Siobhán Jutika Healy, 48: ‘My mother said, “I won’t be here when you get back,” then drove off . . . to New Zealand’

‘For me Buddhism has a richness I didn’t know how to get before. It’s not telling you what to do’

Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

 

Siobhán Jutika Healy lives in Eyries, on the Beara peninsula, Co Cork

I was born in London. My parents were Irish. When I was one they moved to Kenya to teach, then when I was three they moved home to Newcastlewest, Co Limerick, where both of them were from. There were five of us: my sister and three younger brothers.

Neither of my parents was a practising Catholic. Even when I was five I was afraid they wouldn’t go to heaven because they didn’t go to Mass. I never had a sense of belonging to a faith as a child.

I went to university in Cork and studied chemistry. I finished my degree in 1988 and applied to do a PhD in Manchester.

That summer I was going to hitch around Europe with my sister, Lorna. My mother gave me a lift to drop me on the road to hitch to Cork, where I was going to get the ferry to France. As I was getting out of the car she said, ‘I won’t be here when you get back.’ Then she just drove off and left me at the side of the road. I was in shock.

My mother went to New Zealand with an old boyfriend, and she took my three brothers with her, who were then 10, 13 and 15.

They didn’t know where they were going. She told them they were going to Dublin. Then when they got to Dublin she said they were going to London, and then they kept going. I found out in Amsterdam when I called home and couldn’t get a reply. I called my grandmother, and she told me.

I think my mother was brave and cowardly at the same time. She could have done it way better than she did. There was no divorce then, and she had a right to leave her marriage, but I wish she had been more thoughtful about the way she did it.

It was traumatic, most of my family leaving. It has had a lot of ramifications. The effect of the break-up was that my sister and myself and my dad got closer. Lorna transferred to Manchester. We coped by drinking and going on holidays – running away, basically.

I did two years of my PhD and then I realised that I wasn’t really interested. I was doing the PhD to please the family, but the family had f***ed off, so I didn’t need to live up to their expectations. My parents doing what they did gave me permission to do whatever I wanted.

Lorna and I had been in Thailand and gone around the temples, and something ignited inside me. There was something that wasn’t being met by Catholicism that was still there. I remained on in Manchester.

I started doing a fine-arts degree in painting and worked as a massage practitioner for 16 years; a group of us ran a natural health centre. I was ordained in 1998, and that was when I was given my Buddhist name, Jutika.

I belong to the Triratna Buddhist order. For me Buddhism has a richness that I didn’t know how to get at before. It’s not telling you what to do; it’s about being authentic and true to yourself and open to life.

Lorna died of breast cancer when she was 32. When she was sick we went for walks and talked, and it was a very precious time. Before she died we had a month with her in intensive care. I was 35 when she died, and her death was huge for me. I was with a partner who didn’t want to have kids, and by the time I got over her death and finished that relationship I was 40. I was ambivalent about having kids. When I was younger I always thought I would – I would have if I was with the right person at the right time.

I met my current partner at 45, and it was too late then. I’m not going to have a family now, that’s clear, so what am I going to do? That feels more exciting than depressing now. I first started thinking about moving back to Ireland in 2007. I felt I had never put down roots anywhere. I moved back two years ago, to here on the Beara. I had been on a retreat near here, and I loved the place. I felt that by moving back in a recession there was more scope for people like me, who have very little income. People were re-evaluating what was important and what wasn’t. My partner moved over this year.

It’s never bothered me before not having much money, but now I find in my late 40s that it’s wearing and tiring always worrying about it. I never made career choices based on money; I did a lot of my work for free. If I had a bit more money, though, I’d have a few more choices. I get some social welfare, and I teach focusing and run some courses.

My partner and I are renting a house here in the village. We don’t have a car, because we can’t afford it. We hitch or get lifts and sometimes get the bus. It’s really impractical to have moved to such an isolated area without a car, but I do love Eyries. It feels like a luminal space, in between one place and another.

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