Betty’s Granddaughter ….

Hello, yes it’s me again! She came back! I can’t possibly write or dictate in my case, another word until I have thanked you all for the response and encouragement of my last blog! Thank you! Blown away to say the least! So today started off like any other day, Dylan the Villain up to villainous things, being shouted at, the sound of running water in the bathroom and a fluffy excited 32kg deadweight upon my chest, good morning Dylan! Then my Mother’s voice, he’s been naughty again, he stole a sock! Then it’s a death defying slalom to get down the stairs, Mam goes to work and Dorothy my carer arrives to get me ready for the day, including breakfast. Nothing unusual or out of place there. But today is a different day, I can’t call it special, I always feel that implies something great and out of the ordinary, though maybe today should be described as special now that my mind has just drifted back to that day? Today marks 3 years since my Nanna passed away, I can’t say died because she’s still very much here and alive inside everyone of us. My Nanna was special to us all in so many different ways but I’m going to be selfish and tell you about MY Nanna.

Out of respect for my family, I will not and cannot go into much detail, I’m going to be in hot water for sharing this much but I promise you, you’ll feel richer for reading. The 11th April 1932 Elizabeth Isobella Middleton was born, she married John Featherstonehaugh Clark and was known as Betty Clark, here starts the life of the most strongest person I am ever to meet! It was a hard life and I don’t mean that lightly, men worked but the women worked harder, big families, illnesses, deaths, violence, abuse and kids went hungry. In society now, we give these things fancy names like domestic abuse, in those days, you got brayed, it’s exactly the same thing though and just as awful. Most of us have read Catherine Cookson’s Fifteen Streets, well, I need not say any more. I have never heard a story like my Nanna’s and I pray I never do. You’ll learn where my dark sense of humour comes from as you walk along with me, hopefully! Please stay! 
When we all get into full swing of reminiscing which isn’t too often, there’s always a story that pops up. It’s about the Toby Jugs that sat above the living room window on the wooden pelmet. There were once 6 Toby Jugs but out of necessity to feed her 5 kids while Johnny splashed the cash on a night out, she’d pawn a Toby Jug. She’d spread the remaining jugs out to hide the gap but live in constant fear my Grandad would notice, a few Toby Jugs found their way to the pawnbrokers and my Grandad never ever noticed or found out, she took that and many more survival tactics to her grave and we smile and belly laugh at some of the tricks she had to pull. Unfortunately, those laughs quite quickly turn to sadness, resentment and yes, anger for what was allowed to pass. 

I have mixed feelings about my Grandad, it’s like I loved two very different people and I’m guessing it was like that for Nanna too but on a much grander scale. I loved him yet I cried many heartbroken tears for how he could and had been. My Grandad was a hard and sometimes cruel man, having been brought up in a cold hard era, he suffered abuse, i remember being told about my Great Grandma Clark clenching her fists, rolling her sleeves up and asking him to choose between instant death or long term sickness. There was always a joke made of it but it was so very true. He was a educated man, he was a scholar, I learned a great deal from him and this is where you’ll all think I’m away with the fairies but my Grandad was just as much the gentle, kind loving man who taught me wood work, about Kings and Queens, about the pioneers of the North East and a multitude of things, I could keep listing and listing. He smacked me once when I was 3, my mam moved out of the family home and we got our own flat, I bloody loved that flat, even if my teddies bottoms did get stuck with ice to my windowsill and had to be chipped off and defrosted in front of the fire in winter. It gave a whole new meaning to bottoms up! My Grandad sent for us a short time later and he apologised and promised never to lift a hand to me again and he presented me with a wooden sledge he’d made, my Mam refused to move back but he was as good as his word and never smacked me again. I’ve made peace with my Grandad over the years and I did love him. 

When I was 19 and I had gotten my first proper stable job, training to be a Veterinary Nurse, my Nanna left my Grandad for good.  

Oh how life took off for her. She had her own little granny flat, decorated how she wanted it, she bought clothes, shoes, even “scent” with the little bit money she had, if she really liked something she wouldn’t just buy one, oh no, she’d buy it in 3 different colours, I’m giggling away to myself here, nearly everything was green. She went to the bingo, in her words she’d say “your Nanna was a jammy get, it comes in threes Elizabeth so I’m going to bingo again tonight” and sure enough it did, whether a bingo win or lucky scratch card or tombola, she’d win it lad. See, my Nanna slipped out again there! She even won the lottery you know, not the jackpot but seriously, she did, she got a few numbers, it wasn’t big money that week but she won it and gifted almost all of it to her kids, bless her. She looked after nearly everyone in that sheltered accommodation, she walked up a great big hill to go get them fish and chips on a Friday, she did little bits of shopping for them but one of my favourite things I must tell you, so please hang in there! In the big day room downstairs where they sometimes played bingo, it was decided that the local dementia group would meet there to do crafts, listen to music and play dominos and such likes. My Nanna very much feeling the need to fill a void offered her services, it went from sitting nattering to the old dears to her helping in the kitchen washing dishes and taking tea towels home to wash, to waltzing to all the old classics to THEN getting her NVQ. Yes that’s right (Oooow, I’ve just got goosebumps writing that!) at 79 my Nanna got a NVQ and became a fully pledged volunteer! When the dementia club first started up, there was a residents meeting as a few weren’t very happy about them meeting there. My Nanna was stopped on the stairs one day by a neighbour and was told it wasn’t right having all these insane crazy people in their building. Well, I can tell you, that lady was handed her pedigree right into her hands. “Don’t you go around calling them that, be careful what you say, it can happen to anyone of us!” 

Years later that lady joined the club as she had developed dementia ….

I could write about her for hours and hours, days in fact. I often got called Katie or Katie Jane but I mostly got called Flossie and when I later decided to inflict my art on to the world, I wasn’t courageous enough to expose myself for fear of criticism, I named my artists page and work, Flossie Inspired because she truly inspired me. 

I was very proud of my family the week leading up to her passing, we all piled into her tiny granny flat, we let the Hospice at Home nurses go, though we’d only had them a few nights, we cared for her ourselves, it was a promise my Mam had made her many years ago, that she’d never see inside a nursing home and I think my Mam is very proud that she could fulfil that. We decided as a family it would only be us at the end, no carers. Me and my Nanna loved to sing, my Nanna used to sing to me as a baby and there was always one song that got belted out. We’d sing in the car on our days out and I even joined a choir at one point. I remember the afternoon well, I was sat on the seat next to her bed and we had her music on, we were singing and holding hands and she kept waving my hand back and forth in time to the music, we were singing Elvis, the man is a god to me but that’s another story for another day. Suddenly I could not hold the emotion and hurt back any longer and my voice broke, that damn pesky lump in my throat the size of Australia nearly cutting off my airways, snuck up on me and my mask of bravery disintegrated. You might not think it a tender moment but my Nanna said “nu come on now Flossie, we’ll have less of that, nu stop crying, you’re going to miss the chorus, sing!” so I did, very poorly and very difficultly, it was more of a rasp than anything. 

Passing can be a slow process, we each took turns to sit with her and say our peace, I was particularly proud of my Uncle who is a man of very few words but once something was on his mind he’d be up, grab some tissues, tap the person on the shoulder to shift and he’d sit and share his thoughts and love with her in private, though she always knew how loved she was, it was more about us giving her our final love and emotional gifts to take with her. Everyone was comfortably far enough away to have a little privacy. When I sat with her I never had anything to say because I’d always told her throughout her life, we used to have little chats you see, so I sat and thanked her and reminisced about trips to Whitely Bay (I have a bag of sand from Whitley bay that I plan to put on her resting place once I can – Shhh! I know it’s naughty!) and how we were going to sail to France on the boat moored on the Quayside which later became a floating nightclub. I did however thank her and apologise for being an arsey teenager and sobbed when I said my only regret is that she’ll never meet my children if or when I have them. That seat next to her bed was never empty for even a minute throughout the day and night, for days we lay on the floor, accidentally kicking each other or crumpled up in a chair, one night I slept for 2 hours on the visitors chair in the corridor outside my Nanna’s flat. On the 18th of July, just after 4pm my Nanna found the strength and courage to leave us (goosebumps again!) THOUGH the buggar nearly left without me and my Auntie! I had nipped to my Auntie’s literally up the road to have a very quick shower, we got back just in time, my hair was still soaking wet and I have to confess Nanna, I had no knickers on when you left! She passed away on this day, surrounded by us lot, the lot that usually can’t be in the same room together for 5 minutes without shouting and arguing, in her own home, in her own bed, with the birdsong dancing through the open windows, the shadows of “that bloody tree” outside projected onto her green carpet (she always threaten to chop that tree down!) surrounded by respect, admiration and love, on this very day. 

When I was rushed to hospital back in January, I couldn’t feel her near me and I was getting myself upset, a male nurse was making the bed across from me in the dependency unit and he was whistling and humming away to himself, I instantly recognised the the song, as he walked past my bed I said with my best speech I could muster, you’re quite young to know that tune and sounding like a Nanna myself, he replied what tune?  

The one you were just whistling and humming.

Was I?! 

Yes, for a good 10 minutes.

He giggled and walked away completely oblivious. The tune was Bring Me Sunshine and was featured on the Morecambe and Wise Show that I used to watch with Nanna and Grandad, he taught me the paper bag trick and if you don’t know the paper bag trick, I suggest you get yourselves onto YouTube or Google it and find out! I looked upward and smiled, aye, she was there alright!

So who am I, well I am that girl but I’m also Betty’s Granddaughter.

🎶 Que sera, sera, Whatever will be, will be, The future’s not ours to see, Que sera, sera, What will be, will be …. 🎶

I am that girl ….

I thought I would introduce myself, I’ve never had a blog before, though I am a dab hand at Facebook and I’ve usually used that as a vessel. I’ve always threatened to start a blog and post my many calamities, triumphs, traumas and years of heartache and wonderment. I’ve also threatened to write a book! What has spurred me on is that I have recently become unwell, my life dramatically changed over night. On the 14th of December 2016 my life took a turn for the worse, for the worse or for the better? Now that’s a pondery and still to be decided! I have faced some incredible difficulties and adversity over the years, heartbreak and utter devastation, I’ve also been incredibly blessed to have met some wonderful people along the way, I’ve enjoyed life and given back as much as I was gratefully given, I believe that all that love, struggle and strife and heartache, all the ugliness in the world and overcoming incredible hardship has prepared me for this journey that I’ve found myself on. Not only how far I’ve come but what is still lying in wait for me. So back to December 2016, I sustained a head injury that ruptured my left ventricle artery in my brain, this caused a haemorrhage and a rare type of stroke, that day I should have died instantly upon it rupturing, the damage to the artery is 3-4cms, now that’s some injury! For whatever reason I survived but over the next four weeks I suffered TIAs which are commonly known as mini strokes, where the artery was trying to heal itself and tiny clogs were breaking away and being washed along with the blood flow. I was having a mini stroke every 1 to 2 days so I’d feel champion one day and barely able to move the next. Three GPs misdiagnosed me on three separate occasions, I was given various diagnoses, including suspected meningitis (ruled out quickly) labyrinthitis, a virus and even flu, I was living in a fog and holding onto walls and furniture and I experienced weakness in my limbs, it’s a good job there’s photographs of Christmas and New Year because I barely remember them, a part from a fleeting thought of, Mmmmm, I love parsnips!

In early January I had the most horrific experience that I find extremely difficult to put into words, I lost consciousness and when I came round I was paralysed down my whole right side and unable to talk. I was at hospital on the stroke dependency unit, a consultant had the difficult task of trying to explain to me what was wrong and forming a timeline to determine what had happened. I had had another Haemorrhage and a second much bigger rare type of stroke and if that wasn’t enough, 5 days later I was to suffer a third haemorrhage and a third rare stroke after being told that these types of strokes and injuries are so extremely rare. They’re only seen once every 18 months and often by people fatally injured in a car accident or a motorcycle accident. How I am here, I truly do not know and neither do my team of Doctors and Consultants. If that wasn’t enough in early March, a clot from the original injury was migrating and heading for my lungs and my heart, I was blue lighted to the hospital where they saved my life again by giving me a drug called Alteplase and I was thrombolysed. That in turn was a very difficult call for the Consultant that day. I had a 50-50 chance of survival having the drug, the reason being because of the haemorrhages and the type of rare strokes, plus I had a clotted injury that needed to be there to heal! There was no decision in my eyes, I chose life, like I say, to me there was no decision to make, I wanted to live! I had already defeated the odds more than once since December so I was going for broke! Six hours later the drugs that had just saved my life, then decided to try and take my life and I went into shock. I had a weak but rapid pulse and laboured breathing, I lost consciousness and I had to be resuscitated. In the middle of all of this and unbeknownst to me there was a BBC camera crew there filming every step, so even in the grips of death there I was on the BBC1 documentary, Inside Out. It’s official, this girl doesn’t do things by halves!

Over the last 7 months I’ve been retraining my brain/body, from little things like trying to get fingers to bend to relearning to read and trying my very hardest to walk again. I do a fabulous crawl on furniture and can manage one or two wobbly Bambi steps but often I need my zimmer frame and I definitely need my wheelchair to get out and about, though I’ve only been out of the house 7 times and counting since mid-December, not including blue flashing lights and high speed ambulance rides. I have short-term memory loss due to damage to my left temporal lobe, so I might repeat myself quite often so bear with me! I don’t have much mental capacity at times, some days I’m trapped inside my own head and unable to explain what’s happening, other days all the switches are turned on and it’s green for go, it’s the same physically, one day I can wobble and drag myself across the sitting room on the furniture, the next the switch has flicked and I can barely hold my phone in my hand. In the beginning no one knew what was wrong with me not even the GPs who misdiagnosed me. Unfortunately some people in my life decided to call me a liar and even when a more informative diagnosis was given, they still continued their quest to discredit me and deem me to be an awful person. It wasn’t me who showed their true colours! Thankfully, they are very much in the minority and the support, love and care that I have been given over these months is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal! I have a whole wall covered in get well cards, I’ve had fresh flowers every day for the last 7 months, apart from one single day just recently, there’s not a day goes by that I don’t get a message, a phone call or a request to visit to see how i am or ask if there’s anything they can do for me, though the visits are few and far between because they all have such busy lives and there has been times I’ve been too poorly, but they’re still there and it will get easier to interact and socialise as I continue to recover. I’m sat at the sidelines of life right now but I am so incredibly thankful and blown away by everyone’s support, even in my darkest days my heart swells! On that morning in mid December I lost a great deal of things that right now, I can’t possibly begin to explain but I somehow have become richer. I’ve had people step up to the mark without even being asked and support from people who I didn’t even think I mattered to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an incredibly lonely time, in fact, I’ve never felt so alone in all my life but I don’t feel sorry for myself, I never have but if there is one person on this planet strong enough to overcome this then bah, Christ, it’s me! So I say, bring it on!

My saviour and constant companion is my one-year-old black Labrador, Dylan or also known as Dylan the Villain and most recently, Devil Dick! It was saving him from a rapid river that had burst it’s banks that may have caused my injury. Having a head injury with all the complications etc the Doctors were concerned about the loss of Serotonin which they described as the happy chemical in your brain, obviously I’ve lost a lot of the Serotonin with the three big Chrysanthemum type firework bleeds in my brain, they also spoke to me about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and promptly put me on the “watch” list. Even though I’m so incredibly, incredibly thankful that I am alive, they worry that sometimes people can feel differently and feel so overwhelmed and lost that they want to take their own life. I truly believe that Dylan has prevented me feeling any of those things so far, most days he is my only company a part from the fantastic carers who help out twice a day, he is my constant companion and gives me unconditional love, it doesn’t matter that I’ve got tatty hair and I’m still in my Harry Potter pyjamas, he doesn’t care he just wants to snuggle and have the crust off my morning toast. So you’ll hear a lot about him!

This might sound a bit crackers but being poorly is a luxury, we live in a world today that runs on money, as much as that pains me to say, it’s a cold hard fact! I haven’t just been sitting at home convalescing, eating grapes and holding audience, far far from it, the sad truth is I literally don’t have two pennies to rub together as my dear Nanna would have said. I’ve been kept from focusing on my recovery and achieving my goals because of constant phone calls from the likes of GMAC about car payments and repossession, even though I’ll never be able to drive that car again. I don’t get sickness money from work, I get Statutory Sick Pay and I’m sure a lot of you know that’s nothing to live on never mind paying for cars etc These companies don’t care what you’ve been through, they don’t care that you should have died 5 times in 7 months, there’s no empathy, there’s no sympathy and I have to admit that there has been days, despite my little Dylan the Villain, where they have pushed me over the edge and it chokes me to say, I’ve exclaimed those horrific words, I should have just died! I know, horrendous! Along with the head injury I’ve been having seizures and the constant phone calls have stressed me to the point of bringing on multiple seizures but that again counts for nothing, they want their pound of flesh and anyway that they can get it! I’m 38 and I’ve never ever been in this position before, I was made redundant in my early 20s through no fault of my own and I signed on at the dole office and three days later I signed off because I can turn my hand to anything when needs be, I went from Veterinary Nurse to jewellery girl because needs must. I have succumbed to trying to claim benefits and let me tell you, the information doesn’t come freely and you have to ask about and rely on people who have been through a similar situation to give you a guiding hand. I’m living back home with my Mam and we are surviving solely on her wage.

Anyhoo, who am I? Well, I am that girl! I am a big animal lover, I love the outdoors, I’m an artist, published twice I’ll have you know, I have been a part of amnesty international since I was 15 years old, campaigning for human rights, I love music and the arts, I’m very much a giver if I do say so myself and recently have discovered that I am actually extremely hard on myself and should maybe care for myself the way that I care for others. What else can I tell you, my favourite colour is blue, I was quite partial to a soupçon of Prosecco before I became ill, I love people, I love life when it’s not dealing me a shitty hand, I’m an ordinary type of being, not that special, often overlooked but if this can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. I’m hoping this is going to be quite cathartic for me but I’m also hoping that anyone reading this can relate and seek comfort that they’re not alone. Maybe someone who is possibly feeling exactly the same way as I am, maybe I can even make them laugh and smile, who knows. There is no such thing as an ordinary day in my life, what’s a normal day? There’s never been a normal day, even before the accident, there’s always a story to be told and nothing is ever straightforward with me! Behind the laughs and the smiles and the terribly dark humour, there is also sorrow, sadness and pain. The little Miss “Fix It” the “go to” girl, the one that’s always there to dig you out of a hole, is now that girl herself and believe you me, this crown doesn’t sit comfortably upon my head. I’m the girl that kept knocking on Heavens gate but St. Peter was either out shopping at Aldi or hiding behind the sofa whispering, don’t let that nutter in! I want to participate in life again and no one is going to stop me from doing that, there’s days I need a note from my Mam to say my P.E kit is in the wash but there are also days where I can write my first blog. Life is for living and once I’m off this spectators bench and back in the mix, that’s exactly what I intend to do!

As Steve Tyler the rubber lipped rock god himself once said, life’s a journey not a destination ….