‘She had so much love to give': Sheffield family pay tribute to mum who died in house fire

The sons of a Sheffield mother who died in a tragic house fire in Heeley on March 3 have spoken about how their ‘fun loving’ mother had ‘so much love’ in spite of a hard lifelong battle with mental illness.

Friday, 13th March 2020, 3:34 pm
Updated Friday, 13th March 2020, 3:53 pm

Kathleen Khan died aged 70 when her family home on Grindlow Close, Heeley, set on fire in a sudden blaze caused by smoking materials.

Her son, Stephen, who was also carer for his mother, had gone out for an hour to do some shopping for Kathleen when he received a phone call telling him the house was alight.

He called the emergency services and rushed back, however by the time he got home he said the ‘house was like a black hole’ and he ‘knew then that she was gone’.

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Kathleen Khan, who died aged 70.

Stephen, 47, and his brother Michael, 31, who both lived in the house, have said that Kathleen was “a strong, honest, down-to-earth Sheffield woman who loved to have a laugh but was never given a chance to reach her full potential because bipolar and depression blighted her life.”

“She had so much love to give,” said Stephen. “She came from a line of women, like my nannan and my great grandma, who were strong and just got on with things.

“Our nannan was in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during the war and her strong spirit that she gained through that was passed on to our mum.

“We were poor but she always wanted to treat us and our late brother Christopher.”

Kathleen with her family. Left to right:sons Michael and Stephen, mother Mary, Kathleen and sister Christine.

Born in Sheffield in 1949 to Mary Montgomery, Kathleen spent time in Singapore where her mother was stationed with the WAF, before moving to Brighton where ‘she was involved with the mods and the rockers’, Stephen said.

She then moved to Sheffield, where she met and married Farid Khan – an engineer, bouncer and amateur boxer well-known in Sheffield as ‘Indian Fred’.

Their first son, Christopher, was born in 1971. Stephen was born in 1973 in the outside toilet of the family home and Micheal was born in 1989.

An avid Sheffield Wednesday fan, Kathleen spent her spare time drawing, doing puzzles and crocheting. She loved animals and looked after dogs, budgies and a monkey while she lived in Singapore.

Kathleen worked at Heeley bingo hall and Fine Fare supermarket as well as in bars. It was on the busy nightlife scene on Attercliffe Road in the late 60s that she met her husband.

Sadly, Kathleen was diagnosed with bipolar and depression when she was a teenager. These illnesses ‘were a constant struggle that caused her to have breakdowns throughout her life’, said Michael.

“In those days the stigma attached to women with mental health problems was particularly bad,” Michael explained. “This meant that our mum struggled to form long-term friendships and relationships.”

Stephen added: “She was in and out of every mental health ward in Sheffield over the years. She found it difficult with people because they would label her. She struggled to make friends.

“It is sad, because if there had not been the stigma and people had talked to her more, it might have actually helped her bipolar and depression.”

Kathleen endured a string of family tragedies in a short space of time. He eldest son Christopher died of a heroin overdose in 1999, and in 2005 Farid died from lung cancer after being given days to live following his diagnosis.

In 2005 and 2008 respectively she lost her Auntie Doris and her mother, both of whom she was very close to.

“This caused my mum to have a massive breakdown,” Stephen said. “In her life she must have had 15 of these.

“Her health deteriorated quickly after that, and I became her carer because I didn’t want her to have to leave the family home.

“Even then she was full of love. Her visiting carers even called her ‘mum’. It is sad that she had so much love and because of the mental illness some people did not let her share it.

“I would like our mother’s story to make people think about how people with mental illness are treated. Sometimes they might just want a chat,” Stephen added.

Stephen and Michael have said they are ‘still numb with shock’ following Kathleen’s death in the house fire.

“I keep thinking I could go round to her house for a cup of tea and then remembering that she has gone,” Stephen said. “We adored her and miss her so much.”

Kathleen is survived by Stephen and Michael, her sister Christine and her nephews David and Bob.

The family are having a service for Kathleen at City Road Crematorium on March 24 at 1.45pm.

A fundraiser for the ceremony can be found here.