I don’t remember the exact words, the date or the time. All I remember was the gut wrenching emotions that coursed through me. I was 12 years old and I had just been informed that my hero, my Granda had died.
It’s something that I think a lot of people can relate to. Experiencing a death in the family is hard. What’s comforting is that you then have your friends around you to help pick you up and your family to grieve with you. That’s the norm anyway.
When I was informed that my Granda had died, it was by telephone call. It wasn’t a family member keeping me updated from his bedside in the occasional visits you sneak in to your own home, when someone you love is in the hospital. It was a special call arranged by social work, to a house where I lived with foster carers.
Aside from the date or time, I remember everything about the phone call. I remember my foster carer asking me downstairs because she had to speak to me. I remember the hushed tones as she used the phone in the hall, outside the living room. I could hear everything from the living room when someone was on the phone, no matter quietly they spoke. I could tell that there was more than one person on the other end of the phone.
Whoever my foster carer was talking to, they were telling her something before they told me. I remember her saying goodbye and sitting in anticipation for what she might want to talk to me about. Only for her to prise the door open and ask me into the hall, because someone was on the phone for me.
This was unusual. Nobody ever called for me, because nobody had the details for my foster carer, outside of the school or social work. I answered the phone and to this day, I can’t remember the words, but I can still remember the pain I felt when I heard them.
How could my Granda be dead? My mind raced back to the last times I had been with him. He seemed okay when I visited him in the hospital. We spoke about the upcoming UEFA Cup Final. He was a Celtic fan like me and had thoughts about the upcoming game. He was even cracking all the usual jokes. I was sure that people were in hospital to get better.
Looking back, I realise there was a lot of special dispensation around this time. Social workers gave me more than my hourly meeting with my Mum to talk about what had happened. They also let that conversation happen in the hospital, instead of being the usual cold, supervised time I spent at their office. One of the nurses even let my Granda smoke inside the hospital.
All I thought at the time was that everyone was acting different. I can see now that people knew the end was coming.
Reading this, I’d forgive you for thinking I was an only child. I wasn’t. I have two brothers and two sisters. We were separated into different foster homes around the country. Writing this, I realise that I’ve never asked if they too got similar visits.
As the phone call ended, I just remember my cries. They must have echoed around the house. In the living room, where everything could be heard, they certainly understood what was going on. Perhaps they even knew before I did. In fact, it’s quite likely that they did.
I ran upstairs to my room and just sobbed my heart out for what felt like a lifetime. I cried until there was no more tears and it was just guttural chokes. It got dark. Nobody came to hug me.
The foster carers were wonderful towards me. They were good people.
They bucked all of the west coast of Scotland rules, letting me watch Celtic in the UEFA cup final even though they were a strong Rangers supporting household. I wonder if they did that because they know it would be the first thing I wanted to talk to my Granda about. Or, in hindsight, maybe they wanted to see their rivals lose on one of the biggest stages.
Either way, I know that they were kind people. But I didn’t know what stopped them hugging a 12 year old boy, who was breaking his heart because his Granda had died? I have a better sense of that now.
They operate within a system that operates with rules, safeguards and procedures. A system that has put a price on caring for children like me. A system that decided that instead of living with my brothers and my sisters, we would be torn apart and separated across the country. A system that decided, in my impending grief, that a phone call would be the best way to tell me that the strongest relationship in my life was over.
It was a loveless course of action. The rules already meant that my mum couldn’t come to the house to tell me. So I needed someone to be there.
The response seemed designed to help the adults manage any difficult response that I might have, rather than help a wee boy grieve. I was surrounded by adults whose job was to make sure I was looked after. I think that’s the issue. They were all at their work. I was living my life and my grief in the middle of that.
I’m walking in the Love Rally during Care Experienced week because there is a need for systemic change. I just don’t see how the call for genuine, meaningful, loving relationships is compatible with what we have at the moment. Rules and procedures. Children’s rights taking a back seat to what others think is in their best interests. And a culture that tells people that looking after children is a profession and career.
A culture that trains people in ‘holding’ and ‘restraint’, concealing the often brutal and misused practice of using physical force to stop a child doing something. That refers to ‘contact’ instead of time with family. That can focus on children’s attachments rather than the love they feel.
I’m walking in the hope that all good people, who know what the right thing to do is, take precedence over the system. That love thrives in the lives of Care Experienced people during their time in care and well beyond.
I’m walking for the 12 year old me who just wanted a hug.
If you’d like to find out more about the love rally, find out more here. We’re setting off from the Doulton Fountain in Glasgow Green at 11:30am on Saturday the 19th of October.