Storthes Hall Mental Hospital
Help At Last
One day I came in from school to find mam, sat in a chair, shaking uncontrollably. Her hair was greasy and her face drained of colour. She looked sick and was sweating profusely. I made her a cup of tea and handed it to her without saying a word. I was frightened because she looked very sick but I had to stifle my concerns in case she got up and battered me. She gave me some change and told me to run down the road to the phone box and ring Mrs Ivan’s, our social worker. ‘Tell her to come and get you or else I am just going to walk away and leave you’. My world felt like it was crashing down around me and I was terrified that she was going to leave me. My greatest fear was that I would lose my mam. I did as I was told and rang the Social Services and passed my mothers message on. The social worker turned up about the same time as the police. Apparently, my mam had been fighting in town the night before and had put a brick through some pub window. The police were there to arrest her. This time the police and the social worker could not ignore my mother was not well and needed help. A doctor was called and the decision to commit my mam to a mental hospital was made and an ambulance called. It was decided that mam would go to Storthes Hall, a psychiatric unit, in Huddersfield.
Other people came to the house and the house was buzzing with activity. When the ambulance arrived, mam kissed my brother and sisters and told them not to worry. I stayed my distance from her for fear of her lashing out verbally and humiliating me. Experience had taught me, it did not matter how upset she was, I would get screamed at or lashed out at if I dared to try and comfort her like my brother and sisters did.
The social worker told us, ‘Your mam is not well. She is going to go into hospital for a while and they will make her better’. Looking back, I now realise that the help for my mam was a long time in coming. She was known to the authorities, we were in and out of care every couple of months, it should have been obvious my mam was not well and she needed help, but this was the early seventies and the services my mother needed were not even thought of. I would like to think that in this day and age, mam, with all the problems she experienced as a result of drinking, would have been identified and support offered. But she had no support that I ever saw. She was left to look after me and my siblings when it was obvious that for a number of years, she could not look after herself, never mind young children too.
Just before they took my mam away, mam looked at me and said, ‘It’s going to be okay Louise. When I get back, things are going to be better’. She was looking at me with her arms outstretched. I fell into her arms and sobbed promising her I was going to look after her when she came home, then they took mam away.
Living In Hope Of A Better Future
As the social worker drove us to Maryville, a childrens' home on the outskirts of Barnsley, I was smiling whilst my siblings were crying for mam. I felt happier than I had ever felt. Mam had called me by my name for the first time in my memory, and I was happy. I was ten years old at the time and could not remember another time when she had called me by my name. My mother calling me by my name, gave me hope of a better life to come.
For weeks, while mam was away in hospital, I imagined how I would take care of her when she came home. I was excited, as I waited for my beloved mam to get better and come and take me home. Eventually a letter arrived from mam saying she was coming home and I felt excited and happy.
We were scheduled to go home on the Monday, 23nd November 1970. On the Sunday before the big day we were allowed to spend the afternoon with mam. Social Services wanted to make sure that mam could cope with having us all back at home so soon after leaving hospital. She had been having electric shock treatments while she was away and we were told she was much better, but, would have to take it easy for a while. We arrived home on that Sunday afternoon to find mam doing her big clean. 'I want to make the house nice for when you get home', she said. We spent a lovely afternoon, my mam, brother, sisters and me, sat round the fire watching a film. We ate chopped pork sandwiches and cakes, and drank sweet milky hot tea out of cups with no handles and it was great. Mam seemed relaxed and she did not raise her voice once. I was still full of fear, knowing she could turn on me at any time. I spent the afternoon trying to imagine how good it was going to be, being at home with mam. I tried to convince myself that mam was going to love me too, like she did her other children and we would all be happy. We left mam that afternoon, brimming with excitement at the thought of going home for good the next day.
Sheer Terror And Excitement
Even though I was only a young child, I did not know how to relax and had never in my life experienced a day where I was not afraid. I felt a constant anxiety with physical symptoms of my throat being tight, as if someone had their hands tightly around my throat. My body was in a continual state of stress and I did not know any other way of existing. That night I had a severe panic attack and could not breathe. I was thrashing about in my bed convinced I was going to die of suffocation. A member of staff came into the bedroom and found me struggling to get my breath. She sat at the side of my bed and told me to look at her. 'Breathe Louise, she said, as she took deep breaths in and then blew the breath out. I copied what she was doing and eventually felt myself calming down and being able to breath on my own.
Monday came and I thought I would explode with confused emotions of sheer terror and excitement. After breakfast, I sat in the lounge with my brother and younger sister and waited for the Social Worker, Mrs Ivans to come and take us home. It was dark outside when she eventually turned up. A member of staff made Mrs Ivans a cup of tea and I silently cursed her for doing so. I just wanted to go home so that I could see mam, now I would have to wait until she had drunk her tea, which seemed to be taking forever. My youngest sister sat on the floor playing with her doll, oblivious to what was happening and my eight year old brother, was trying his best to contain his excitement, just like I was.
Mrs Ivans was talking about God, and how God takes people to heaven for a rest. I heard her but was not really listening. I was sat there with a grin so wide that my cheeks were hurting, just willing her to finish her tea so that we could go home to mam. ‘I am sorry but your mam died last night’, said Mrs Ivans. I heard her, but did not register what she was saying and I was still smiling when I noticed that atmosphere in the room had changed from the buzz of excitement to one I still cannot explain today. Nobody else was smiling now. I heard someone screaming, Noooo! Nooo! Over and over they screamed. As I turned to look at my brother, who was sat at the side of me, I realised it was him screaming. I reached round and held him in my arms; he held on tightly to me and sobbed deep heart-broken tears of despair. He screamed for his mam and I knew she was not going to come back. I felt the sting of my own eyes and the sickening tightening of my throat and stomach but I showed no emotion. I was stunned beyond belief and yet I could not let these people know that I was going to cry.
The stunned shocked feeling I experienced that night was immense, everything went black and the world stopped for me. I felt like I was falling into a deep black empty hole and I felt that something inside myself just switched off. Looking back it was the only way I could have survived the horror of what I had just been told. Later, when we had been sent from the room, I listened at the door and heard the social worker talking about my mam, saying in effect she had committed suicide by taking a mixture of tablets and alcohol.
We grieving children were sent for our supper and told to get ready for bed as if nothing had happened. No words of comfort for any of us, not then, not ever. All I knew was that my last chance of being loved by mam had been cruelly snatched away from me. I had never known my mother’s love, never heard her say that she loved me, now I never would.
Although only ten years old, I had so much anger and hurt that I had to keep bottled up inside and I did not know what to do with it.
For the next two years I grieved in silence in that care home. There were no offers of support or grief counselling. There were times when I thought I would die of a broken heart from the loss. For years, I hung onto the hope that she was not really dead. I used to imagine she was in some hospital somewhere, trying to get well and then she would eventually come and get us. She never came and in time I learnt to accept she was never going to come back. I toughened up and put my efforts and energies into taking care of my younger brother and sister.
Now I felt that I was responsible for my mothers death. I felt that I should have done more to help her. I felt guilty because I also did not feel so scared because I knew she could not come and hurt me anymore.
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