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Letting go – The day I took my son to a residential care home

Sometimes, we need to let go of the ones we love. This can apply in many situations, such as the death of a loved one, or a son or daughter leaving home.

In my case, it was when I took the decision to move my youngest child Harry, then aged seven, to The David Lewis Centre in Cheshire, a residential care home for children and adults with severe epilepsy.

National Family Forum member, Martin Boniface, blogs.
National Family Forum member, Martin Boniface, blogs.

I still have a photograph of him on the day that I drove him to the centre and left him there. Why would I want to leave a photograph on display of what was probably one of the lowest points of my life?

Even now, some 16 years on, I wonder if I made the right decision. Then sense kicks in and I realise that we are all in a much better place as a result of this decision. The decision was not an easy one, but when I look back at what was taking place and where we are now I know it was right for Harry and the family.

Harry has complex issues including severe epilepsy (which we have still not managed to control) and severe learning disabilities and he is also non-verbal. After caring for him at home for the first seven years of his life, my (now ex) wife and I were reduced to being little more than carers living in the same house.

Everything revolved around the needs of Harry. We had no time for each other as husband and wife and our other son, who is three years older than Harry, got used to doing activities with only one of us or hearing the standard response of “well, it all depends on Harry”.

With hindsight, we left it too late before pushing for support from agencies such as Social Services. We gave the appearance of coping and, as such, were pretty much left to get on with it. Why wouldn’t we? We are his parents after all and it is what you do, isn’t it?

To cut a very long story short, the result of “managing” on our own, was separation and divorce. Not an ideal situation. As parents living in separate houses, Harry and his older brother split their time living with each of us in turn on something of a rota. This arrangement lasted a few months before we were identified by Social Services as a “family in crisis” and we had to look at finding emergency respite care for Harry. That was 16 years ago and, apart from a number of overnight stays, Harry has lived away from home in some form of professional care setting.

Martin and his son Harry on the day they took him to be professionally supported.
Martin and his son Harry on the day they took him to be professionally supported.

Looking back, we should have been more forthright in seeking support from other quarters. If we had, well who knows? Life has been something of an emotional roller coaster since then, prefaced by phrases such as: “what if?”, “if only”, “why didn’t we?” and so on.

Harry has been supported by Dimensions for the last five years. I see him most weeks and there are still times when I feel a sense of guilt or even failure as a parent that he does not live at home. Then I remind myself that we are all far better off with Harry being cared for by staff who can concentrate on supporting him full time, who are fresh as they are not juggling another role alongside supporting him, and who themselves are supported by a professional organisation like Dimensions. My time with Harry is much more positive as a result.

I don’t think you can really ever quite let go of someone you love. But, what you can do is to change how you look at your relationship and focus on the positive aspects of any other arrangement.

I have just decided to sell the family home of 24 years and start afresh with a new house and am starting to de-clutter. Perhaps it is also time to discard the photograph and let go a little bit more? After all, it does not mean that I love Harry any less.

Martin and his two sons have a much better relationship now.
Martin and his two sons have a much better relationship now.

Dimensions Families blog: 26/8/15