||Epilogue 2001 - Joseph Berke
|Mary died on Friday morning, the 29th of June 2001. I had spoken with her the
night before to say that my wife Shree, and myself would soon travel to be with her in Tomintoul, the pretty Highlands
village, where she had lived for some years. In fact it is the highest community in the North of Scotland. Mary
had long wanted us to visit her there.
I also told her that we had a strong interest from a Dublin writer who wanted to make a feature film based on the
book and that a well established French composer proposed to write an opera about her life story. Usually she would
effuse with excitement upon hearing such news and would hardly let me stop talking. But this time she seemed detached,
almost as if she were in a different world. What I didn't know is that she had rewritten her will that afternoon
and had left Shree and myself her beloved Teddy and Topsy, both gifts from Ronnie Laing long ago.
The following morning Mary left this world quickly and painlessly. She often thought of death. It held no fear
Mary's funeral took place in Falkland, a town forty miles or so north of Edinburgh where she had lived off and
on for many years. She had a close friend in Falkland, Ninian Crichton-Stuart, and had found a good resting place
for dozens of her paintings and drawings in his attic. What she hadn't told me was that this quiet, unassuming
man was the keeper of the Falkland Royal Palace, a hereditary Lord and one of the most significant persons in Scotland.
Ninian had befriended her many times and was very fond of her. But it came as a bit of a shock to discover that
he had offered the Royal Chapel of Falkland Palace, the Hunting Lodge of the Scottish Kings, and one of the favourite
retreats of Mary, Queen of Scots, to celebrate a requiem Mass for Mary.
The Chapel was resplendent with great carved wood panels. We displayed a dozen paintings round the chapel, including
two of Mary's large crucifixions. The Mass was led by Father Colin Stewart, the parish priest at Tomintoul. The
village vicar whom Mary knew well, Rev. Sven Bjarnason, also spoke, as did other friends from many parts of Scotland
Following the Mass, Mary was buried in Falkland's cemetery, in a lovely spot overlooking rolling hills. Then we
all retired to the Palace for a reception. Mary would have enjoyed the occasion very much. She ascended in style.
Subsequently Mary was given extensive obituaries in most of the daily papers in London and Scotland. They accorded
her respect and did not treat her as a mental patient, nor as I have heard said in some psychiatric circles, as
one of 'Laing's loonies.' On the contrary, while noting her 'journey through madness,' the general conclusion was
that Mary had lived a life of considerable achievement as a writer and painter and mental health campaigner. Sven
wrote in The Guardian that Mary was a very special person, "full of humour, vitality, exhibiting and encouraging
younger painters well into her 70s."
David Edgar, who wrote the stage play based on our book, added, "When Mary died, several people asked, as
if in an afterthought, if she was cured. Certainly, Mary was able to undertake those practical life tasks that
were beyond her in madness. But she was never and could never, be cured in the sense of returned to normal. Still
passionate, intense, demanding, and self obsessed, she was also generous, funny and kind. It was a privilege to
tell her story."
I think David once added that curing is something you do to pigs. People are more complicated. Mary did not need
or want curing. She passed though trials that few individuals survive and had experiences that even fewer people
manage. By one criteria, in particular, she was eminently sane. Mary had a remarkable capacity to network: to make
friends, establish relationships and influence others all over the world. And she continued to do so right up to
the time of her passing.
Mary left a rich legacy. She was a vibrant, expressionistic painter and sculptor who inevitably used her fingers
in place of a brush to great effect. As Mary notes in the book and in her epilogues, she had many exhibitions of
her work in at least four countries over several decades. She was a teacher and inspiration to generations of artists
and art therapists. In all this she received recognition.
More importantly, Mary was a culture hero. She descended into the underworld of the unconscious and emerged unscathed,
renewed and bearing gifts of wisdom. By her archetypal journey she confirmed R. D. Laing's ideas, as well as her
own, that 'madness' could be a cyclical process that should be understood in its own terms. Moreover, she showed
that breakdown could lead to breakthrough, to a cleansing of the self and refreshment of the soul.
Mary gave the lie to untold biological and behavioural psychiatrists who denigrated and disparaged Laing's oeuvre,
because of his personal difficulties and their overweening hostility to an experientially based psychology. Her
power lay in the huge numbers of patients and potential patients who were inspired by her life story. Mary pulled
many men and women out from the deepest despair. She gave hope that there was meaning in unusual experiences and
that people did not have to remain a prisoner to psychotropic drugs. In all this she received immense recognition.
But there was one area, at the centre of her life, where she was not given her due. This was as a mystic, spiritual
being and religious thinker. Mary's mystical side was obvious right from the beginning of my involvement with her.
Soon after she started to paint in colour, she asked the Kingsley Hall community whether she could paint the 25'
by 15' wall of the dining room. Somewhat to my surprise, the community agreed. Mary did not waste time in starting
the painting for she feared, with good reason, that people might change their mind. Mary began to the painting
at two o'clock in the afternoon and finished at ten in the evening. But to her, the whole experience only lasted
a few minutes. It was not that she painted 'Christ Triumphant,' but she was Christ and the angels and other figures
in this huge wall creation. Her face scintillated as she painted and I felt exhilarated just watching her. The
painting was her epiphany.
Similarly, Mary prayed as she painted, totally emerged in her devotions. She was a woman suffused with spirituality.
This facet of her life clearly emerged in her second book (written with Ann Scott) entitled, Something Sacred.
Mary relates her Catholic beliefs with great profundity, both in her conversations about religion and psychotherapy,
and in the latter part of the book, in a slew of beautiful essays, poems and allegories.
There were also times when Mary was not sure of herself. Once she returned to Kingsley Hall during the 80s at the
behest of a Swedish TV interview. After awhile she wandered to the roof garden, truly a shell of its former self.
She looked down, out over the neighbourhood and felt sorry that she was not a wife and mother, like the women she
saw in the streets below. For a moment she felt sad and broody. Then she recalled some words I had said not long
before, and felt better. "Mary you are an extraordinary person. What you have to do is to learn to lead an
I would like to conclude my account by quoting from a poem I dearly love. Mary used it to complete Something Sacred.
It is appropriately titled, "Untitled."
"Softly we touch
here, and there,
as the current
of our life, flows
on its way.
How lightly we step on the
How soon comes the