December 31st 2016 was the first time I’ve seen my mum with a genuine smile on her birthday for 28 years! I know it sounds extreme but it really is true. You see to my mum her birthday has always been a reminder that she’s on her own, even when the room is filled with family and friends she’s always felt this was the loneliest day of the year for her.
This year I was determined to make it different, she was going to be 70 and for as long as I can remember my mum has always put her happiness at the back of a very lone queue, I’m happy to share that she says it was one of the happiest days of her 70 years, more on that later first let me share what led us to this joyful occasion.
Its September 2016, I’m in the kitchen cooking and my mobile rings. I glance over, a picture of my mum is displayed on the screen. To save her money we operate a ‘one bell’ system which basically means she rings then puts the phone down and I call back at the next available opportunity. The phone rang and rang, she lives on her own and isn’t in a great state of health both physically and mentally so I stop what I’m doing to take the call.
“Paula, my pills stopped working, I don’t know what to do” she said sounding breathless. The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck immediately stood to attention. What was she saying, did she need an ambulance?
“What do you mean mum? Are you ok? Which pill?” (To put you in the picture a bit more she needs to take around 45+ a day to stop her becoming dangerously poorly and ending up in ICU which happens a few times a year)
“You know this pill, it’s not been working a few days now, and it’s getting me really down”
“How do you know it’s not working?” I’m already turning the pans off and picking my car keys up.
“Because I keep putting in on charge and nothing is happening, it’s dead”
My panic immediately turned to hysterics, my mum has come out with some crackers over the years but this is up there with the best, what she meant was the Samsung tablet I had given her six months previous had finally packed up!
“It’s not funny Paula, I’ve not been able to send any Snapchats for a few days” more laughter…
Before I share how we fixed this issue we need to jump into Marty McFlys DeLorean and head back to 1989. It’s the 9th of February, my younger brother is 18 in two days. It’s around 11am and I’m at work in Saxone shoe shop, the phone rings, the manager shouts me over and hands me the phone. It was my eldest brother telling me I need to come home straight away, I ask him why but he doesn’t want to say on the phone so I tell him unless he gives me a good reason I’m not just leaving work like that. He assures me there’s a good reason and that I need to come immediately.
Joe phoning me was unusual and he was a bit of a joker so I thought it was a wind up and I was certain I could hear my mum laughing in the background so I said no again and told him I didn’t find it funny. I’d left him with no choice but to tell me on the phone that my dad had died, my mum had found him in bed having suffered a massive heart attack and what I though was my mum laughing turned out to be her grief, I’ve never heard anything like it before or since it was so raw. My dad was 39, no age to die and no age to become a widow.
The aftermath of that affected us all in very different ways, my mum sunk into a deep dark depression and let’s just say it left its mark on my brothers which they are still struggling with today.
Although you can’t imagine it at the time, life does move on and some of my mums highs and lows have included: my brother having a brain clot and surgery, my wedding, 6 grandchildren, 3 great grandchildren, her mother passing away, holidays and celebrations, all of which my mum eventually started to enjoy again.
Then 10 years ago a routine procedure as a day patient went horribly wrong and she needed to have emergency surgery to save her life. She woke up in intensive care and spent the next two months in hospital. Over the years she has been in and out of hospital having a variety of operations, corrective surgery and still 10 years later requires home visits from the nursing team.
As a result my mum lost her confidence and withdrew from her group of friends, due to feeling embarrassed that she could not do ‘the girls’ outings anymore. She pushed people away and eventually they gave up, she got what she thought she wanted…to be left alone. The purpose of me sharing this, is so that you can get a sense of how long my mum has been lonely.
It’s not all doom and gloom though and I do need to tell you that my mum is the kindest most giving person you could wish to meet. If she thought a stranger needed it more than her, she would give them her last penny, on her good days she’s an absolute blast to be around.
Right we're back into the car and we're off to January 2016. I'm putting the Christmas stuff away, having a post Christmas pre return to work day, getting the house back to normality. I've told the kids anything they are not going to use has two routes; bin or charity. My daughter handed me the Samsung tablet and asked, could she put this into the charity bag. I had two thoughts, one charity shop's won't take electrical goods and two she's hardly bloody used it! There was no way I was putting it into the bin so I racked my brains to see who I could pass it onto. The kids suggested my mum as they had noticed that every time we went round she had the TV on morning, noon and night. Her programme of choice was Jeremy Kyle or similar programmes which focused on negative topics, (not ideal for a manic depressive) it was a good suggestion as my mum loves puzzles and reading but struggles to hold the weight of book's so holding a tablet would be much easier.
From here on in, this is where the fun and magic happens…it was the single best thing we have ever done for her. Having a tablet has opened up a whole new world for my mum and it has meant;
She saw her great granddaughter within minutes of her being born using Skype
She has seen the sights and sounds of Disney World and Universal Studios from her armchair when the kids kept her connected using Snapchat and Skype whilst we went to Florida
She has read over 60 books free on Amazon Kindle
She is back in contact with her friends over email
She keeps up with current affairs in line
She is now a google warrior
She plays 4 pic 1 word with the kids
She is in daily contact with all of her grandkids on a daily basis using Snapchat, they connect on their way to school and on their way home
She has rediscovered her 'silly self', sharing silly pic's on Snapchat
In a nutshell, I can’t even remember the last time we went round and she had her TV on, it has really brought her energy back and she feels connected which is important for us and her. I can tell from her style of Snapchat what her mood is like and this allows us to catch her before she spirals.
This is why when ‘the pill’ finally gave up life it was important to me and my mum to replace it as quickly as possible. She’s now the proud owner of a larger Lenovo model and again as it’s a more up to date model it has opened up more opportunities for her…YouTube is now a favourite.
I’m going to finish this tale where I started by giving you a bit more info about how we turned the worse day of the year into the best.
You already know December 2016 was the month my mum was turning 70 and me and my eldest son Dylan were determined to make the whole month special for her. Our challenge was to put a smile on her face every day and for her to share it with all the family via Snapchat.
On the 30th November, me and Dylan set up a birthday advent in my mums front room, that meant there was a present for everyday of the month tagged up with a date on,1st, 2nd, 3rd you get the picture. She was so excited that she couldn’t sleep; she said that every morning in December felt like Christmas day and she felt like a kid waking up on Christmas morning.
Each day she sent us a picture of what she had opened and it soon became apparent to her that most of the presents where for her bedroom (remember me saying she gives things away, well she could hardly give a bedroom away) and on the weekend before Christmas we decorated her bedroom and put all her new presents in. A whole different look and feel with reminders that she was special to us every day of the year.
There’s not a day goes by now without an exchange of pictures between my mum and all the family.
Paula is a mum of three and Head of People Development at Bolton at Home. A qualified practicing coach who has introduced mindful practice into both her home and work life, to support herself and others. She shares her experiences to reduce stigmas attached to mental health. You can connect with Paula via Twitter here