Vicky’s mum Paula was cared for by Martlets, and Jason, Paula’s husband and carer, was also offered support. Vicky tells us about the care her family received and shares the incredible story of Paula and Jason’s life together.
Mum had a big heart and a wonderful sense of humour. She was such a fighter. Over the years she had fought off cancer several times. She also had angina, emphysema, pneumonia, bird flu and swine flu, and at one point she was on a ventilator. Every time she would fight it off, so when we were told she was nearing end-of-life we couldn’t quite believe it.
Despite health issues in her later years, she was always thinking of others. Mum volunteered for homeless charities and for the Samaritans, and our stepdad Jason was just as caring as she was. As time went on, Mum became more immobile, and Jason gave up his job to become her full-time carer.
Martlets were amazing. Their rehab team made Mum comfortable at home and got mobility aids in place to make things easier. Jason was also able to get advice via Martlets’ phone hub. He was given support about which benefits he was entitled to as a carer and was offered pre-bereavement counselling. Martlets sent in nurses that would visit regularly to give Mum her medications and pain relief. They also sent carers in to offer respite for Jason and would always visit with a smile. The nurses and carers were incredible people, and we just could not have done without them.
‘Mum and Jason were meant for each other’
Mum and Jason met around 20 years ago when they were both working in Primark in Brighton. Jason was much younger than Mum – about 30 or so years younger – so a bit of a toy boy! He was in his 20s and she was in her early 50s. Jason was from Zimbabwe and people were skeptical, saying that he just wanted to get married to get a British passport. Very few people had any hope in their relationship. It not only lasted but flourished and proved to everyone around them what real soulmates they were. Mum and Jason were together for more than 20 years – right to the very end. They were so in love and absolutely adored each other.
Mum was very young in mind, and Jason was very mature-minded, and they enjoyed doing the same things. They shared the same birthday, the 20th of February; but she was born in 1949 and he was born in 1981. For 15 years or so, before Mum got ill, they were happy and on good form; they would go on holidays and visit Jason’s family in Zimbabwe. In 2003, they got married in Brighton Town Hall. They walked up the aisle to Elvis Presley – they loved his music.
‘The way Jason cared for Mum was just remarkable’
When Mum became ill Jason was astonishing in the way he cared for her. He was a man in his late 30s looking after a woman in her 60s. Yet he did all the housework and the shopping; he dressed Mum, fed her, and washed her, every day. He was the rock of our family; a stepdad, but more like a brother or a best friend to me and my sister. We were in our 20s, and had moved out and had full-time jobs; Jason made it possible for us to live our lives while he cared for Mum. Remarkably, he also took on caring duties for my dad who lived nearby (Mum’s ex-husband); Dad was in his 80s and his health was also in decline. We literally believe Jason was some sort of angel the way he cared so selflessly for our everyone.
If me or my sister needed to move back for a bit (after a relationship break-up or whatever) he would welcome us back. He would even pick you up at three o’clock in the morning from Manchester if you needed him to. Yet he rarely asked for anything for himself. He did all this while he was living with fibromyalgia – a condition that meant he was often in agony. His hands used to swell up and he couldn’t walk some days; you could hear the pain in his voice see it in his face, but he never complained. He would still carry Mum upstairs and do Dad’s shopping. We begged him to let us help, but he was so house-proud; he lived for looking after the home he and Mum had made and the people he loved.
‘After Mum died, Jason was heartbroken’
We were so worried about Jason when Mum died as she had been his entire life for so long. He had been her full-time carer; he had very few friends or outside interests as he had dedicated so much to Mum. Me and my sister kept him busy – asking him over for meals and taking him to the pub. We just wanted to look after him.
Just over a week after Mum died, we went over to see him; we were due to have a meeting to plan Mum’s funeral. Jason let us in and went upstairs. Suddenly, I heard him drop to the floor. I ran upstairs and could see that something serious had happened, so I called an ambulance. When the paramedics arrived they worked on him for 50 minutes, but they couldn’t save him. The doctors said he had died of a broken heart; the stress of Mum dying combined with blocked arteries (which were discovered postmortem) had triggered a heart attack. He was just 40 years old. To say we were devastated is an understatement, in fact we are still traumatised.
‘They are together again’
The saddest part is after Mum died, Jason would have had a chance to begin a new life and to get healthier. But he always used to say he didn’t want to be here without Mum. He would say that life didn’t have any meaning without his ‘angel’ as he called her. So, we have taken some comfort in them now being together again in death just as in life. When we were going through their belongings, we found epic movie-worthy love letters they had written to each other. The letters were so beautiful and friends and family read them aloud at their joint funeral.
The only time they ever spent apart in 20 years was the nine days between Mum dying and Jason following her. In our darkest times, my sister and I like to think they were destined to be together; that thought helps us with our grief.
‘Mum and Jason will be in our hearts this Christmas’
We’re both having grief counselling at the moment from Martlets and we’re so grateful for all they’ve done for us as a family. When Mum died, Jason was talking constantly about us doing something to support Martlets as a ‘thank you’. We decided to make a donation and to get involved in Martlets’ Light Up a Life event this month. It means that Mum and Jason will be remembered in the printed Order of Service for the event which is nice.
The four of us loved spending Christmas together and it will be so hard this year without Mum and Jason; essentially half of our family will be missing. One of the things I said in Mum’s eulogy was that I would keep up our family traditions. The Christmas tree always had to go up on the first day of December, never later; and we will sing ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ around the tree (albeit badly) and save a present each for after dinner! Christmas will be extremely difficult this year, but it is a comfort to know that Mum and Jason had so many happy years together. Their relationship really was something special. It was a privilege to witness it and to be so completely loved and cherished by these two amazing souls.
Help Martlets Keep Caring This Christmas
Every year Martlets supports bereaved friends and families with over 1,000 counselling sessions. Our counsellors provide vital coping techniques to get through the toughest of times, including Christmas, which can be particularly difficult for those who have lost a loved one. Martlets’ services are free and can only continue with the support of our community. If you are able to make a donation to Martlets this Christmas, you will be helping hundreds of local people affected by bereavement throughout the festive season and beyond. You can donate here https://www.martlets.org.uk/christmas/