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How a tragic accident shifted a mother-daughter relationship forever

For Mother's Day, journalist Ruby Randall speaks to Jess Stansfield about how to go about honouring a mother who may be physically present, but due to unlucky circumstances, is emotionally and spiritually absent.

Do you believe Murphy, who wrote Murphy’s law, to be cynical or a realist? You know, the mindset that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” For Jess Stansfield, she takes this saying to be realistic perspective on the unpredictability of life.

Jess Stansfield’s mother, Julie, sacrificed everything for her children. Once married to an alcoholic, living in public housing with one wage supporting three children, she did everything she could to provide happiness and the most loving childhood for her kids. Julie loved the colour purple and was a massive Celine Dion fan, playing the artist’s songs all the time in her bedroom. Jess reflects with me on how this was a funny juxtaposition personality trait from her mum's usual hard exterior. 

When Julie turned 51, she hit her stride. Her children were finally grown up and she was no longer with her husband. She had reached full independence and was financially stable working in the Brisbane City courthouse. She finally did things she had always wanted to do, like take an overseas trip and she grew into herself, flourishing with a sense of self-love.

However, like Murphy says, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”, so of course, just as life began to get better for Julie and she had hit the refresh button, Julie tragically fell down the stairs changing her and her family’s life. Hitting her head, the fall caused internal bleeding and two respiratory attacks. This left her with a severe brain injury, impacting every lobe in her brain resulting in her now having minimal language and mobility.

The unpredictability of life can leave people with confusing, contradicting emotions. Whilst Jess sees Murphy’s law as a realistic point of view to life, her sister sees it as pessimistic, “my sister goes at it from a different angle. She thinks well, all this bad stuff happened when we were kids, so nothing bad could happen to us now,” Jess tells Missing Perspectives.

This strong and resilient mindset Julie’s kids have is a testament to her and has filtered down from Julie herself all the way to her grandchildren. “Mum had a brain injury 20 years ago and she is still hanging on. Through Covid, through everything when she should have died, she was a battler. She's always been a battler, all through her life,” Jess says of her mother’s toughness.

Strength isn’t the only trait Jess has seen shape her parenting style because of her mother. When Jess takes her family to visit her mum in her care home, her two young boys sit with her gently and patiently. This has translated to them being curious and open – minded in their own little lives.

As time moves on, Jess gets torn between the two memories she has of her mother. She worries which person her mother’s soul is now, and which one will protect Jess when she is gone. “What I remember of her as a mother, is different to who she is now,” Jess reflects.

Jess remembers her mother before the accident and how she used to demonstrate her love for her mum when buying her roses from the university markets every fortnight. She doesn’t remember anything about her dad, but she was told she was meant to be the kid that saved her parents’ marriage. They separated after she was born but we reflected upon this together. Jess now sees she has saved her mum in other ways. She saved the woman who loved purple and roses by looking after her post-accident and visiting her in her care home. She saved her by giving her purpose and quality of life. 

It is traumatic to go from having a mother that is here, one that Jess relied on for support and told everything to. To one that yes, is physically here, but isn’t emotionally or spiritually here for Jess. This hard exterior Julie had (despite her guilty pleasure love for Celine Dion) shifted the idea of the usual feminine energy society expects from mothers, as she needed to act as both parents in the household. But Jess will always remember her loving side. Her side that would celebrate her academic and sporting achievements and her side that she could talk about her crushes or friendship gossip to.

That will be the soul that protects Jess once Julie has passed on and she is on the other side sitting in a purple painted room, listening to My Heart Will Go On.