DIY Dignity

Today I have tons to do, but I felt compelled to write about something I saw on TV last night.

“DIY SOS: The Big Build” is one of my favourite programs. (I’m sorry.)

Last night’s episode featured Mo Morris, a 46 year old former Paratrooper for the Royal Engineers, husband of one and father of three teenagers.

During his 20 year career in the Armed Forces, Mo was driven, ambitious, motivated and competitive. He was the best of the best.

Then, after 20 years of hard work and dedication during his physically-challenging career, the ligaments and nerves in his legs, twisted and torn from too many parachute landings and from pushing his body beyond its capabilities, gave up.

His legs crumbled from beneath him and seemed to take his life with them.

He was discharged from the Army on medical grounds. He lost his home, his salary, his hopes for his family’s future and his dignity.

Such a small word… dignity.

After numerous operations on his legs, which caused additional nerve-damage, he was told by doctors there was nothing further that could be done. In fact, any further operations could see him living the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

His family managed to scrape together enough money from his Army pension to buy a small property. His wife worked hard to support them all, as the pension Mo received barely covered all of the bills.

She worked, came home, cared for the kids, cried, slept, then went to work again. Mo could do nothing, apart from watch his wife, and indeed his family, fall apart.

The only practical thing Mo could do was to not drink enough liquid during the day, at least until his wife or kids came home.

You see, their house only had one toilet, and that was upstairs. Mo couldn’t make it upstairs without a great deal of help. So he sat downstairs, suffering from thirst for most of the day, as he didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.

A former Paratrooper, having served his country for nearly a quarter-century, now forgotten and reduced to this. A man who wanted nothing more than to be a good father, husband and role-model to his children. Someone who no longer saw himself as a man at all.

Such a small thing… an upstairs toilet.

If you’ve seen the program, you know the rest. The local community, friends, family and complete strangers come together to help. They build them a new home, a new life…

… and give the family their dignity back.

Why did this program get to me so much? There was a moment last night that will stay with me for a long time.

Before the home-renovations began, 46-year-old Mo, his eyes filled with tears, told the program’s presenter…

“I’ve had my life…”

Aged FORTY-SIX. He honestly felt that his life was over. The rest was just “existing”.

That part broke me. No, I’m not disabled. I’m not saying for one second that my issues are comparable to his.

There was just something in his eyes that I just recognised. The resignation, I guess. The matter-of-factness of his statement.

I know, like so many of us, what it’s like when you feel that life has kicked you so hard, so many times, that there isn’t the strength to get back up. I’m 39 years old and I have felt the way Mo described.

Yes, I’m lucky enough to have friends. Friends who offer a shoulder or an ear. And, of course, that is hugely valuable. But sometimes, no matter how many times you are told by friends or family that they understand, or however many times you “offload” your problems…

… your situation remains the same.

And, sometimes, you just don’t need to talk. “Oh dear” and “There, there” just don’t cut it. You need practical help. The right kind of help. You need advice from an expert, you need to be introduced to the “right” people, even strangers…

… or you just need a downstairs toilet.

It’s really hard to ask, because when your dignity is gone and your self-worth is shot to pieces, you feel ashamed. I know this, because I gave up asking for help such a long time ago. You just don’t feel you’re worth someone else’s effort.

It’s a very horrible trap to find yourself in.

My issues, thankfully, are different to Mo’s. But, like Mo, I have recently had a helping hand from a stranger.

I barely had to ask. He just came forward and the right time, selflessly, helped me. And in just 48 hours from a really useful conversation with him, I’ve found a shred of self-belief that I’m now working with.

Life already feels different.

I think, sometimes, a complete stranger is the best person. There is no judgement because they’re completely detached from your situation.

They don’t need your back story, they just see you as a fellow human being and they just want to help. And that’s a wonderful thing.

Dignity…

… it’s such a small word. But life can fall apart without it… when you feel forgotten.

Sometimes, when you just can’t seem to get back up, you need a helping hand to lift you.

It’s not a shameful thing when you find that you just can’t do it yourself.

5 thoughts on “DIY Dignity

  1. I’m glad that both you and Mo found a helping hand. I didn’t see the program, but your post left me livid. A man gives his whole life in the service of his country and his country repays him by forcing him to hold his urine? Good god. How the fuck do we even consider calling ourselves ‘civilized’.

    Hugs. Great piece. Except that now I want to put my fist through a wall, and have no plastering skills to repair the damage afterwards.

  2. Jane for President! Honestly, without being too casually cynical, how many politicians would empathise with that? Sure, they understand the words and might be somewhat moved, but I wonder how many have the wisdom that comes from having had to live it? More power to your elbow x

  3. Very moving piece Jane, I too watched the programme. Mo should never have been allowed to fall through the net. I think that whilst DIY SOS do a great job helping people, it is sad that there have to be TV programmes like this. The powers that be need to start looking closer to home for people who need help. Whilst it is noble to help people from other countries, maybe the dept for international development should be renamed the department for uk development. Once we get the UK sorted maybe then we can help the other countries.

  4. I love the kindness of strangers, such a powerful thing. Decades ago, someone gave me 10p when he saw me struggling to find change in a phone booth. It enabled me to make a call, to meet someone, and to say goodbye. A huge thing, for 10p. There is more power in kindness than anything else on earth; it can buy love, dignity, respect and closure.

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