A BOUNDBOUND mum-of-three who's spent a year in her own personal lockdown, trapped in the same room 24/7, has been inundated with Christmas cards from strangers all over the world.
Jolene Penstone-Smith, 41, who has been living with multiple sclerosis for 20 years, had lost the festive spirit because she was feeling so lonely – but this could be her last ever Christmas.
Her beloved dad Fred, who has dementia, has recently moved into a care home so she can no longer speak to him several times a day, and her normal carers stopped coming in March because of the risk of exposing her to Covid-19.
Her family, including kids Kasey, 21, Kia, 19, and Codie, 16, desperately wanted to rekindle her love of the festive season by surprising her with dozens of Christmas cards to remind her she hasn't been forgotten.
Her husband Steve, 44, speaking for The Sun's Christmas Together campaign, said: "Jolene has been stuck in one room for a long time and we wanted to do a callout for cards to stop her feeling lonely and cut off.
"Even though she can't go out into the world, the world can still come to her.
"Jolene loved Christmas every year, the house would be decorated, the tree would be up. But this year, she's just not feeling it.
"She wants to treat the kids because this might be her last, but we haven't got the money to do that.
"This year has been extra hard for her being completely bedbound, every year just gets harder.
"Jo was not feeling very festive at all and was pretty depressed. I wanted to try filling her bedroom with Christmas cards with lots of love and joy."
The Sun’s Christmas Together campaign
THIS Christmas we are teaming up with the Together Campaign, a coalition of community groups and organisations, and Royal Voluntary Service to combat loneliness.
And we want to recruit an army of volunteers to support those feeling cut off, anxious and isolated, this Christmas.
Could YOU reach out to someone who might be struggling and alone?
It might be someone you know in your own life or community who needs support.
Or we can connect you with someone in need through the NHS Volunteer responder programme run by the NHS, Royal Voluntary Service and the GoodSAM app.
Could you give up half an hour to make a call and chat with someone feeling isolated? Or could you volunteer to deliver essential shopping or festive treats?
Go to nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk/christmastogether to sign up as a volunteer.
You will then receive an email taking you through the sign up process and be asked to download the responder app which will match you to those in need in your area.
Don’t worry if you don’t get a job straight away, because jobs are matched according to the need local to you. Being ready to help is what really matters.
Friends that Steve knows through his voluntary work at the Dance World Cup and the All England Dance Competition have been quick to respond, with dozens of cards winging their way to her Hatfield home from Australia, Portugal, Austria and Spain.
One message, from Maria Joao, in Portugal, read: "Steve told us you weren't feeling festive this year, but I hope this changes your mind.
"From what he told me about you, you seem to be one of the strongest women the world has ever seen and my Christmas wish this year is to make you smile!
"I would love to meet you one day so that I can get to know you a little bit more. As we say in Portugal, Feliz Natal!"
Steve said: "Maria's message definitely made us choke up. Every day the postman brings more lovely Christmas cards for Jolene's room.
"My heart is so full. Thank you to everyone who has sent a Christmas card, some of the messages are out of this world.
"You are all amazing, Jolene has been shedding happy tears every time the postman comes."
Among those that Steve has met through the dance competitions are Greatest Dancer finalist Harrison Vaughan, who appeared on the TV show earlier this year.
Jolene's memory and speech have both been affected by the MS and she can't always remember how poorly she is or what is going on in the wider world with the pandemic.
As Christmas approaches, her family are having to remind her most days why she can't go to the shops to buy presents for her loved ones.
Steve said: "It preys on her mind. But she can't even sit in a wheelchair properly now. She's got no core strength whatsoever and her left hand doesn't work properly."
Two years ago, the family almost lost Jolene when she was rushed to hospital and ended up in a coma.
Steve, who gave up his blacksmith job working alongside his dad and brother to care for his wife, said: "She was in intensive care and when she woke up, she sounded like she'd had a stroke, but she was still with us.
"A couple of hours later, the words out of her mouth were pretty rude!
"She's already outlived what the doctors have told her. She was supposed to live until between 35 and 40 and after being in the coma, she's living on borrowed time."
Even though she can't go out into the world, the world can still come to her
Multiple sclerosis targets the brain and nervous system – Steve describes it as like having electrical cables that have been stripped of their insulation and then can't carry the current as efficiently.
Jolene is now allergic to drugs that help control the disease, which could also have an impact on whether she is able to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
Another stumbling block is whether it can be given to her at home, as she cannot travel to a clinic or surgery.
It's frustrating for the family, who would like to be able to welcome carers again to give her something of her old life back.
Steve said: "There is something out there that can help her – the vaccine. If she has it and the carers can have it, we can start having carers back in.
"But we didn't even get a piece of paper saying she was vulnerable in the first lockdown, so we've no idea when or if it will happen."
Now get involved
COULD you call someone feeling lonely this Christmas or deliver essential shopping or festive treats?
Go online to nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk/christmastogether.
NEED HELP? IF you would like a friendly call or need help with errands, call 0808 196 3646 (open 8am-8pm, seven days a week).
To support the Royal Voluntary Service, text RVS5 to 70570 to donate £5, visit royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/christmasdonate or call 0800 731 9197.
Texts cost £5 plus one message at your standard network rate. Get bill payer’s permission. UK networks only.
And from giving somebody a call to volunteering, here are five ways to keep us all connected this Christmas.
While Vicky Pattison admits being ‘overwhelmed’ by loneliness after sudden I’m A Celeb fame made her unable to trust anyone.
Plus Towie’s Mario Falcone reveals ‘soul-destroying’ battle with loneliness as a stay-at-home dad.
GOT a story? RING The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL [email protected]
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