read the letter, then turned to Felicity and said, “How could you! Didn’t I teach you anything about getting on with people? You can’t take out your temper on others! I thought you had more control than that.”

I took the words very personally. I hadn’t taught Felicity the skills she needed to get on with people. I had failed as a mother. And what would people think? Felicity had brought shame upon the family.

I have often heard parents say such things to their children as “Whatever you do, don’t bring shame upon our family. Your behaviour is a reflection of your parents and your upbringing. Remember that, and do nothing that will hurt our reputation.” Of course, I’ve said similar things many times myself. Children have to be loyal to their family, don’t they? And maybe they do, but I think it’s equally important that parents show complete loyalty towards their children.Family loyalty means rallying around and supporting each of the family’s members, regardless of the mistakes they make, supporting them when outsiders start to criticise, making sure they feel loved regardless of the circumstances. We are a family and we stick together whatever happens. And I should have rallied around Felicity better, instead of imagining what others were going to say about her, and therefore us. Adult peer pressure was once again rearing its ugly head.

I thought back to our last visit to the convent, that happy afternoon we’d spent in the garden. That hadn’t been very long ago. We’d seen Mother Prioress. We’d spoken to her. Why hadn’t she given us at least a hint of what was to come? Why hadn’t someone told us long ago that Felicity was experiencing problems? I knew the answer: It was none of our business. Except now it was our business. Mother had sent Felicity home to us. I was back in the mothering seat.

I tried to work out what had gone wrong. Why was Felicity getting so upset at the convent? She must have told me a little of what she’d experienced but I can only remember a couple of incidents. “I fell asleep when it  was my turn for adoration.” That didn’t seem such a big deal to me, especially for a young girl who had to sacrifice a lot of sleep during the night. But Felicity seemed unable to forgive herself.

Felicity told me how she had tried to relieve her feelings by taking out her frustrations on her pillow in her cell. But the sisters complained. That was no way for a nun to behave. They have to be in control, even in private, all the time.

So my eldest daughter was home again. Her siblings excitedly tried to show her everything she’d missed while she’d been gone: “You must watch this movie with us! We have some new books!” I wonder if they noticed their sister was so very different to that girl who’d left home maybe 18 months before?

I wonder what it’s like to suddenly find yourself back in the world. “Mother Prioress asked me to come and see her this morning after morning prayers. She told me she’d asked Dad to collect me. She was sending me home.”

“So you had no warning?”

“No. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to the other nuns. I guess they know by now.” And then after a moment she added, “But I’ll see them again. I’m going back.”

But Felicity had to gain control over her temper before Mother Prioress would admit her to the convent once more. And until that time, she had to live back in the world.

I must say I admire Felicity’s courage. Maybe her natural inclination was to hide away at home, but she didn’t. She found a hat to hide her bare head and accompanied me to the shops and other places I had to go. Everyone was very curious. “Was that Felicity I saw you with? Is she home? What happened?” I guess we provided some very interesting gossip for quite some time.

“Felicity couldn’t adjust to the rigorous convent routine,” I would say. I didn’t mention her moods or her anger. Was I protecting my daughter or myself? Anyway, it was none of their business.

Some people were exceptionally kind. When Felicity came with me to the swim school, where the younger girls were having lessons, the owner/manager remembered her. She offered her a job. So a few days after re-entering the world, Felicity had employment. She was going to be a swim teacher for the next two school terms.

A few people said, “Felicity’s home! How wonderful! I’m glad she changed her mind. You must be so happy. ”

But Felicity hadn’t changed her mind and I wasn’t happy. How could I be happy when Felicity so obviously wasn’t?

Mother Prioress had passed Felicity back to me. I was once again her mother and I wanted to help her. But she wouldn’t listen to me. Everything I said was wrong. I suspect we might have had many arguments. She might have yelled at me and I would probably have yelled back at her. But Felicity was on her best behaviour. She couldn’t afford to show any emotion. She had to prove she was in control of her temper so she would be allowed to return to her other mother as soon as possible.

Mother Prioress had given Felicity permission to phone her at regular intervals. “Can I phone Mother tonight? I have lots to talk to Mother about.” Mother and not Mum. Mother Prioress was still the most important person in Felicity’s life even though she’d sent her home. She was the person my daughter wanted to pour her heart out to.

So the months went by. Felicity’s hair grew. She abandoned the hat, and it looked, from the outside, like she was becoming part of the world again. But in reality, she was ticking off the weeks until her 6 months at home were up. There was no way Mother wasn’t going to accept her back. Felicity was counting on that. She couldn’t face any other possibility.

I decided to book a family beach holiday for the month before Felicity’s possible return. We’d never been on such a holiday, all nine of us. I found a luxury beach house right across from the sand. We were all excited. Felicity’s suspension from the convent would give us an unexpected opportunity to enjoy some special time together.

Then one day Felicity put down the phone after speaking to Mother Prioress and announced, “I can go back!” Her eyes were shining. “I’m going as soon as possible.”

“But what about our beach holiday? What about your job? You committed yourself to teaching until the end of the spring term.”

Felicity shrugged her shoulders. “The swim school will understand. The holiday is weeks away. I don’t want to wait that long.”

The swim school owners were very polite and accepted Felicity’s resignation without complaint, but I knew they felt hurt. These kind people had helped Felicity when she was at her lowest and now she was leaving them in the lurch, one teacher short for the third term of the school year… and she didn’t even seem to care. I apologised on Felicity’s behalf. I felt responsible. Again, I felt like I’d failed as a mother. My reputation was beginning to look very tattered, or so I thought.


So Felicity packed up her few belongings once again. She hugged us and said goodbye and Andy drove her back to the convent. This time our goodbyes, although tearful on my part, weren’t so distressing. We’d done it all before. I just felt all-over, low-key sad. Keeping Felicity home wasn’t the answer. She wasn’t happy with us. I just wanted her to find peace. I hoped she’d find it this time round in the religious life.

We enjoyed our family beach holiday, even though Felicity wasn’t with us. We came home and our lives continued. The weeks passed quickly and before we knew it, we were talking about Christmas. When would we make our Christmas visit to the convent, our third one since Felicity had entered the enclosed life? We were looking forward to seeing our daughter again. I don’t think we’d seen her since her return.

We didn’t end up visiting Felicity that Christmas. There was no need. She spent that Christmas at home with us.

One morning the phone rang. It was Felicity: “Mother Prioress says I can come home. Can Dad collect me?”

This time Felicity had made the decision to leave the convent herself. “I’m having panic attacks. I keep thinking Mother Prioress is going to say, ‘I’m sending you home.’ I can’t take any more.”

So Andy drove to the convent to pick up our daughter. it seemed like her days as a nun were over. How would she readjust to life at home?But first, what state would Felicity be in when she arrived home for the second time? I really didn’t anticipate my reaction to what I saw when she came back through our front door.


Image: This photo was taken several months after Felicity came home the first time.


Note to Felicity: You didn’t really bring shame upon the family. I am just recording my feelings at the time as I remember them. And of course there is more to this story than a simple case of a young girl with a bad temper.To be continued…


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Comments

    • Amy
    • January 12, 2014
    Reply

    Thank you, Sue. I have photographic records (video) of so many things…….and I've never watched any of it either., lol. This – series about your daughter entering & leaving the convent – must be rather difficult to write! And you're so honest about your shortcomings. I can imagine myself in your place, saying many of the exact same things.

    1. Reply

      Amy,

      I am so glad you're not thinking, "How could she say such a thing!" It is comforting to know you can put yourself into my place and relate to my words. Thank you!

      Videos are precious. I'm trying to sort out some of mine at the moment. But there are some I know I won't want to see, at least at the moment. Too painful being taken back in time so vividly. But still, I'm glad I have such records. They are there just in case!

  1. Reply

    Wow…I feel so badly for Felicity and your family. I wonder at how it was done, sending her so abruptly, without any warning to either Felicity OR her family. A roller coaster of emotions, and so difficult. I have a brother ( Who lives with us) who has schizophrenia…he had a nervous breakdown in High School. ( I was in Kindergarten) That has been a roller coaster for our whole family. He has been in the State Hospital at several points, but for many years he has been my mothers companion. 3 1/2 years ago we invited them to sell her house in town and build an addition onto our house. ( we had just moves to a 5 acre Hobby Farm with a perfect spot to add onto the house) They both liked the idea and it was done very quickly! My sweet mom passed way March 1st 2013…but we still have my brother here…which was exactly the way we had it planned. My mom was in bad health…Diabetes, bad heart, and going blind, and we wanted the easiest transition for my brother when the time came.

    1. Reply

      Karla,

      The ways of the convent are so different from the ways of the world. I think some things could have been handled with more sensitivity, but… I will talk about this in the next post!

      I am so sorry to hear your brother is also suffering from mental illness. I imagine you understand our story very well. Your mother's companion… I have heard some wonderful stories of love between a mother and a needy adult child. Mothering sometimes isn't over when a child grows up, is it? Your hobby farm sounds perfect. It's good to hear everything worked out well, though I am sure you and your brother both miss your mother very much.

      God bless!

  2. Reply

    Again I want to say something… but don't know what. Sue, this has me on the edge of my seat, but not in the way a novel does, because this is real. This is you. This is your family. This is something that happened to real people I care about. You are so generous and courageous to share this; to let us know how you really felt and continue to feel. I admire you more than I can say. And I admire Felicity. And I'm on the edge of my seat.

    1. Reply

      Nancy,

      You hit the nail on the head! I am writing a story and a lot of people are reading it. But it''s real as you said. I hope it is helpful because it's hard to think of someone's pain being seen only as entertainment, as if it were just a novel. It's so nice knowing you care about us. (I think I suspected that!) Thank you!

      btw, I don't mind anyone being on the edge of their seat! Onto the next chapter…

  3. Reply

    I am with Nancy on this… I am on the edge of my seat with this… my mind is whirling.. you have said things that have JUMPED off the screen at me. "Bringing shame on the family". "Adult peer pressure". "Family loyalty//loyalty to our children".

    It's 2am.. I only got up for some tea (trying to get rid of this dratted cold) and I found myself running in here to check and see if you'd posted or not. 🙂 I'm not sure I can go back to sleep. Though I have not been in yours or Felicity's shoes, this is bringing tears to my eyes and ringing in my ears. Maybe because of everything we went through with Amy, and all the 'adult peer pressure' I get (still) on a regular basis, the fights and shouting we've done. Me bringing shame on my family when I was younger, (I had a baby out of wedlock), and my own mental health issues/struggles and panic attacks and all that… I'm not saying it's the same.. and I am sorry perhaps I'm being too personal in a comment… right now I just want to hug both of you!!!!

    Feeling tearful, and heading back to bed….

    1. Reply

      Susan

      I am going to answer your comment first. I hope no one minds. I am about to go to bed but I just want to send a hug back to you before I do that.

      I opened my computer (to turn it off) with low spirits. Why expose myself and Felicity to public comment, Felicity especially. I don't really mind what people think of me. But I do care so very much about my daughter. This is not just an entertaining story. As Nancy said, it's real. This is a story of our lives. I could gloss over the difficult bits, but the story isn't worth much unless I am honest. And then I saw your comment and I now know exactly why we have to have courage and share the bad, as well as the good. We can all go around giving each other the impression we have got things perfectly worked out. We can make others feel bad because they might feel they are the only ones who are struggling. Or we can share and encourage each other. We can have compassion for one another, be willing to listen and share the pain. We aren't alone, though it can feel like that at times.

      Susan, I am so grateful you shared your own story. There is no problem being personal in a comment. It takes courage to write such things down. And I am glad you did.

      I do think there is hope and healing. When we face up to the mistakes and the problems and try to understand each other, I am sure God can work miracles of grace in our lives. I am stuck at a depressing stage of this story, and I really want to hurry through to the end. I'm wondering whether I should bother with any more, another musical interlude maybe!! But no, I will continue on. The good will arrive soon enough.

      Sending you my love. I hope you are able to sleep xx

    2. Reply

      Sending you both hugs (Susan and Sue). It can never be wrong to honest, because to be honest is to be real. Everything else is just nonsense.
      No one goes through life without some scars and it is those scars that give character to a person and makes them unique. Those scars, no matter the pain, are what makes each of us beautiful, if we allow them to. They are the story of our journey through life.
      Honesty humbles us and you are right, it allows us to share and help others when they hurt, rather than to judge.

    3. Reply

      Angelic Scalliwags,

      To be honest is to be real… It's amazing how often we hide, even from ourselves. Lots of nonsense!

      I like your image of scars very much! Without them we wouldn't grow. You said, "Those scars, no matter the pain, are what makes each of us beautiful, if we allow them to." If we allow them to… I have often wondered why some people grow through their painful experiences and some seem to get stuck. Maybe it's a choice what we do with the painful experiences of our life. When we accept them and learn from them, they really do transform our lives.

      Thank you so much for stopping by. The hug felt good!

    4. Reply

      Nancy,

      Isn't it good to ponder together? Trying to fit in with people who aren't even in your life anymore… I often wonder why we so often want to please and gain the respect of people who aren't very important to us. There are times we all put such people ahead of our children, whom we love so very much. It doesn't make much sense at all.

      I am still stuck but I need to start writing the next part of the story anyway. Once I begin I'm sure I'll be okay and the story will move on quickly.

      Wish I could pop round for a real hug. Thank you!

    5. Reply

      Susan, I, like Sue, am grateful you shared your own story in a comment. Your words "adult peer pressure" jumped out at ME, because I've been pondering lately how much I've been influenced by that exact thing. I thought of decisions I made years ago, in subconscious attempts to fit in with people who aren't even in my life anymore.

      All of this is so very real – and Sue, being stuck in a depressing stage is even part of it, I think…. because that's the stuff of real life. Don't know if that makes any sense, but anyway, I send hugs to all. What a grace to see the love of God at work in lives. !

    6. Reply

      Susan,

      You started a beautiful conversation by leaving your honest comment. Thank you. I think we have all learnt a lot by sharing.

    7. Reply

      Hiding even from ourselves. Scars making us unique and beautiful…. and this entire thread is beautiful and rather soul-bearing…. I am thankful, Sue, that you and Felicity have shared this..

  4. Reply

    Sometimes, I imagine what I would do if I my family were alone on an island. Would I choose this or that? Would I do the same in a given situation?

    So often, we worry about what other's think because we don't want our children to suffer. It is our natural inclination as mothers to want to protect them in every way.

    I am deeply grateful for this window into your life.

    1. Reply

      Michelle,

      "I imagine what I would do if I my family were alone on an island." What an interesting exercise! If only we could make our decisions based entirely on the needs of our children, and not be influenced by what others may or may not be thinking.

      Protecting our children… Yes, you are right. I guess that's why I never wrote this story before. I couldn't write Felicity's story without her permission in case it caused her additional suffering. I still worry a bit about that. But she is a good and generous person. Perhaps if we are to help others we need to risk having people think badly of us. The people who matter will understand and will have compassion and not judge.

      Thank you so much for sharing our story.

    • Hwee
    • January 12, 2014
    Reply

    What a story… I don't know what to say but to send hugs and support to you both. Awaiting the next instalment…

    1. Reply

      Hwee,

      Sometimes hugs are better than words. They can still say so much. Thank you for yours!

  5. Reply

    Susan's comment shows how posts of this kind can help others, which is a great thing. Also for more inexperienced parents it's always great to have the perspective of someone who has been through hardships and can look back with more wisdom than they may have had at the time.

    1. Reply

      Kelly,

      I hope this series is helping someone! It is good to share with everyone, and readers who have shared their own experiences are very kind.

      Yes, we do learn so much from enduring hardships. I am wondering though how many people need to experience a situation for themselves. Sometimes sharing someone else's difficulties isn't enough. I know I've had a few people read my grief stories who are sure they would react differently if child loss ever happened to them. They just can't put themselves into my shoes. Sadly, they will only every understand when grief happens to them (which it will). I don't suppose everyone will personally come in contact with mental illness or the convent experience. But whatever our stories, our parenting skills will play a big part in how we deal with the various crises and I guess we can always share these and learn from each other.

      Thank you for your encouraging words!

  6. Reply

    Hi Sue

    Felicity like all of us has to follow her heart. I think convent life is much the rest of society,a mix of good and bad.However I thought it rather rich they could send Felicity home to you without warning.I thought they should have looked for psychological help for her as she was within their care,not abrogate their duty of care to her. You cannot have all the good bits without the bad as a religious order..What happens if a novice or any nun has no family outside to pick up the pieces. I hope your Felicity is leading a happy life she has chosen for herslefy

    1. Reply

      "The ways of the convent are so different from the ways of the world". I do not accept that Sue.I think some religious orders have used that as a cop-out not to look after those who join them.You can't demand poverty, obedience,chastity asyour due and suck out the life blood unless the order acceps it responsibilites to look after its members

    2. Reply

      Karna,

      I have been thinking about your comments all morning. They come at a good time because I am about to write about the aftermath of the convent experience… picking up the pieces. I'm having a bit of a mental struggle here, wanting to be charitable to the nuns who haven't the opportunity to defend themselves, but knowing what I really feel is anger. Yes, the nuns did not look after my daughter properly.

      The ways of the convent are different to the ways of the world… I still think that's correct because they don't live by our rules. Whether that is acceptable or not is the debatable point. I am writing about one experience with one order, and I wouldn't like to make sweeping statements, but I do agree with the points you make. The way Felicity was treated has had long term effects on her.

      I have often heard the nuns described as 'the holy nuns', spoken with awe. But they are just women like those in the world, some holier than others, all struggling with many of the same issues as most of us. Have you ever read the novel "In This House of Brede" by Rumer Godden? The nuns in that story illustrate this point beautifully. I was thinking about how I make so many mistakes as a mother. Maybe Mother Prioress is capable of making similar mistakes, though she never acknowledged them nor tried to put things right. I hope I can find the right words to write the next part of the story with balance. We shall see!

      Thank you so much for your comment. It has been very helpful. It would be good to share thoughts on the next chapter when I post it. In the meantime I am about to post some links to some other posts Felicity and I have written about convent life. My stories aren't as honest and open as these more recent ones because I didn't want to invade Felicity's privacy. Obviously Felicity's posts are 'inside stories', written by someone who actually experienced convent life.

    • amy
    • January 13, 2014
    Reply

    Thank you for continuing to share this story! Love to you Sue.

    1. Reply

      Thank you, Amy. You are so encouraging. Love to you too!

  7. Reply

    you still have people reading your stories! I'm a new reader. Just read your stories about your daughter and the convent. wow! what a rollercoaster! I have a few questions to ask but would like to ask them privately. Back to your stories, thank you for sharing! Helps me to know that I'm not the only one. Thanks Again!

    1. Reply

      Glenda,

      I'm so glad you stopped by. Oh yes, it definitely was a rollercaster of a ride!

      I'd be happy to answer a few questions. If you like, you could use the contact button at the bottom of my blog. It's always good to help each other by sharing experiences. Sometimes we do feel we're 'the only one'. It was hard to write this series of stories, but so much good has come out of them, I'm glad I did. Thanks for reading. I hope to hear from you soon!

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