Rose: My Mother Was a Nun

Rose: My Mother Was a Nun

by Gemma Keatley


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Seventeen-year-old Rose is on a search for identity and transformation as she attempts to come to terms with the death of her mother: a nun-her hero-and light of her life. Rose, who has already lived a challenging existence, is anxious to make sense of her life.

As Rose begins to retrace her roots, she discovers more about her mother's identity and the horrendous circumstances that brought her to the abbey and her mother. While reminiscing with the help of her mother's journal, a caring minister, and her own memories, Rose bravely explores her shadowy past that includes an escape from the orphanage, physical and sexual abuse, and a downward spiral that ends in a desperate act and the life-changing realization that she is the only one who controls her destiny. With the goal of restoring her life, Rose slowly begins to build a new future fi lled with love, hope, and dreams.

In this powerful and inspirational tale, a teenager searching for identity and transformation following the death of her mother embarks on a deeply personal journey through her painful past to discover forgiveness, healing, and empowerment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452524399
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 06/25/2014
Pages: 68
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.14(d)

Read an Excerpt


My Mother Was a Nun

By Gemma Keatley

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2014 Gemma Keatley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4525-2439-9


My name is Rose; I am seventeen years old. My mother was a nun; she was also my hero. When my mother was alive, I had no desire to know anything about my life. Everything I needed existed within her. She held my world together and gave me the only solid piece of love I ever experienced.

Now that my mother is gone, I can do nothing but search. I went to her old home, the place where she was born. I tended her garden. I spent time with the church minister who knew her, and I began to make sense of my life. This is my story.

I was born during the war. Well, the war had finished, but who knew the fighting continued? My birth mother was seventeen, and my father was twenty. When he was sixteen he lied about his age to fight for the country he loved, and that country destroyed him. He was one of the "lucky ones" who came home, but on most days, I think they both secretly wished he hadn't.

At night, my father would dream. He thought he was back in the war. He fought with my mother in his sleep, and he hurt her. He woke bathed in sweat, and he was sorry. During the day, he drank. He fought with my mother, and he beat her. This time he was not bathed in sweat, but he was still sorry.

When I was just a baby, I was crying. My tummy hurt, and I was hungry. My mum was lying on the floor and wouldn't get up. In her hand was an empty bottle of pills.

When my father found her, he flew into a rage. "I risked my life to save you, to save this whole country, and this is how you repay me?" He hit my mother in her unconscious state, and when I cried, he hit me. Again and again.

When he realised what he had done, he threw my limp and silent body into a rose bush in front of the vicarage and shot himself in the head with his service revolver.



The minister, a kind man, came out when he heard the gunshot. He didn't know what to do. He retrieved my body and was relieved to find I was still breathing. There was no hospital in the town, and medical help was in short supply. He cleaned me up as best he could, unsure of the extent of my internal injuries.

He fed me communion wine in the hopes it might numb the pain or ease my passing.

He performed the last rites as a precaution to protect my soul, all the while praying fervently to God to save me. He told me it is always God's will that we should pray for, but the war had taken so many innocent lives, he couldn't bear to lose yet another.

So, on that warm summer day, he sent for the police, to focus their efforts on the dead, so he could fully attend to the living.

I expected the police would take me, but I guess it was deemed the bastard child of a teenage mother was the jurisdiction of the clergy. As far as the minister was aware, I had no other living relative.

That very day, despite the fact that he would soon be ministering over two more funerals, he bundled me up and gathered some supplies, and together we rode on horseback for several days until we reached the abbey at the top of the hill.

* * *

As I sat in the vicarage seventeen years later, listening to him retell the story, I was confused as to why he would make such a long trek when surely there must have been an orphanage close by. I asked him about this, and his eyes took on a faraway look. "As God is my witness, I heard your mother call to me that day. When I heard the gunshot and I went out, I saw an apparition, she was right there in her habit and veil, standing over the rose bush, beckoning me to the abbey."

He spoke with such reverence and genuine belief that I didn't have the heart to tell him this was impossible. Instead, I smiled politely and took another sip of my tea.


My mother kept a journal. It must have been important to her, as it was her only possession. She gave it to me just before she died. When I read it, it was as though she was talking directly to me. Did she know that one day I would inevitably be in possession of it, or did she just naturally express a lot of love through her writing?

I do not think I would have been so loving if I was writing a journal. In fact, I think I will try it and see what comes out for me. My mother had such wisdom and compassion, whereas I just see life as it is: unfair.

If you asked me what is important in life, I would not say love or education or time. For me, it is not material success or admiration. I believe the most important thing in life is connection. Not with everyone, or even most people, but a real, genuine, loving connection with your special someone. For me, it wasn't my birth mother, because I didn't have that opportunity. But my mum, well, she was different.

She stopped the world to be with me. She even interrupted her prayer time to kiss my head, hold my hand, or read to me. I don't know if she got into trouble for this or if God was mad that she picked me over prayer time, but these little things, these small acts of connection, impacted my life more deeply than she will ever know.

Reading her journal, I see now how much pressure she was under and how her life was neither easy nor straightforward. She had to fight for everything, and I think I forget this when I consider how easy she made life for me.


It's strange how the end of someone can be the beginning of someone else. My parents' passing was the beginning of a new life for my mother, as it brought me into her world; my mother's passing was the beginning of a new life for me, as I began to understand more of who I was and who I was to become.

This is not to say we should give up our lives in order to kick-start someone else's, but I know that in the end, when I left my job at the fishmongers, my farewell lunch was the most positive experience I had had during my time there.

I guess what I mean is that the biggest losses can lead to deep soul searching, but this doesn't have to be the only way.

Many times, after I was sent away from the abbey (and my mother) for work, I thought of ending my own life. I thought about all those around me who would finally realise how badly they had treated me, and how sorry they would be. I thought about the outpouring of grief, and eventually the appreciation of me, that in my fantasies would live on forever.

However, the reality of life is different.


I think in life, we are looking for the grand gesture. We want to make a big sacrifice or a lifelong commitment to another person, and then we think we are done. But life is not about the big stuff; mostly life is about all of the little sacrifices.

Great people are made in the seconds of their lives, not in the hours. A gesture, a glance, putting your own life on hold to make a connection—well, these are the things that change the world.

It is the things we don't think too much about that make the biggest difference.

My mother did this for me, and I don't know what I gave her in return.

In her journal, she talks about me bringing so much joy, but truly I don't believe I ever brought her anything but trouble.

My arrival in the abbey caused no end of bitterness with the other sisters, and she could not start a new life because there I was, hanging around, being needy.

I'm sure she would say she saw it differently, but it makes me think. How is it that we turn out the way we do?

My birth mother was seventeen when she had me. Seventeen! I'm that age now, and sure, I feel like I own the world sometimes—but to have already had a baby who was totally dependent on me, and to be with someone like my dad, dealing with his own stuff? I'm not sure I would have done it differently than she did.

The women I knew in my life were strong. They got on with the task of living, and they did not complain. Me, I'm thinking of changing my middle name to Complain!

Surely I should just suck it up and be mature about it, but at the end of the day, I just want my mum. I just want to hear her voice and feel her touch. I just want to smell her hair and melt into her.

God was important to her, I guess, living in an abbey and all, but to me, God has some explaining to do.

I don't think I ever asked for too much. I didn't really know that my life could have been different, but now that I know it can be, I am furious. Furious that the world is actually not the safe, warm, happy place I imagined it would be.

I am determined to make my life better, but how do I survive without my special someone?


When I was six years old I was sent down the hill from the abbey to the orphanage. At the time I thought I was so grown up. This was my opportunity to get out of the boring confines of the abbey and to finally have some adventure and some fun. In the beginning I loved the excitement of a new place to live, and other children to play with.

I was thrilled that I could sleep high up on a bunk bed in a room with ten or twelve other children. The bedroom was massive, and we were allowed to hang our arts and crafts on the walls. We each had a drawer to ourselves for our personal belongings, and I appreciated that I had my very own school clothes.

In the mornings we all ate together, and there was so much noise! In the abbey everyone was so stuffy and quiet. If I made a noise, everyone was crabby. Here there was laughter and clinking glasses, practical jokes and roughhousing. It was as though my eyes had been opened to the world.

When we brushed our teeth we would have a competition as to who could flick the most toothpaste on the mirror without getting caught. The person who got caught by the housemother had to clean it all off. It was my favourite game as I was very good at avoiding suspicion.

We used to spy on the housemothers as they knitted and sewed. They were so boring, but the spying was fun.

We spent our evenings playing truth or dare and sometimes a few of us would sneak into the kitchen to steal bread and jam. Usually just enough to not get caught.

There was always something going on.

I remember one day, one of the girls took another girl's hairbrush, and the fight was on. Both girls had handfuls of hair ripped out and black eyes, not to mention split lips and bruising from falling over each other as they rolled on the ground. At the time, it was the most shocking thing I had ever witnessed, yet it was so exhilarating.

What was even more shocking was the walloping they both received from the housemothers. Neither could sit down for a week. In some ways we felt sorry for them, but it didn't stop any of us from giving them a tap on the bottom when they went past us, or from waving our hairbrushes around, taunting, "Is this yours? Come and get it."

Looking back now, I know it was nasty, but it was a case of kill or be killed. There were those who were considered the top dogs. They were bossy and in charge. They were the practical jokers and the ones who determined who was to be picked on or who was to be left alone. If you wanted to make it here, you had to know how to play the game.

The boys were bad. They used to punch on with the other boys and tease the girls, but the girls were truly wicked.

One day the girls put bleach into my shampoo as a joke and turned my coppery red hair bright orange. The girls thought it was hilarious, and I got the beating for it, as the housemothers assumed I was giving myself a makeover.

The bruising was severe, but it was nothing compared to the humiliation of waiting for my hair to grow back. Chunks of it had begun to fall out, and what remained resembled straw.

I realised that if I was going to survive, I needed to make it to the top of the food chain. I began to hatch a plan.


Our teacher was a frightening, nasty nun. We called her the Beast. She was angry all the time, and she walked around as if she owned the place (and us with it). She was ridiculously strict and hated me with a passion. If my nails were not clean enough she would strike my hands with a ruler. If I said my times tables too fast, or not clearly enough, I was sent to stand facing the wall. If I smiled, she would tell me to take the smirk off my face. She called me the Devil's child and said not even God himself would be willing to cleanse me of my sins.

I decided I needed to send a message to the other girls not to mess with me, and I would do this by messing with the biggest bully of all.

I let the other kids watch me as I put dirt in her coffee. They saw me hide her long whipping stick. They watched in horror as I scribbled in her daily roll book, and they froze in terror as I tore down the times tables chart that hung on the wall.

I knew I had gone too far, and a fear gripped my heart, but I couldn't undo what I had done, and everyone was watching. So, bravely I said to the other kids, "No one messes with me." I think they quite clearly got the point.

I still do not know how I survived the whipping I sustained when the Beast found her whipping stick. At the time I didn't know I had been beaten to within an inch of my life before by my father, but crudely, something about it did feel familiar.

I spent the next two days in the sick room, drifting in and out of consciousness. The housemothers had to send for the doctor to see if I would live. Even to this day my back is a scarred and ugly reminder of my desperate attempt to fit in with, and protect myself from, the other children.

I wore my injuries with pride. It was my badge of honour. The other children were in awe of me. The top dogs wanted me to be their friend, and the others, I think, were just plain scared of me.

I thought I was so strong and brave, and I was proud of myself for making a stand, until my mother came to visit. When I saw how she looked at me, with my bright-orange hair and battered body, I was so ashamed. I couldn't look at her, and I certainly couldn't embrace her, or explain myself.

I thought she would be furious with me, but she just cried and held me. As a six-year-old, I had no clue what she was thinking, but a few days later my mother came to take over teaching my class.

The other children thought this was brilliant. Finally someone kind and gentle who could teach us all we needed to know. I'm sure there were whispers about me being the favourite as she was my mother, but no one dared say a word to me. Everyone treated my mother with due respect—not only because she was wonderful, but, well, because my mother was under my protection.


It felt wonderful to be powerful and safe from the bullying of others. Now that I was at the top of the pecking order, I had no need to push anyone else around and I could focus better on my studies. I enjoyed learning new things and loved having the extra time to be with my mother. When new kids came into the orphanage, someone would always retell the story of Rose versus the Beast so my legend continued.

Being this person, however, made it difficult to truly connect with others. Life had become about survival more than anything else, and even though we all pretended that we were so close, I still felt different and completely isolated. I felt there was something wrong with me, and I didn't know how to fix it.

The other kids had a perception of me as being strong and powerful, someone to be respected and feared, and my mother had the perception that I was a wonderful, untarnished girl. Me, I couldn't work out who I was. I had such an isolated life and I knew so little of the world.

As I grew, I became incredibly bored by the monotony of my environment, my studies, and the people around me. I longed for adventure, for independence, for anything at all that was not this life.

My big break came on the eve of my thirteenth birthday. The housemothers had found me a job several villages away working for a fishmonger. This was my chance to escape.

I was obviously nervous about leaving my mother, and I knew I would miss her dreadfully, but this was my chance at a new life. I proudly cleaned out my drawer, which contained all my prized possessions. I took my hairbrush and handheld mirror, a photo of my mother, and a Bible my mother had given me when I was a child. For my birthday, my mother had given me a beautiful pen engraved with my name, as well as writing paper, envelopes, and stamps so we could continue to keep in touch.

My farewell was nothing fancy. Some of the kids from the orphanage had made me cards, and the housemothers gave me a stiff hug and wished me well. I couldn't help feeling they were all glad to be rid of me.

My mother cried and cried, and it took all my strength not to become a blubbering mess myself. I had learned over the last thirteen years of my life that it was much safer to hide your emotions, and I had had lots of practice, so I hugged her tightly, put on a stiff upper lip, and walked away, heart pounding, into a brave new world.


Excerpted from Rose by Gemma Keatley. Copyright © 2014 Gemma Keatley. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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