Donna has experienced the worst kind of tragedy and heartbreak but, somehow knew her experience could help prevent others suffer in the same way she had and in this interview she shares her story to help inspire others to reach out and help others too.
Donna is a truly remarkable & inspiring lady!
As I arrived at Donna’s home she met me at the door and greeted me with such a warm welcome and gave me a big hug. For anyone who knows Donna she’s always got a big smile on her face and she has such a warm and friendly nature about her.
She apologised immediately and said she hadn’t had chance to get ready properly yet and was finishing off breakfast. Of course I didn’t mind in the slightest and anyway Donna still looked beautiful even in her lounge wear.
I’ve known Donna for many years, we went to school together and over the years I’ve bumped into her in various different places and every time I’ve seen her she always stops to chat. Even in her school days she was a happy, smiley girl and she always had a kind heart then. She didn’t have a bad word to say about anyone and was someone who just got on with everyone, she didn’t gossip and still doesn’t now and most of all she likes to see the good in everything and everyone.
But, it wasn’t only this that drew me to want to interview Donna for our ‘Living Proof’ feature it was Donna’s journey throughout life that drew me to her. In the last year we’ve seen one another a few times and I’ve come to learn of the journey that she’s personally been through. She’s experienced tragedy, heartbreak and overcome adversity and throughout it all remains such a positive, kind hearted human being who has withstood everything that life has thrown at her.
Yet, she still stands strong throughout it all and shows us how to find courage even in our darkest of moments. She is brave, courageous and has an extra special quality that enables her to use the experiences she’s had in life to help and give back to others in so many ways. Throughout this interview we explore Donna’s journey with life and she wanted the interview to be as open and honest as she could be, so she could share her story with others to inspire them to go on and live a happy, grateful life.
Living Proof is a special feature that showcases all types of men and women and through interview we help them to share their story with others. These stories are inspiring, heart wrenching in some cases and thought provoking and we want to be part of a world where we help showcase other’s stories to help others.
Our interviewees have a range of backgrounds, they could have overcome something significant in their life or be freedom entrepreneurs, perhaps business men or women and/or even a stay at parents – there really are no limitations. You see, the way one person chooses to live their life is different to another and that’s the real beauty of it.
In this interview you will see how Donna has drawn upon her experiences to help her give back to others in so many ways. This is by far the most emotional interview we’ve ever done, at times we were both in tears yet throughout it all Donna kept smiling and was able to share her story because she wants it to help others overcome tragedy, mental health issues and sadness.
It’s a truly inspiring, heart felt and emotional story and we think Donna is brave and courageous for sharing it with us all – Thank you Donna.
Some of our readers may find the details in this story difficult to read but, Donna wanted you to understand the journey she has been on and share everything in an open and transparent way.
What were you like growing up Donna?
As a child I was always very happy, I lived with my Nan and Grandad and was very lucky to be brought up in such a loving home surrounded by family and friends. I had a really lovely upbringing and a very loving family. We didn’t have a lot of money but, that didn’t matter because I had such loving Grandparents who supported me, loved me dearly and I always felt like the apple of their eye.
I was the eldest grandchild and my Mum was young when she had me so I went to live with my Nan. My Nan’s children had already grown up and left home so they brought me up as their own and we used to do everything together. I always remember my Nan used to meet me after school every Wednesday in town and as a treat she used to take me to Barnacles for tea where we’d sit and chat about the day. Then she always used to take me to River Island too so I could choose some new clothes or shoes.
As a child I always remember being very well dressed, she always bought me new clothes and never wanted me to go without. Looking back I probably got more than other children but, at the time that was just the way I grew up so I didn’t know any different. They took me everywhere as a child, I remember holidaying in Blackpool, going for days out on the bus with my Nan to Seaton and I look back with fond memories.
We used to go out for days and take a picnic made up of boiled eggs and sandwiches, I loved these days and looking back I truly treasure them and feel lucky to have been brought up in such a loving environment. My Nan did everything for me, I’m lucky though because I still saw my Mum too so it was like having two Mum’s really and even now I’m still close to them both.
I lived with my Nan until I was 19 and until I met my first partner and we went onto have our first son Keiran in 1997. Kieran was born a whopping 9lbs and was perfect in every way and even though I was only teenager myself I felt so lucky to have a beautiful son to love with all my heart, he ticked all the boxes and I took to motherhood instantly.
Looking back I was very young when I had Keiran and being a parent at that age was a huge responsibility, l was really still only a child myself. But, I wanted to provide for my family and I continued to work full time as a Manager in a nearby McDonalds.
Back then, you only got 16 weeks maternity leave and I’d already taken 6 weeks prior to the birth of Keiran so after 10 weeks I returned back to work. I’m not sure how I did it really, but I was young and determined to support my young family and that’s what I did. I’ve always had a good work ethic and wanted to be financially secure, I suppose I learned this from my Nan as she always worked too and even worked up to the age of 70 which is amazing in itself.
Being a parent then was about providing for my family and young son, in fact life was all about them. I would earn my wage and pay the bills and then whatever was left I’d spend on him. I seemed to spend a ridiculous amount of money on outfits for him, I’m not sure why now but, I think I always wanted him to be well dressed too and show others I could be a good parent even at the age of 19.
As I grew older I realised materialistic things weren’t everything and as I went onto have other children I realised that this didn’t matter at all. I remembered the loving environment I’d been brought up in with my Nan and remembered all the experiences we had together as a family and I knew that’s what I wanted to create for my own family too.
When did you move out of your Nan’s house and how did you feel about moving out?
Moving out of my Nan’s was hard as I’d always been there but, it was natural for me to want my own house. I didn’t move far away from her though as I wanted to stay close and I loved the sense of community of the estate so I rented a house close by. Then in 2001 I had a second child, another little boy Harry. Harry was born with the biggest brown eyes you’ve ever seen and I remember him just looking up at me, I immediately fell in love with him. He was the opposite to Keiran who was quite fair and I was over the moon to have another precious son to treasure and I knew he would be great company for his big brother.
Very shortly after having Harry, Harry’s Dad and I split up and I moved back to my Nan’s house. I had so much support from Nan and all my family were close by too. I loved living with my Nan as the estate she lived on was where I grew up, I had so many friends and family nearby whom all looked out for one another.
It was an estate where many of us didn’t have much money but, that didn’t matter because we had a supportive community. We all looked out for one another, you could go out and leave your door open, it was safe and secure and everyone helped everybody else.
I have so many memories of us all playing in the street together, we had street parties for birthdays and special national occasions where all the parents would put the paste tables in the middle of the street and each bring something for the street party. As kids it was brilliant for us and it showed me from an early age how important community was.
Even though I don’t live in that estate now I often go back as my family all still lives there and many of the same people live there too. Now their children live there with their families and it still has that same sense of community. When it was the Queen’s 90th birthday the council closed off the street and we had bouncy castles, music blaring, gazebos and everyone chipped in £5 as their contribution to the party. Everyone knows everyone and it really is like an extended family.
I became to realise how close this community was later in my life when I needed them and they were all there for my family and I and for that I’ll always have a lifelong connection with this estate and the people within it.
After living back at home with my Nan and the two boys, I got my own house which was to be our home for the next 10 years.
When did you meet your partner?
My cousin and I were out celebrating her birthday at Tall Trees, a local nightclub in 2006 and I met him there. I’d known him for a long time and since that night we got chatting, we just clicked and the rest as they say is history.
We then went onto have another 2 beautiful children, Aliyah, now 9 and Faris, 7. I’d never planned on having any more children but, fell pregnant quite quickly and then as the age gap was quite big with the boys and Aliyah we decided to go on and have another child, Faris.
At this point we still lived on the estate and even though we were cramped in our little house, we loved it but, then one day we knew we had to move.
So what made you move house?
At the time life was good, we were enjoying parenthood and had 4 children between us and we loved our little house, it was small but, perfectly formed.
Then one day my life changed forever, it was 7th June 2012 and it was like any other Thursday. It was half term and my Mum was looking after the kids whilst I was at work, I set off to go to work as normal and began about my day.
Then at 12pm I received a telephone call from Harry who was 11 at the time. I wondered why he was calling but, answered the call and it seemed strange at first because I couldn’t hear Harry at the other end of the telephone, all I could hear was screaming and wailing and I knew it was my Mum’s voice and I stopped in my tracks, I immediately knew something was very wrong.
I can remember the day like it was yesterday, it was a noise I’ll never ever forget. It wasn’t even a scream, just an awful wail and at that moment my life changed forever. My Mum was saying over and over again, ‘Keiran has taken his life,’ and at first I couldn’t register what she was saying and then it registered what she had said and I just collapsed at work.
All I remember was my work colleagues picking me up off the floor and bundling me into their car and as we turned into the street where we lived we were met by ambulances and police cars. All I remember was running into the house and running up the stairs to his bedroom where he laid on the floor, there were paramedics all around him, working on him and I just remember being in shock, it was almost like a daze.
I just remember having hold of his hands and praying he was going to be okay, they decided then to move him and take him to the nearby hospital and I couldn’t move. The policeman had to physically lift me out of the house and into his car and we followed the ambulance. As we arrived I couldn’t walk, I was paralysed with shock, so he bundled me into a wheel chair and we followed Keiran into A&E.
We were asked to wait in the relative’s room whilst the Senior Doctors tried to bring him back, they tried everything but, the wait felt like forever. After some time the Doctor came into the relative’s room and said ‘I’m sorry we tried everything we could, but I’m afraid there is nothing more we can do.’
Keiran was 14 years old and gone too soon, I knew then that they’d done everything they could and looking back they were never going to bring him back he’d been gone too long by this point. But, they didn’t want to give up, this type of thing was such a rarity – a child so young gone too early. I remember all the staff in tears, they were so saddened by what had happened and they too were in shock.
Keiran died on 7th June 2012, this was the day that changed my life forever and I knew things would never be the same.
Even now when I look back I’ve got nothing but, admiration for the staff, they were amazing and they worked on him for what felt like forever. The nurses and doctors cried for his loss, it was such a sad day but, I knew once I was told he’d gone I just had to go home I didn’t want to stay there.
I can’t really remember what happened afterwards, the funeral was one week after he passed away. Keirans funeral was huge, it was like something I had never experienced before. The police closed off the road for the procession and there were a fleet of cars following him and everyone stood and watched. At the cemetery we had four hundred red and white balloons as he supported Middlesbrough and they were his, and now my favourite colours.
There were so many people in attendance, not everyone managed to get a balloon but, looking back I know so many people held Keiran in high regard and that’s why so many others attended, they too wanted to say their goodbyes. Looking back I know we gave him a send-off to remember and it was the send-off he deserved, he was a special little boy and everyone’s friend.
All I remember in the days and weeks afterwards was being surrounded by lots of family and friends. Friends were travelling from far and wide to see me and the house was filled with cards, we received hundreds of cards and the room was filled with bouquets of flowers. The house outside was filled with flowers and that sense of community I always knew was there got closer.
People would knock on my door and hand us money and I couldn’t’ understand why they were doing this. When I look back, I wondered whether people thought we couldn’t afford the funeral and just wanted to help in some small way and they did in so many ways. We were astounded at the support that others gave us, even those who didn’t really know us but, everyone came together to support us and the money they gave us paid for the funeral and we bought a bench which resides next to Keiran’s grave. We wanted to create a place where others could come to visit him and pay their respects and we wanted to use their money in a way that would be in loving memory of Keiran.
We will always be forever grateful to these people and this community where I once grew up as they supported us in so many ways. We were very lucky to be surrounded by so many supportive, loving, kind and compassionate people.
Leading up to that day, we were all in a really good place and we were saving up to move house, we’d planned to go on holiday and the children were doing well. At the time Aliyah was 3 and Faris 2 and Keiran was revising for mocks, that fateful day as I headed to work I asked Keiran to stay in and revise for his exams and now looking back I wonder if things would have been different if I hadn’t asked him to, perhaps he could have been playing out with friends and this awful, sad event could have been avoided. Who knows?
I truly don’t think Keiran intended for this to happen, he seemed like he was loving life and was the most loving kid I’d ever met. He was a soft and gentle little boy; he had a soft soul and didn’t have a mean, unkind bone in his body. He never caused any trouble and was everyone’s friend, in fact we wrote that on his headstone,
‘Keiran – Everyone’s friend’
How did you cope with everything and how did you manage with family life afterwards?
I had a massive support network and my cousin didn’t leave my side. I had friend visit me from near and far and they supported me through this horrendous time. I can’t remember the first year, I was just numb and in shock still and all I remember that year were the firsts – the first birthday when he wasn’t here, my birthday – everything!
He was missing out on it all and it wasn’t fair. I visited the cemetery all the time and spent a lot of time there, I had a horse too that was nearby so I’d go and see to him and just spend days with him in silence but, that’s what I needed and he helped me so much in my recovery. I couldn’t face anyone either and it took me months to do the school run with the children as I felt like everyone would be judging me. I thought everyone would think what a bad mother I was and I just couldn’t deal with it. I also went out of town to do my shopping as I didn’t want to face anyone, I knew so many people and I knew I’d bump into someone if I went to a local shop.
I knew then though that I didn’t need to see a counsellor I was managing, only just but, I just knew I needed to grieve in my own way. I went into auto pilot and had to get on with life as I had 3 other children who needed me. Keiran died in the June and I knew that I couldn’t stay in the house any longer, I didn’t want to be there anymore it had too many sad memories for me so we decided to move before Christmas came.
We moved on 1st December 2012 into our now home and began trying to put the pieces of life back together again.
How did you find the strength to move forward?
I knew I had to, I had 3 children who needed me and what happened with Keiran taught me to be grateful for everything I’ve got. I never imagined that something like this would happen and I learnt that day that life is too short and that memories are precious.
Despite what’s happened I know I can’t go on a live a negative life, I have the ability and strength to find the good in every situation, even if I can’t see it at first. Nowadays I don’t blame anyone, for a long time I blamed myself and couldn’t face people but, I don’t now.
In the second year after Keiran passed, I met a lady Jessie Watkin through a mutual friend who was going through the same thing I had the previous year. Jessie’s sister, Emma took her own life in the same way too and when I heard about what had happened I wanted to get in touch with her to see if I could support and help her as I’d been through the experience already.
Keiran had never suffered with any mental health problems previously but, obviously he was in a different mental state to many of us. Jessie and I became great friends and we helped one another with our loss.
Then in October 2013 we decided we wanted to help others and raise awareness of the importance of mental health. We knew we didn’t want others to suffer in the same way Emma and Keiran did and we wanted to avoid families having to go through what we did too so we decided to team up with MIND, mental health charity and held our first charity event in January 2014 to help raise money.
We collected raffle prizes and so many people attended and it was a huge success, we raised over £7.5K, it was amazing! Once we collected it all in, I said I don’t feel comfortable sending all this to a national charity as we knew they’d have a lot of overheads to cover and we wanted this money to go back to the people in Stockton who needed it. We sat down and came up with the name of our own charity, ‘Mind you don’t forget!’ and our charity was born.
Instead we decided we would split the money locally and contacted Middlesbrough MIND instead as we knew it would go to people in Teesside and that’s what we wanted. We turned up at their office with bundles of cash and coins and gave them £3.5k, I remember their faces, and it was comical. They’d never received a donation like that before but, we’d collected all this money in and didn’t know what to do so we just handed it over like this, looking back it was so funny!
We then decided to give £2k to Teesside Samaritans, this service was a voluntary service and they made such a difference when providing that telephone support to those who needed it. We knew they could really benefit from the money we had raised so we looked on the internet and found out where their office was and walked in and handed the man in charge all of this money, in cash. He hesitated and looked at us and looked at all the money and said he couldn’t accept it. We couldn’t believe it but, actually looking back he was probably wondering where all this money was coming from.
After hearing our stories and after some gentle persuasion, he agreed to take the money but, asked a colleague to witness him taking the money and they put the money to good use. They renovated a room within their office as they wanted to make it more inviting for young people to come in off the street and get the support they needed. A few years later and we still work with MIND in Middlesbrough and know that the money we’ve raised has made a difference to so many.
The rest of the fundraising money went to lots of other charities including mental health charities. This money has helped them to buy the things they need for their premises to make it more inviting for others to drop in and get the support they need. We continue to do our fundraising activities and we’ve had coffee mornings, zip line, sponsored walks and runs and so much more. We’ve even got some media coverage too to help raise awareness of what we do for others.
Our charity, ‘Mind you don’t forget!’ is also a listening service too and we’ve personally helped many others. We also got the support of a family friend Glen Evans who has supported us with so many sponsorship events and he’s come on board with our charity and helps organise events too. We make a great trio and I’ve truly made some lifelong friends in Jessie and Glen, I feel lucky to have found them.
As a result of the work we’ve done we’ve been nominated as Community Champions and were invited to an Awards dinner and we were finalists and runners up. We honestly didn’t think that we deserved to be there and had to pinch ourselves, it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life so far. Last year we were nominated for a Catalyst Award and attended the Awards dinner at Wynyard Hall which was amazing.
It was amazing and humbling to be in the same room as some of these people, many of them who have devoted their whole lives to a cause that helps others. We felt honoured and proud to be recognised for our efforts and hard work and knowing that we’re helping others in some small way motivates us to go on and continue with our work.
Our charity has a listening service that is available to others and we have many people who contact us as a ‘cry for help.’ Through this we’ve actually saved lives, there has been times when I’ve been contacted by someone who is at a loss and thinking about taking their own life and I’ve got into my car and driven to their house and taken them straight to Roseberry Park, St. Luke’s Mental Health Hospital where they’ve gone on to get the treatment they needed. They’ve been medicated and had the professional support they need and many of them have gone onto to live healthy, happy lives.
Donna, this is above and beyond what many others would do, why do you feel the need to go beyond the call of duty and provide such personal and life changing support?
Helping others in a variety of ways helps me to move forward in my life. I want to help others get the support they need and I strongly feel that as human beings we have a responsibility to look after one another.
We should always be kind to one another, look out for one another and be there for one another when we need help and support.
Donna, you truly are an inspirational lady! You truly have made a difference to so many others and you’ve used your experiences and the events that have occurred in your life to help others. How does this make you feel?
I find it difficult to take praise about the work we do because we just do it because it helps others and that’s what keeps us going.
Donna and I are in tears again at this point of the interview, I continue to feel astounded at the work she’s done and at the strength she has. She genuinely can’t accept praise and she doesn’t feel she deserves it but, I keep reminding her of how she is making a difference to the world through the work their charity with Jessie and Glen by her side.
How do you stay so positive Donna after everything you’ve been through?
After overcoming adversity and tragedy, I think it’s even more important to see the best in everything and in recent years I have developed my own health and wellness business through Forever Living.
I say Forever Living found me at the right time, the business is a perfect fit for me as its aim is to help others through the product they sell and it enables others to develop an income from this too. It truly changes lives for the better and it’s all about personal development, it encourages the team to develop a healthy mind set and as you know mental health is important to me. It’s made me such a grateful person and I feel so lucky for everything I’ve got.
Through this business I’ve met some amazing people who are too working on their growth mindset. Forever Living compliments my charity work too and I feel that via both avenues I’m helping others. I never want anyone to go through what Jessie and I have been through so we’re saving the world one person at a time.
So what’s next for you because you’ve done and achieved so much already?
Through the charity work I know we’ve saved lives and this has a ripple effect, I’m keen to spread the word about how important mental health is and I plan to work with schools and young children in the future, in aid of loving memory of Keiran to help them understand the benefits of a healthy mindset.
During the interview at Donna’s home the postman delivered a parcel whilst I was there and Harry, her son took delivery. Donna was so excited to receive it and opened it whilst I was there as she was eager to show me. It was a personalised registration plate, KEO5 MAM which was going to be going her new red Mercedes convertible. She loved it!
She told me how red was her favourite colour as Keiran loved Middlesbrough Football Club, what a lovely touch! Donna has done well for herself in life and even though it’s far from her humble beginnings she’s still very down to earth and takes it all in her stride.
Is there anything else you’d like to achieve or do?
Yes, I’d also love to have my own premises where children and young adults can come along and get the advice and support they need. I’d like to act as a hub of support for them and work with other organisations to help them move them from where they are now.
Donna this has been by far the most emotional interview we’ve ever done, thank you for being so open and honest about everything. Before we close could I ask you what would you say has been the biggest life lesson you’ve learnt so far?
That time is precious and tomorrow is never guaranteed! You have to brave in life and no matter what life throws at you, you have to find courage from somewhere to live fully and give back in some way to help others.
I am Living Proof that you can go on and overcome whatever happens in life and turn it into a positive, I help others because it helps me to do what I need to do in life!