Guest post: "It takes a village to raise a child, and I was that child"
When Phil Mews became an orphan at seven, his wider family and the community stepped in to support him and his brother.
Posted on: Mon 22-Oct-18 11:11:08
(5 comments )
How do you cope when your life is turned upside down? More to the point, how do you cope as a seven-year-old when your life is turned upside down?
Picture the scene. A beautiful farm in the Durham Dales, the long hot summer of 1976, with its record temperatures and hosepipe bans. Two little boys wolf down their breakfast and head out into the yard for a day of fun. Building dens and playing on Tarzan swings, their life is perfect.
Eighteen months later, the boys kiss their dad goodnight and go to bed. The next morning, the boys are told their dad suffered a fatal heart attack in the night. Ten weeks later, still reeling from the death of their father, the boys, aged five and seven, are sat down by their elder brother and told that their mother is dead. She was 43.
I was that seven-year-old and the younger boy was my brother Roger.
We were spared the agony of attending our mother’s funeral. Instead, we went to a friend’s house and made jam tarts. Tragedies bring a community together. Friends took my brother and I out for day trips, to give my grandparents a break from looking after us, and to give us a break from the crying and grieving at home. Neighbours popped in with homemade biscuits or helped out with little jobs, like cutting the grass. These simple, kind gestures made the world of difference to us.
My grandparents hadn’t even begun to think about how they would get through the next few weeks, let alone the years to come. Two days after they had buried their daughter, they received a surprise visit from Social Services who were quite blunt: they wanted to take my brother and I into care. For my grandparents, their living hell just got worse. They had only just lost their daughter and son-in-law. Now, they were about to lose their two youngest grandchildren.
Neighbours popped in with homemade biscuits or helped out with little jobs, like cutting the grass. These simple, kind gestures made the world of difference to us.
This is where our community stepped in to help. A call to a solicitor friend led to a promise by the local Masonic Lodge to provide funds for my brother and I to attend boarding school when we reached eight years old. We would only come home to our grandparents for the school holidays and occasional weekends. The authorities agreed that Roger and I could remain under the guardianship of our grandparents.
Seven months later, dressed in my blazer, short trousers and cap, I left my family and went to boarding school. It was only a 40 minute drive from home but it felt like hundreds of miles away. For the first few nights, I cried myself to sleep. I was told off for being homesick but I wasn’t homesick, I was grieving. It was a good school in a beautiful setting, but I longed to be with my family.
The first weekend I went back home, I went into the kitchen, where my grandma hugged me tight, my face buried in her flour-covered tabard, the smell of baking and her Yardley Freesia perfume filling my nostrils. Hugs equalled home. There were no hugs at school, not even a comforting word. We weren’t allowed to use our first names. I was known as “Mews” and it felt cold, so cold.
Fortunately, the harshness of being away at school was cushioned by the abundance of love from home. I received twice-weekly letters from grandma which I carried around in my blazer pocket. They weren’t particularly exciting letters, but each word of grandma’s immaculate handwriting told me that I was loved. The Beatles were right: all you need is love.
As the years passed, grandma saw her two boys grow up to be men and her prayers were answered. Tragically, Roger died suddenly, months before my book was published. I now find myself at the age of forty-eight, once more comforted by my family and community as I contemplate the remainder of my years without my little brother at my side.
I’ve learned that support comes in all sorts of guises, sometimes where you least expect it. Hold those you love closely, never put off opportunities to create memories, and never tell people that you’re too busy to see them. As I learned at an early age, life’s too short.
Orphan Boys by Phil Mews (John Blake Publishing) is out now.
By Phil Mews
Oh Phil - I lost my little brother too, such pain and the constant feeling you want to share something funny with them, something you both would both 'get'.
I wish you well after all your sadness, this moved me so much.
Your story is so inspiring. I wonder if the same care and support would still be offered today in such circumstances? The world seems to have changed so much. Thank you for sharing such an important part of your childhood.
So very sorry for your losses. You are a fighter and an inspiration to others. Thankyou.
Phil that is so very sad, but yes as above I’m sure your story is very inspiring in many ways to others, and how very brave of you to put into words what your heart has had to deal with. I hope that you are finding love and happiness in your life as you move on....
Thank you to all of your for your very kind messages x