In years to come I wonder if you are one of those who will recall to your grandchildren how, last month, you said good-bye to the Queen? Perhaps you joined the queue to pay your last respects in Westminster Hall where she lay in state? Or you stood to get a glimpse of the cortege as it wended its way to Westminster Abbey and thence to Windsor Castle? Or was it enough to sit and watch the events on TV? Whatever you did and however you engaged with the ending of our second Elizabethan era, did it come from a feeling that you needed to do something to mark the significance of the occasion, to show respect and connect with others who felt as you did – and thus have some sort of closure to a historic reign?
And there will be others reading this who were content to do nothing at all – but enjoyed the Bank Holiday. And that was right for them.
Getting an ending right is so important for those who are caught up in the emotions of a farewell. For the Queen, it was done with trumpets and pageantry and ancient ritual – but what about the endings that happen in our homes when a child departs for whatever reason to another place or family? How are they best managed?
Children’s Services, recognising the challenges, provide training to their foster carers on managing the ending of a placement and saying goodbye to a child they have cared for in their family. While we look for ways to say good-bye to someone who has died, who was such a part of our life and is now gone forever, is that really the right language to use when a child moves on from us? ‘Good-bye’ triggers a disconnect both for the child and the family; it has a finality that doesn’t suggest any hope for an ongoing connection of any sort. But surely that runs counter to what we know is the centrality of attachment relationships to support a child’s recovery from earlier trauma?
Our task is to find ways to embed the positive relationship a child has had with us in their conscious memory – to create a relationship that doesn’t self-destruct the moment they and their luggage depart in their social worker’s car. They need to carry with them a reminder of that relationship – whether it is a photo album with messages from family members on different pages or a more direct invitation to keep in touch one way or another. Years ago we taught two young brothers our phone number and how to make a reversed charge phonecall before they were returned to their birth family by Children’s Services. Ten years later one of them phoned us with news he wanted to share.
If we say good-bye – and mean that it’s the end of our connection – what message does this give the child leaving us? Doesn’t it just confirm what they suspected all along – that they are always going to be forgotten and airbrushed out of other people’s lives? A farewell, on the other hand, can bestow hope and gives promise of being held in mind to support the child as they journey forwards. It’s just a pity you probably won’t be around to hear what they tell their grandchildren about you.
Martha and Rachel