MEET OUR FOUNDER

“This is my story; it tells of my personal pain as the mother of an injured soldier, and how that experience led me on a pathway to founding The Ripple Pond.”

Julia Molony - Founder of The Ripple Pond

Three of my four sons served in Infantry Regiments in the British Army. Every summer from 2003 to 2009, one or other of the eldest two was away on tours of duty – either together or separately. In April 2009, my second son Anthony was deployed to Afghanistan, his sixth tour of duty in 7 years.

 

On Thursday 21 May, my world was rocked when I received a phone call from my daughter-in-law (Liz), to say that Anthony was injured.  She didn’t know the exact nature of his injuries, but understood that he had broken his ankles, sustained an open fracture of his left elbow and had some facial wounds. She had spoken to him and he was to be flown home as soon as possible.

Shortly after, I too received a phone call from Anthony, most of which I couldn’t understand, which I later learnt was due to the fact that he was so dosed up on morphine for pain control. My first thought was, ‘Thank God he is alive’. I don’t think I had any other thought as my mind went blank, and I found it hard to know what to do other than get to Kingston, where Liz was quartered, to help her and the children (a 2-year-old son and a 2-week-old baby daughter) prepare for a trip to Selly Oak Hospital, in Birmingham.

Having just had her second child, Liz didn’t feel able to drive to Birmingham, and needed help looking after the children. I was so grateful to her for asking me to help. I went to their house the next day, and we packed up the things she needed for our journey to Birmingham, where we were told Anthony would indeed be arriving on the Saturday. When we arrived, Liz and the children were offered accommodation – I was not. That was a hard knock to take: being ‘side-lined’ like this felt as if my feelings and love for my son were not accounted for. Thankfully, Liz was not prepared to take up that accommodation without me, so we found our own in order to stay together.

When Anthony arrived at the hospital, all I wanted to do was to push everyone out of the way and see for myself that ‘my baby’ was okay, however I knew I had to let Liz go and see him first. We decided she would go with the baby to see Anthony – and introduce him to their daughter – and then I would follow with his son once we knew Anthony felt up to it.

We learnt that Anthony’s vehicle had detonated an IED, whilst his platoon was ‘engaging the enemy’, and that the force of the blast had thrown him right out of the vehicle. His soldiers had immediately put their medical training into practice, dealing with his injuries as best they could, whilst also making the area safe for the Medical Emergency Response Team helicopter to land. Anthony was flown back to Camp Bastion, where his condition was stabilised prior to his being flown home.

Anthony’s injuries included superficial facial wounds, two shattered heels, and an open fracture of his left elbow. He underwent emergency surgery to clean and repair his elbow, whilst his feet – badly swollen but with no open wounds – were given a little extra time for assessment, in the hope that they would be able to ‘repair’ themselves. However, after a few days, it became clear that the left heel was so badly damaged that it would require surgery to re-align the bones. The elbow surgery was successful, and Anthony regained full use of his arm almost immediately. Unfortunately, surgery to his left foot was not so successful and an infection set in which refused to clear up, causing Anthony almost a year of constant, dreadful pain.

There were times during this period when we were left wondering if Anthony would make it through to the next day.

Shortly after Anthony returned home injured in May 2009, my eldest son was deployed: those next six months of his being away added to the already extremely high levels of stress that I was experiencing.

As a means of coping during that first year, I took on the role of supporting Liz and the children. I didn’t have time to ‘feel’ as we lurched from one hospital admission to another. It seemed that every time I put my head up over the parapet, another salvo hit, with news of a return of the infection and either another course of antibiotics or another admission to hospital for surgery. I dreaded the phone ringing.


In March 2010, with the infection creeping up the bone in his left leg, Anthony and Liz agreed to a below-knee amputation. This was a very low point for me, and I found it particularly hard to come to terms with. I had denied the possibility, and it was therefore another big shock.

 

It was hard not being involved in Anthony’s day-to-day care and not being there when decisions were made and meetings with doctors took place. I knew that supporting Liz and the children was helpful, and I also knew that I wanted desperately to be part of the team caring for Anthony. I appreciate how lucky I am to have a daughter-in-law who made sure, as much as possible, that I was kept in the loop. She was very understanding of my needs and fears, which helped me hugely, but I knew I could not lean on her as she too was suffering and adjusting to their new ‘normality’.

 

My role was very different from what it would have been had Anthony not been married. My understanding of the military is that any support provided through military channels would be for the spouse and children – the dependents. Whilst I believe that this is how it ought to be, I did feel very alone, and often scared, sad and angry. There was in fact no emotional support offered to Anthony’s dependents, nor to us, his parents and siblings. About 12 months after Anthony’s injury, I started to think about this lack of support and, upon looking into the options available to us, had difficulty in finding any organisations at all offering support to the families of injured servicemen and women.

When Anthony had first came back from Afghanistan, I would receive phone calls from family and friends asking me how he was, and how Liz and the children were… and then they would say goodbye. If people did ask how I was and I started to try and tell them, I would invariably be met with the response of ‘well, you must be so grateful he is alive.’ Of course I was, and I am, but I would have been even more grateful had he not been injured.

I began to believe that I ‘shouldn’t have feelings’ and so I stuffed them down. I stopped telling anyone who asked how I was. A year after Anthony’s injury, I found myself unable even to sit outside in our garden – I would find myself getting palpitations, I had to get up and go and ‘do something’. Why? Because that’s what I had been doing the previous summer, when I had received that initial phone call from Liz. I was, at that time, a psychotherapist and, with a counselling colleague, I was able to check-off a sufficient number of the criteria to see that I was heading for post-traumatic stress issues.

 

I reached out to national charities for support and, although they offered opportunities for family members to meet and socialise, I wanted to be in an environment that encouraged family members to be proactive in their own recovery, not dependent on others organising things for them where they would be passive recipients.

Because of my profession, I knew about the power of self-help and group-support, so I met up with two mothers in similar circumstances. I found great comfort from those meetings; at that point I knew that what was needed was local ‘self-help’ support for families and loved ones of those injured in service.

 

I decided that I wanted to develop my ideas and take this concept out into the community so in February 2012, I launched The Ripple Pond, with the two main aims:

• to take away isolation
• to foster independence, and autonomy in order to aid recovery from secondary trauma

I called my concept The Ripple Pond based on two facts:

 

1. Anthony’s injury was the brick thrown into the pond, and his wife and I, his father and siblings were the next in line to reel from that trauma, with his step-father and other close family members being slightly less traumatised by the effects, but nonetheless affected. I was struck too by how friends and colleagues were impacted to lesser degrees and this caused me to think of the ripple effect. I believe a ‘second’ trauma occurs when someone close to us is injured and as such I think this trauma needs to be recognised and space needs to be provided to let the trauma dissolve and flow away.

 

2. The second reason for the name is that I wanted this concept, which started as a group in Brighton, to ‘ripple’ round the country. Indeed the membership has grown and now provides a place where many such family members can talk freely about their emotions and their difficulties, knowing they are not going to be judged or found wanting in any way, but rather that they are accepted and supported, which in turn helps them to provide the support and care that their injured loved one needs, as well as encouraging them to be self-motivated in resolving their own trauma.

 

I know how lucky I am to have a son who understands just how much impact his injuries had on me, his mother. When I went to see him after the surgery to amputate his leg, I was unable to be a comfort to him, and instead he had to comfort me. After he was discharged, I avoided visiting him as I couldn’t bear to see him … not only was he having to adjust to living without a limb, but he was still in constant pain as the infection unfortunately continued and he had to be readmitted to hospital for them to ‘take a little more off’ in an effort to stop the infection. During this time, I was left wondering when they would ‘stop taking a little more off’ and my anxiety levels remained high. Eventually, after I had had a chance to talk to others in a similar situation, my anger and distress lessened, and I was able to visit him. I apologised for not being there for him. He responded by saying, ‘I understand, Mum; it’s your leg.’ I know how blessed I am to have a son who could understand the impact, but it was still a long time before I could accept his injury. For over a year I struggled with Anthony’s amputation and what it meant for me – I hated seeing him without a leg. Every time I looked at him I felt a part of myself had been torn off. I know that sounds melodramatic – but I cannot find another way to describe the internal pain I suffered. Having expressed aloud (numerous times to my new ‘fellow mothers’!) how I felt, I eventually began to find it easier to be with him without feeling so acutely pained.

 

The stress of being back home ‘waiting’ is (was?) not, I believe, fully acknowledged. There was never time for my tension to disappear before I was winding up for the next tour of duty. This meant that when bad news came, I was already at overflow point so I shut down. In the summer of 2012 my youngest son was deployed and I was on my own – I was like a cat on a hot tin roof. Memories of Anthony’s injury played in my mind frequently. The doorbell would go and, without realising it, I would go into a ‘high alert state’: are there one or two people outside (two would be ‘serious news’)?; were they smartly dressed? And then I would open the door and find the gas man there! All that energy every time the doorbell went. I was similarly affected by the phone ringing, especially if at an ‘odd’ time of day.

 

Since attending those first group meetings, the freeze that I experienced following Anthony’s return to the UK in May 2009 has thawed. I struggled to be with and to see Anthony without a leg – being able to say this to someone who understood and made no attempt to take away my feelings of sadness, shock and fear, but sat with me and ‘knew’ what I was going through has been incredibly powerful. Eventually I was able to share with Anthony, without emotional overload, the fact that I was finding it difficult and our paths, instead of going off on in different directions because I could not bear to be with him, have remained firmly in parallel.

 

This is my story. The Ripple Pond has hundreds of stories; all are different, but all involve the Ripple Effect.

Now, wives, husbands, partners, girlfriends, boyfriends, fathers, mothers, loved ones, all affected adults can become part of The Ripple Pond Family, and can find the care and support that I so desperately needed during those difficult times.


Julia Molony, Founder