Hiraeth

by Huw Jones

Chapter 6

The next few weeks were a nightmare for Huw and his mother. It took two further days for all the bodies to be recovered and they were taken to the nearby Bethania Chapel. Dilys Jones was so traumatised that she was unable to go and identify the bodies and Huw had to perform that dreadful task for his brother and sister. The funerals were held the following Thursday, 27 October in one huge event and life tentatively began to resume in the community.

It was quite clear that Dilys had become mentally very unstable because of the tragic events. She had never fully recovered from the loss of her husband and now two out of the remaining three lights of her life had been extinguished. It was more than her damaged mind could handle. Now, she was either to be found at the chapel or sitting in her chair in the living room, staring into the distance. Huw did not know what to do for the best. He had been forced to take over almost all the day-to-day activity in the house because his mam had simply closed down. Fortunately, Olwen and Dick, their next-door neighbours were very supportive and Olwen regularly cooked a meal for them both. He would often return home to find that she had cleaned the house and was sitting with his mother.

Not surprisingly, all this stress took a huge toll on his health and on his performance at school. His schoolwork deteriorated dramatically and he repeatedly failed to turn in homework assignments. He had dropped out of the rugby team, much to the disappointment of the other team members who knew of his loss but were unaware of the stressful situation at home. His teachers were aware of the death of his brother and sister and knew that normally he could easily do the work, so they were not hard on him. However, none were aware of his mother's deteriorating mental health.

Finally, the situation came to a head. Huw liked all his subjects but particularly enjoyed history lessons and normally excelled in the classroom. Mr Reece, his history teacher had always appreciated the good contribution to the class that Huw had invariably made. It was with surprise one Thursday afternoon that he looked across towards Huw and saw that he was fast asleep, his head resting on his arms on his desk. The teacher gently woke him up, much to the amusement of the class who thought it was a great joke. Mr Reece had been observing the changes in Huw's behaviour in the past weeks and knew that something was very wrong. Fortunately, the bell rang to mark the end of the lesson and the end of classes for that day.

Mr Reece said quietly to Huw, "Hang on here Huw for a few minutes; I'd like to talk to you." Once the classroom was empty, Mr Reece pulled a chair alongside and began to talk gently to him. "Obviously I know about your loss and some of what you've been going through in the last few weeks but I've seen your work tailing off more and more and you're looking increasingly exhausted every time I see you. I've a feeling there are some more things that we don't know about."

At that moment, all Huw's carefully maintained barriers collapsed with the teacher's evident genuine kindness and concern. The floodgates opened and he burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. "It's my mam, sir. I think she's going mad. Ever since -" his voice faltered. "Ever since the funeral she's completely switched off. I have to do almost everything at home now. I've done all the shopping, cooking and washed our clothes. Our next-door neighbour's been helping keep the house clean and she makes meals for us two or three times a week. I even have to help her take a bath or she wouldn't ever wash. She's gone into a world of her own and the only thing she goes out for is the chapel." Huw dissolved again into deep wracking sobs and Mr Reece hugged him tightly.

Huw continued, "When I got home last night she was sitting in her chair playing with Mair's dolls and singing Welsh songs to herself. She didn't even recognise me. Mr Reece, I don't know what to do."

Mr Reece thought for a moment. "She needs more help than you can give her I'm afraid. It's time she has some professional help. I'm sorry, Huw, but I have to report this before she does any harm to herself or to you. I think we need to go down to the office and have a chat with the Head."

Although Huw made a token protest, he knew that his teacher was right. He was out of his depth and needed help. Five minutes later, he repeated the story to the Headmaster who reflected the same warmth and sympathy to Huw that Mr Reece had shown. Then he started to put a train of events in motion. He spoke first with Children's Services and then the Education department at the Local Council.

Events moved with bewildering swiftness. Within 30 minutes of the Head's phone call, a lady social worker from Children's Services arrived who introduced herself as Mrs Sandra Davies. Huw took to her immediately. She was a short, extremely plump lady in her early 40s who listened carefully to his story as he told it for a third time. Sandra asked a lot of practical questions and Huw was embarrassed to have to tell her just how serious the situation with his mother had become. After half an hour, Sandra felt she had a full understanding of the complex history and situation and she explained what would happen.

"I'll come home with you and the Headmaster, if he's able." She turned towards the Head to check that the Head would accompany them and the Head nodded his agreement. "I'll arrange an ambulance to be there to take your mam somewhere that can give her the help she needs. Then we need to make some arrangements for you. Do you have any family members nearby that you can stay with while this is all sorted out? If you don't, then we'll find a place for you to stay in a Council home."

Huw thought quickly. He certainly didn't want to end up in some Council home! He had an idea. His next-door neighbours, who were close family friends, shared his common Welsh surname of Jones. "Well, my Auntie and Uncle, Dick and Olwen Jones live next door and I'm sure they would have me." In fact, Olwen and Dick weren't a real aunt or uncle at all, but in the tradition of the South Wales valleys, adults who were family friends were not addressed by their first name but given the courtesy title 'auntie' or 'uncle' by children. "Can I phone them first, please, so they know what's going on?" The Head nodded and pushed the phone across to Huw. Huw had a good memory for numbers and so he dialled the number straight away.

"Hello Auntie Olwen," he said when the phone was answered, "I'm calling to see if you can help me out." He quickly outlined the situation, explaining that the options were stay with a relative or to go into a Council home. Olwen quickly understood the hidden message implicit in what Huw had said and confirmed that it will be fine for him to stay with her and her husband. Sandra made a couple more phone calls and they left school 15 minutes later with Huw travelling in the Head's car and Sandra following behind.

When they arrived at the house, there was an ambulance already waiting outside the front door. Three men, two in blue uniforms of the ambulance service and one in a white lab coat were waiting by the vehicle. The man in the white coat introduced himself as a Dr Sanford to Sandra, Huw and the Head. Huw unlocked the door and led them all into the house.

As they entered the sitting room, the visitors were confronted by the pitiful sight of mam sitting on the floor crooning to herself, surrounded by Mair's dolls. "Would you pack a case of clothes for your mam please, Huw," said Dr Sanford gently. "Three or four dresses, plenty of underwear, some cardigans, a couple of pairs of shoes, some slippers and some nighties will do for now." Huw went off to pack a suitcase while the adults conferred together. A few moments later, Olwen let herself in through the back door and took in the situation. She introduced herself to Sandra and the others.

"I'm Sandra Davies from Children's Services; I understand that you are Huw's aunt." A flicker of uncertainty went across Olwen's face and Sandra immediately guessed that the relationship was a courtesy one. She had been a social worker for many years and made a quick decision that Huw would be far better off with someone he obviously liked and felt safe with and who reciprocated that affection, than he would be in a Council home. "This will only be a temporary placement while we do a case review but if you and your husband are happy to look after him for a few days, we will all be in a better place to make the right decision for Huw."

"Duw, Duw," she said, "I'm not surprised it has come to this. I've been watching Dilys going downhill since Elwyn's death and when the little ones were taken..." She tailed off sadly. Huw came downstairs, looking desperately unhappy, carrying a battered, well-used suitcase and Olwen enveloped him in her arms holding him to her generous bosom. "Uncle Dick and I will look after you until this is all sorted out, Huw cariad."

Huw was relieved that the arrangement had been agreed. After the doctor and his mother had left, accompanied by the two ambulance personnel, the Head took his leave as well. "Thank you, sir, for coming with me tonight. I'll be at school in the morning," said Huw as he saw the Head to the door.

"We'll be there for you Huw," said the Head gently, "I'll talk to you sometime tomorrow." Huw's eyes filled with tears and he took what would in other circumstances be the most inappropriate action and gave the Headmaster a huge hug. He realised afterwards that it had been fully reciprocated.

Sandra sat down with Olwen and Huw. "I'm not going to go into which side of the family you are an aunt, Olwen because Huw can only be with you for a few days." Huw and Olwen looked at one another realising that Sandra knew about the nature of their relationship. "Do you have any other relations, Huw ? Aunts, uncles, grandparents?"

"Mam and Dad were both only children and my grandparents are all dead," he responded. Of course, this was untrue; the last time he had seen his Nain and Taid in Pwllheli earlier that year, they had been in excellent health. Although Huw was unaware of the true situation, his mam in her confusion and grief had decided to cut herself off from her parents-in-law, much to their distress. She had snubbed any contact after Mair and Dafydd 's funeral but had told Huw it was their decision. Now, he reasoned, if his grandparents had rejected him already, he did not want to run the risk of being rejected again. Olwen was shocked to hear what Huw was saying as she had met his grandparents on several occasions but she decided not to say anything. She would discuss it with him later.

Sandra made some notes and said she would contact him at school next day or the following day at the latest. She said goodbye to Huw and Olwen and drove off. Olwen turned to Huw and asked him to pick up his night things and a toothbrush, together with his school clothes for the next day and then to lock up and come round the back to her house. After she had gone, he gathered his things together and took a last look around the house, somehow feeling he would never come back here again to live.

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