25

We have always made a big thing of birthdays. Always a birthday cake with candles, always a big fuss and usually a birthday meal together. Ellen’s birthday parties were always huge events…… The LUAU party….. limbo dancing, palm trees, grass skirts and flower garlands. The KARAOKE party, The FAIRY party…… Moving on to 19 years old the indoor festival … ‘Please can I have a fantasy fairy forest’? We did it together with carpet roll tubes and ply wood, MDF and paper mache, rolls and rolls of organza fabric and a sprinkle of glitter. Often from a very young age it was a joint party with Caroline her lovely friend as your birthdays are a week apart. The 21st birthday party was legendary….. ‘Please can we have a MASQUERADE BALL’? There was a LOT of planning for this one including a meeting at a cafe in Saltaire. I had to remove little Noah from said meeting because of boredom issues but I did teach him to roar like a lion so all was not lost. There were cakes and all manner of food for the feast (Largely due to Mary, Caroline’s mum), magical touches made to the room, live music and a fabulous DJ. The perfect evening.

Today is our beautiful girl’s 25th birthday. Ellen was due on the Summer Solstice in the summer of 1994 but she was fashionably late and born on the 23 June. I can remember the fabulous full moon in all its glory as I drove myself to the hospital in the early hours of the morning. My magical little (summer solstice) moon baby.

I often wonder what you would be doing now. Where would you have travelled to over the last two years? What would your wedding have been like? Would you have been wearing one of those magical Rawrags dresses that I showed you that you loved so much? We would have planned your wedding together – huge plans involving lots of making, glitter (of course) and lots of nature. Roger and I would have been so proud as we ‘gave you away’ to one of the nicest people we know. I do also imagine the horror of you finding out that glitter is actually plastic and bad for the environment….

The last time we saw our daughter alive was on her 23rd birthday. I took her for lunch and bought her some plants. I noticed this week that the rose she chose was flowering a perfect orange and yellow flower. Noah and I made a red velvet cake (Betty Crocker of course) and we sang Happy Birthday. Noah delighted in helping to blow out the candles with his Mummy. We left Ellen at home happy and contented with her lovely little family – Her, Mikey and Noah. All was well……

All was well? It seemed that way. Ellen was much much better having survived the traumas that the previous few years had inflicted on her. She was succeeding at university with one more year to go. She had created balance in her life and had a bright future. Depression is a demon though. It lives inside you. It is not all tears and staying in bed. It lies behind that beaming smile and can eat at you from the inside. ‘You are strong’ ‘You are doing so well’ …….. Everything can seem so normal and ordinary and safe on the surface but underneath you can be fighting a war inside your mind. Overthinking, worrying, stressing, panicking…. constantly feeling fear but smiling through it. You go out of the house and try to act ‘normal’ but inside you are in turmoil. Traumatised by the past and frightened of the future.

When someone takes their own life they must think that it is the only answer to that insurmountable pain and fear in that moment. It is a desperate act to finally end the pain. In that moment they can not see that in the morning sun things will seem better, brighter, less huge and less terrifying. They can not see the pain that their leaving will cause to the people that love them and even those who don’t know them – how can they? The consequential ripples reach far and wide. I challenge anyone to say that suicide is selfish.

In the first year after Ellen died we produced our Mermen for Mind calendar to raise money for the wonderful ‘Mind’ the charity for better mental health. They campaign for better services as well as providing local care and support all over the country. Imagine being in A & E for three hours. Do you think that is bad? Now imagine having a mental health problem…… When you have finally summoned up the courage to ask for help you are then told it will be weeks before an assessment then you will go on a waiting list. The waiting list could be twelve weeks long….

The calendar kept our team of some of Ellen’s closest friends busy and gave us all something to focus on. We have had many days and nights where we have enjoyed each others company and laughed so much we cried. We have also been able to remember our gorgeous girl. It has been a lot of fun. I love to see the friendships between her friends grow and blossom. They have supported each other and us over the last two years amazingly. I know Ellen would be so proud.

Without all the planning and preparation for the calendar 2019 had been very different. It has really hit hard. Each day marches on without Ellen relentlessly. Some days are worse than others . I wanted time to stop. I never imagined I would be writing this two years on…. that wasn’t possible then but here we are. Time will not stop for anyone. The anniversary of Ellen’s birth is two days apart from the anniversary of her death. This is agony – how can we celebrate her birthday when we are so so sad? Facing a problem though is about looking at the alternatives for solving it. There are always options and opportunities in each problem to deal with it.

What we need to do is keep on celebrating Ellen’s life and her birthday. We will do this among her friends and family and all the lives that she touched. We will also do this by carrying on our campaign to raise money for this wonderful charity ‘Mind’ and continue the conversation about mental health that she started.

So please raise a glass to her today, smile and be happy that she was….. Our gorgeous girl…….