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Not Your Average Family is a blog run by an Uncle and Auntie who, two years ago, became Special Guardians to their Niece and Nephew. 

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Uncle's Story - Pt. 1

Uncle's Story - Pt. 1

The blog so far has mainly been written by Jade, with some input from myself on certain topics. We share a lot of the same ideas on how to deal with the situation we find ourselves in, and a lot of the content written so far reflects that. However, as the blog is now picking up a bit of pace (pretty amazing that we have over 5000 people following our story now!) we thought it would be good to share more insight from my point of view.  

Although I feel comfortable talking about my sisters death, I have never tried to take a step back from everything that has happened to really think about how I felt at the time; or assess the ways in which I tried to deal with such a life changing loss. I don’t know whether that’s been a conscious or subconscious decision, but until I’ve sat down to write this, I’ve not had a prolonged period of time to dissect my thoughts and feelings. This is now my fourth attempt at writing this piece for the blog. The past few days of writing have been quite frustrating. It’s been hard to give an insight into how I’ve coped and handled the situation, without either writing what I consider too much detail, or writing in a way that doesn’t give my thoughts and feelings enough justice. Striking the balance between the two has been tricky to say the least.

Talking about feelings has never been easy for me. I’ve always tried to get on with life despite the challenges thrown my way. It’s probably the same for a lot of men. Very rarely do we open up about issues that affect us. You’ve probably all seen the media attention surrounding mental health recently. It’s great that the subject is getting more overage. Particularly in regards to men. It’s also been great to see that despite the sad circumstances in which this blog has been formed, we have been able to talk to a number of our followers and help them deal with similar situations.

Talking about my sister passing away has definitely helped me come to terms with what has happened. We live in a small town, and unfortunately I can’t go anywhere without bumping into friends, acquaintances, or complete strangers who want to talk about it. Whether that was to offer their genuine condolences, or to be a nosey git. And there were plenty of each. Even people I had never met before, normally very drunk, obviously not realising how annoying it is to make small talk over the loss of your sister. Although I’ve found this annoying, there’s also been some great conversations with people who knew my sister, and these have been a great reminder to what an amazing person she was.

The impact of my sisters death was not only that my parents had lost their daughter, and I had lost my sister, but there were now three young children without a mother. And that was something that I couldn’t stop thinking about. It didn’t feel fair. I still worry about how the kids will deal with this when they get older. They’ve had a very tough start to life. There’s been no involvement from their “dad” and their mother, who was their absolute everything, is no longer here. This has also spurred me on to be the best role model/Uncle I can possibly be. Although it’s been a very sad time for us all, I don’t want it to define our future, or let it become something that is used as an excuse. My sister wouldn’t have wanted that. She’d want the best for us all, and this was always reflected in the sacrifices she made for her children. She really was a real life Wonder Woman. I probably didn’t give her enough credit for how well she was doing as a single mother. It’s probably my biggest regret that I didn’t tell her enough that what she was doing was nothing short of heroic.  

I’m going to continue now by rewinding nearly two and a half years and go back to the first few weeks after I lost my sister. It was characterised by a lot of overwhelming emotions, and particularly in the first few weeks, felt almost like a blur. The days were all blending into one. I was running on autopilot. Now I’m sat down thinking about it, It’s actually very hard to try and describe the actual feelings. Life had been sucked right out of me. I’ve never experienced such energy zapping emotions before. It almost didn’t feel real. I was desperate for it not to be. Overnight my life had changed forever. Suddenly everything became 100mph. There was so much to think about in regards to the kids. How to tell them, who was going to look after them, the funeral etc etc. This also meant there was never really a good amount of time to fully take stock of how I was feeling at the time. Or more importantly how I was going to come to terms with losing my only sibling. The main focus was making sure the children were okay and had all the support they needed.

Sitting the children down to tell them that their Mother had died and wouldn’t be coming back is hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. My Dad and I decided we would do it. We had a quick chat about how we would go about it, and then called the kids in from playing outside to tell them. We’d read that it was important to be as honest as possible with age appropriate terminology, and not to ham it up to sound confusing, for instance, telling the kids that Mummy was in the sky now, or she had gone to sleep and wouldn’t be waking back up. We called them in and explained that Mummy had been in hospital as she wasn’t very well, and despite the doctors trying their best, Mummy had sadly died. I’m not going to go into any detail about the moments after, other than to recommend to anyone that may find themselves in a similar situation, to be as direct and honest with your terminology as you can (at an age appropriate level of course) with any questions that may arise from delivering such news to young children.

I’m going to fast forward to a few weeks/months and talk about the Special Guardianship application. Although it was absolutely necessary to go down this route, I hated the process. The first social worker we met with had about as much tact as Donald Trump. To think people are employed in these roles to apparently help people going through a very emotional time is staggering. Luckily the next person we came into contact with from Children & Family Court Advisory & Support Service (CAFCASS) was an absolute pleasure to deal with. And this individual took us through the remainder of the process (thank god) alongside another social worker. A process that involved a very lengthy assessment period, in which the social worker assessor delves right into your personal history. Everything from your biggest regret to how you deal with failure, and your stance on discipline to your family's medical history is discussed.

The whole process took about nine months if I remember rightly. It culminated in a third and final court hearing. Before I carry on, I’ve just realised I’ve forgotten to mention our solicitor. Definitely worth a mention to remind anyone who needs one to thoroughly vet their ability to perform before hiring them. My Dad thought the solicitor had dealt with a family matter a few years before, but had unfortunately got confused with the company in question. By the time he had realised it was too late. This pretty much summed up our dealings with the solicitor:

*On meeting the solicitor at the final court hearing we were told…

“Don’t worry about anything today. It’s just a case of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. We’ll be in and out in no longer than half an hour”

If only that was the case. The court hearing lasted at least three hours, in what was turning out to be a battle between our solicitor, CAFCASS and Social Services to see who could make as many admin errors as possible. There was missing paperwork from all agencies involved, incorrect names on important documents, contradicting terminology that made our intentions unclear to the judge. In short, this meant that the judge might not be able to pass the court order. In fairness to him he gave our “team” of representatives a chance to ring their respective offices to get important paperwork edited and resent in. It was an awful experience. The judge said that it would be another sixteen weeks until the judge had a slot for another hearing. Nine months had been long enough, and the thought of extending that was not something I wanted to contemplate.

It was a complete and utter rollercoaster of emotions. I went from the joy of thinking that we could finally draw a line under the assessment process after a long 9 months, to the stress of seeing the judge pick apart an awfully presented set of documents from our “team”. Finally, before the judge passed the court orders, I was called to the dock and asked various questions. I found this pretty daunting. Three hours or so later it was finally looking like the judge was happy with all the paperwork presented. The judge finished with a statement and within that, mentioned that he had seen something in the paperwork that he had never seen in 30 years of family law and it had really struck a chord with him. It was a quote from myself that was documented during the assessment process. I thought SHIT I’ve said something that’s worried the judge. Again complete stress overload. The quote in question was “I consider it to be a privilege to be given the chance to look after my Niece and Nephew”. I burst into tears immediately. I couldn’t even remember saying it, but the assessor had obviously picked up on it. And again, so too had the judge when reading the application. It still chokes me up thinking about it to this day. It’s one of a couple of things that when I think about it, has the ability to release a tear or two. But thankfully, it was all complete, and shortly after those words we were granted our Special Guardianship status.

I’m going to leave it here now because, for one, I said to myself that I wouldn’t write more than two pages, but I’ve gone to three, and for two the kids have been nagging me to finish this so they can go swimming. Hope you’ve enjoyed it and I’ll continue the story at a later date. Also, please get in touch with any questions you have for me! Happy to give out advice and answer any well thought questions on what I’ve written.


P.S I’m glad to say my fashion sense has got better since my parents dressed me (See photo)

Aunt's Story

Aunt's Story

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Mother’s Day