I love surprises. Some people hate them and I often wonder why. I’m still coming down from a week of astounding surprises that have left me, uncharacteristically, speechless.
My precious mum’s funeral was last Thursday (12th November) and the first thing to share with you was the tsunami of love in the room for a woman who, up until eight years ago was shedding friends like winter feathers and alienating everyone around her. She was adored and supported by the carers and fellow residents at her care home who genuinely adored her difference, personality and sheer energy for life. When we were welcomed back there for a party in Mum’s honour, the staff surprised us by a huge buffet, hand-made bunting with “Stories of Margaret” and a beautiful collage of pictures and anecdotal notes from everyone who worked and lived with her. Apart from the beautiful, moving gesture, we were totally gobsmacked by some of the things she’d done. Yes, she’d rather cutely called people by whichever name she fancied, stolen ice creams and raided the biscuit cupboard, but putting her walking stick through the windows in the front door when she didn’t get her way? I never got a bill for that one and I probably should have done. The other surprise of the day was to see a) how my beautiful friend Nicky rocks the black jeans, black jacket look and b) seeing the faces of some wonderful friends who’d come down to Chichester from London without telling me in advance. Prior to arriving for the service itself, there were hundreds of messages from friends on social media who’d been touched by the shared stories of her antics. “I felt like I knew your mum”, “Thanks for sharing your stories of your wonderful mum”, “I’ve learned so much about my own life through reading about yours” being some of the messages. Astounding and so wonderful to see. I could also share the story of how this blog inspired a close family friend to share the story of how my mum danced around the room when a marble popped out of my 4-year old bottom, but I’ve decided to keep that for another time.
It’s the end of a living era and the start of a new one as something even more surprising has started to happen. People are sharing a completely new concept and it’s making me realise that there’s yet another conversation that we should all be having about mental health. Three very close friends have confided within the last week that they took huge comfort from reading my stories, because they never felt comfortable in admitting that their own parents had suffered debilitating mental health issues. They’ve said that they could identify with some of the issues, because their own parents had issues that they could relate to. I’m lucky, because my mum was so physically obvious with her issues and there was no question that I was the little girl with a crazy, mad mum. However, what about the kids who I grew up with who never felt that they could admit to a mum, dad, sibling or close friend who was going through similar issues? They didn’t have my voice and although much of the taunting and bullying from other kids with cries of “Ding dong, Bell dong, your mum’s head’s wrong” was hurtful at the time, I’m starting to realise that I was one of the fortunate ones. Imagine being caught in the silence of a taboo where admitting that you had a crazy parent was driving you into your own destructive behavioural patterns? At least I knew where my odd patterns were coming from and my teachers, friends and occasional foster parents understood to a certain extent. I’m overwhelmed by the honesty of some of my closest friend who, up until my own mum died, have never felt that they too could admit to having mental illness in their own families.
Are we all scared that we’ll turn out like our crazy parents, so keep a lid on it just in case?
Or are we worried that in some way we will be tarred with the same bonkers brush?
My mum would be totally thrilled that her life has generated the confidence in people to open up about the issues that affected their parents, but more importantly about how that impacted on their own lives. Mum was extraordinarily generous (trying to give her house away at times, or putting all her fivers from her pension into a surprise photo album for me when I went to visit), so the fact that sharing her stories is now helping others would be making her laugh and give her the most enormous sense of achievement. And there are so many stories out there, I’m tempted to start a podcast and give a voice to people who, like me, loved their parents, but were afraid to admit quite how unwell they were. Would you listen?
It feels like this is our time. It’s time to speak out, share and compare. Because all the strange rules we made for ourselves at the hand of parents with issues can be un-picked and put to rest if we talk it out. Maybe. And you know me … I love a good talk and speechlessness doesn’t really suit me.
A huge thank you to my wonderful friend Nick who sent me a beautiful condolence card with a message slip inside which is now carried wherever I go – “Be the voice, not the echo”.
Let’s get this out into the open and my goodness, we’ll be laughing by the bucket load and helping so many people who might not be brave enough yet to surprise us all by their own stories.
I’ll tell you another time about how Mum implied that all my friends were planning a surprise party for me, so I shouldn’t make any arrangements. I deliberately stayed in, chuckling at the thought of having to feign surprise and waiting for the masses to turn up only to realise that at around midnight it wasn’t going to happen as it was one of Mum’s flights of fancy. We shared a glass of wine together, however and that was enough – especially as it was a bottle of something rather brilliant, rather than her usual bottle of cheap plonk.
Rest in peace and out of pain, you wonderful woman, I love you and so do hundreds of people who’ve never met you.