Let me tell you about my mum

But first let me tell you about cocktail cherries. It has been a few months since my mum sadly died  on 24 July 2018, more or less a month after her first massive stroke and heart attack. She wasn’t really expected to last a few days after the first one which gives testament to how strong she actually was, as many victims/survivors of domestic abuse are. It was the second stoke that finally took her.

I was standing in a local supermarket, the drinks aisle to be exact, pursuing gin (mum’s tipple was QC sherry on the rare occasion she drank) and a jar of cocktail cherries caught my eye, so in my trolley they went. As a way of giving myself a gold star for getting through another grief riddled day I poured myself a glass when I got home and popped a few cherries in and that was it.

‘Ahh,’ I thought, ‘I know why I bought those cherries,’ I was instantly transported to happier times. Times when my mum was carefree, free to have fun, free to have cocktail cherries with a snowball or cherry B at Christmas when she was married to my dad. Free to have an opinion, a voice, free to associate with whom she liked, free to visit her family, free to attend family nights out at the local liberal club, free to parent as she wished, free to be herself without fear of reprisals. This story will be familiar to you. When she married her second husband her freedom was curtailed, and her entrapment began.

Those cherries were a reminder, an association. I had promised my mum on the day she died that in her memory I would do something to help other victims of domestic abuse/coercive control who were also stroke survivors potentially left with no capacity, no voice and much more vulnerable to the tyranny, exploitation, terror and cruelty of their abusers.

Here is my mum’s story in a nutshell as best I can tell it.

My mum had a good soul, she had good insides, always considerate of other people’s feelings and unfalteringly kind. Mum joined the army after school, she loved it and the army is where she met my dad. When my dad left her she was broken-hearted, utterly bereft, in truth I don’t think she ever got over him. But my dad got over us quickly enough and on the back of that mum was looking for validation, love and security. Like many women of her generation I think she was looking for a prince charming, a knight in shining armour. But instead of entering a fairy tale she walked straight into a nightmare. A nightmare that would last over 40 years, with an immature, egocentric, controlling and violent man-child as the main character. 

This individual would most likely view the power and control wheel as a good job description for a husband. Like a ball of trip wire, he wrapped himself so tightly around my mum it was impossible for her to escape. Just the fact that she could still contribute to society is a testament to the human spirt, the fact that she could still hang onto her real self was testament to her.

And then she had a stroke. Needless to say her husband displayed little concern regarding this but was still intent on having full control over her life. And it was at this juncture that I spotted a gap in the way that families can access and report historic/current safeguarding concerns around domestic abuse for vulnerable women.

Most of the literature I have read regarding women’s health and domestic abuse understandably mentions age (British crime survey deficits acknowledged), A&E admissions, pregnancy, mental health, physical injury, routine enquiry/safe enquiry and hospital based Idvas etc. There is very little about stroke survivors on admission and I would really like to do something about this. Stroke survivors will significantly add to the cohort of hidden victims. Private discussions as recommended in NICE guidelines will not apply to people who have lost their capacity to talk or articulate and recall their experiences. It was only because I work in child safeguarding and had the confidence to raise an adult safeguarding concern that mum’s experiences were recognised and taken seriously by (I must add fantastic) hospital staff. 

If you have a relative in hospital and you are concerned about their welfare and safety please discuss this with hospital staff on admission. They are there to make sure your loved one’s support needs are tended to and this includes making connections with adult safeguarding and domestic abuse.

The following acronym may help:

C – communicate with hospital staff on admission

A – ask about adult safeguarding procedures

R – record all your communication and actions

E – ensure you advocate for your loved ones