A father separated from his children; a wife divided from her husband. One dawn raid that changed their lives forever
A Bittersweet Homecoming
Years passed, and the news finally came that he would be allowed to return home. I was over the moon. I felt like this would be the return to normality which I had been dreaming of for so long. But I soon realised that this test wasn’t over. Far from it. For years, we had all been living in this very surreal situation; I naively thought that as soon as he walked through the front door, everything would be fixed. My excitement was short lived.
Until that time, I had seen it as one test which united us all, but this wasn’t the case. I realised that although we went through this test together, actually the nature of the test was different for everyone involved. That maybe what I experienced and what he had were two very different things. I didn’t ever expect it would actually be a struggle for him to come back into the family home. I had imagined it would be an occasion of pure joy but I soon was given a sharp awakening. This man had gone through so much. He’d lived under so many restrictions and had been isolated in so many ways; those scars aren’t going to vanish into thin air.
The children however, were over the moon. By the time he returned, we had another baby in tow and it felt like the first time we were complete under the same roof. The children were happily oblivious to the struggle of their father readjusting to life in the family home and everything he had gone through. Soon enough however, my son’s paranoia began to surface. Whenever my husband left the house, he would have to answer a long list of panicked questions from my traumatised son, “where are you going? How long will you be gone? What time exactly will you be back? How can we find you if you don’t come?” This would happen whether my husband was going to work, to the local shops or to see his parents. My son needed constant reassurance and even when it was given, he still didn’t seem at ease.
My husband however was outwardly mentally strong. He wanted to protect us from further instability and never showed any sign of ‘weakness’, struggle or difficulty. This caused me to mirror him and, in the process, build up a wall myself. I felt like if he was being so strong and stoic, then I must pretend everything was okay with me too. I felt I couldn’t express my vulnerability or communicate how draining the last few years had been. With the pregnancy, back and forth between two homes, all the travelling, the finances – it had taken a heavy toll on me.I had been forced to stop all activities outside of the home just to concentrate on the well-being of the children and holding our household together. I’d had to take a complete step back from “life on the outside”, just trying to keep my head above water for so long and just learn to survive within the four walls of my own home.
A turning point
I still remember vividly the first phone call I received from HHUGS. So much shifted for me the moment I heard the warmth and sincerity in the sister’s voice. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be treated with compassion; for people to recognise you are a victim in all of this. She began by saying, “I’m so sorry this happened to you, is there anything we can do for you immediately?” They helped me with shopping vouchers which was a huge relief when we were trying to cover groceries for two households. When I would be worrying about how I’d afford transport costs, HHUGS paid for the coach so I could visit my husband.
There were times when my health declined also. I remember catching chickenpox and not long after, shingles too. I was so ill but now stressed, wondering who could possibly help me with the children during this time. I remember messaging my key worker from HHUGS and telling her. I couldn’t take public transport to go and stay with my husband while I recover, yet I couldn’t manage at home with the children either as I was simply too sick to look after them. Literally within ten minutes, a HHUGS’ volunteer had agreed to drive us to my husband. My husband lived an hour and a half away so this was three hours in total that this brother was going to go out of his way to get us there. Alhamdulillah, he agreed to take us, despite me having shingles, which is contagious. This was all so we could be together and my husband could help with the kids while I recovered. So the support from HHUGS wasn’t just money – it was sincerely being there in your moment of need.
SubhanAllah, as for the keyworkers, what can I say about them? They’re amazing. I felt like the sister would always know if there was something a bit “off” with me. If I wasn’t explaining myself properly or was being a bit quiet, it’s like she already knew why. She was so supportive, she would check in on me regularly without being overly-imposing, it was just the right frequency. She also knew I would feel awkward about directly asking for things I needed, so she would always offer first. She would literally just ask “Do you need this? We have this service. Do you think you would benefit from some counselling? What about your son?” Through her support alhamdulillah, I managed to get all the help I needed at that time.
During Ramadhan and Eid, the children would always be sent little parcels with some activities to do. They would be sent Eid gifts and cake. It’s funny because they would always say “it’s from HHUGS” without even understanding what HHUGS was. In fact, I think they actually thought it was a person. They really looked forward to these little gifts, they felt loved, which, for a child, is everything.
I really don’t know how I would have coped without the help from HHUGS. My particular worries were exactly the things which HHUGS picked up on and lightened the load for. Because of that, I could try to focus on just being okay rather than being overwhelmed with feeding two homes, travelling, covering the growing financial demands.
HHUGS is… family
HHUGS is… family. That’s simply what they are. They are the family who arethere for you when your own have turned their backs on you. Even when your best friends and community have disappeared, HHUGS is still there. They never question, they are completely non-judgemental. They do the work no other charity is doing.
No one is there to pick up the pieces, to help with the children, the finances, the million different pressures. That burden usually falls on the shoulders of the woman as she struggles to piece her life together after anti-terror raids. It comes out of nowhere, sweeps you off your feet, you lose all sense of what is normal. When I got into contact with HHUGS, they talked me through the process; they let me know what usually happens next, how they can help. This put so much ease into my heart and I know that that’s how it’s been with many of the families which HHUGS support, all of them really.
I would really encourage people to be generous and to support HHUGS, because the people who need them are not getting help from anywhere else. They are left on their own with no one to turn to. Through HHUGS, these families have been able to rebuild their lives after the truly horrible situations they’ve faced.
Even now with the current pandemic, some people are in self imposed isolation and we are all in lockdown. This is an ideal time to reflect on how the HHUGS families live their usual lives- already in isolation but through no choice of their own. A kind of ‘lockdown’ to life as they once knew it. They are abandoned even by their own families and shunned by their community. This is the easiest time for us to empathise, the best time to show them our support. There is so much potential for goodness when we unite in the service of others. And I can honestly say that, as I’ve lived it, and been embraced by this extraordinary charity. Alhamdulillah.