My Grandmother is the richest person in our family, yet she lives like a pauper. This is because our family fail to work as a family and are so fragmented by generational and cyclical abuse that we are now broken beyond repair. It was one of her grandchildren who notified Newham Social Services regarding her dire living situation, thinking and hoping that the authorities could help, but our trust was misplaced, and now we live in limbo unsure of our next steps, while White grandchildren get to go and see their nan because that’s what normal families do.
My Grandmother is being cared for by her daughter (my Aunt), who my cousins and I believe has an undiagnosed mental health illness, which my uncles refuse to encourage her to seek help for. For years, the house has accumulated rubbish – boxes and bags of paperwork, fast food straws, clothes – stacked to the ceiling. A random back door leans against the actual back door of the Kitchen. At first, social services deemed this a fire risk, but then radically changed their mind.
For months, a new washing machine sat in the middle of the Kitchen waiting to be fitted. There is no light running through the house and plugs fight for space on extension leads. My Aunt sometimes sits in the dark and talks to herself when she thinks that nobody is watching and becomes extremely agitated when my cousin and I hang around for too long, even though my Grandmother loves having us around.
“I want to die”
My uncles and aunt have a supervision rota to help put my Grandmother to bed. She also has carers who come by during the day, but ultimately she feels alone and she’s told me so. She even told me once that she wants to die, and who can blame her? She’s kept cooped up in her bedroom for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, even though she has limited mobility and could hypothetically access certain areas of her home if provisions were made. This was what Social Services were supposed to help with, because her house is a fire hazard and a new assessment from occupational therapy is long overdue. But those provisions have not been made. She has a stair lift, but she can no longer use it, never to leave her room because she’s “not allowed to” according to my uncles and aunt and plus the house is such a mess, she can’t anyway, not even for a bath or shower.
She lays in the dark all day
She also doesn’t have access to her finances, one of my uncles does, as they swear blind that she’s mentally incapable. However, my cousins and I refute this – particularly myself, who having Epilepsy and being heavily medicated, believe my Grandmother to be of more sound mind than me, which she has continuously proven to us. However, the only things she has for mental stimulation are a radio; she is rarely allowed visitors! If she is “losing her mind” it’s because she’s bored out of it. She just lays in the dark all day.
In our opinion, her finances are not being looked after properly: the house is in disrepair, and I bought her a Google Home only to be told that she has no internet (she used to last year, so I don’t know what happened to it), and as I mentioned earlier a new washing machine sat in the Kitchen for months: this was because the Uncle in charge of the finances refused to pay the money for the plumbing, and it took for me to threaten to use my own money from my student finances for him to finally fit the new washing machine himself. By this time, my Aunt was having to walk to the local Laundrette twice a week to wash my Grandmother’s clothes and bedsheets because she was sick with an infection and sweating loads, when she had a brand new washing machine downstairs but she couldn’t use it.
It was at this time, that my uncles came up with an “action plan” on how they were going to solve the issues with the house, to make my Grandmother’s standard of living and Quality of Life better.
The Social Worker loved it; my cousins and I hated it.
We’d heard it all before. As my uncles were annoyed with us for “betraying” them, they also no longer wanted us in the house. This was the first time I saw any threatening behaviour from my Uncles: My Grandmother has three sons and the oldest, who was like a Father to me and had the closest relationship with my mum, is also the most violent. When my cousin Dee tells me about his violent behaviour towards her while she was growing up, it’s like I’m listening to her tell me stories about my own father. I am shocked. It was on the phone as I was getting ready to go to my Grandmother’s to meet the Social Worker for the second time, that my Uncle threatened me not to go round there. I was so shocked, I called my cousin straightaway and she put her mum on the phone. I didn’t even need to tell her what he’d said, she just knew from the tremble in my voice that it was exactly how he used to speak to her. Although I was scared, I didn’t let it deter me.
My mum cut off all contact with the family years ago, so because I didn’t grow up with the family, I was seen as just “a side piece of the family” – my Aunt called me “just an addition” to the Social Worker, when my opinion of my Grandmother’s living situation was asked for, because to them, as an addition, my opinion doesn’t matter; It also didn’t matter that they’d been the ones who I’d trusted to come out to a few months’ ago and that they’d been the ones to meet my transgender girlfriend. The love was gone… or maybe it had never been there to begin with. Furthermore, they didn’t care about the negative effect this was having upon my physical health: I mentioned earlier that I suffer from Epilepsy and stress is a major trigger. For my cousins, who’d pretty much grown up in their Grandmother’s house, to be told they couldn’t go round there anymore was devastating – especially by their own father. But we decided not to listen, because we believed that our Grandmother and Aunt were being abused and our Grandmother’s welfare especially, came first.
Too scared to go back
My cousin Dee and I went round one evening, even after we were told yet again by one of our uncles to stay away. However, we’d called our Grandmother to say we were coming. As we stood outside of the house, having already knocked and been ignored, another uncle circled the block, trying to intimidate us into leaving. When that didn’t deter us, he then sat outside the house in his car, just watching us, waiting for us to leave. Soon he was outside the house, standing in front of me threatening to hit me. I really believed that he was going to. He then walked into my Grandmother’s house and shut the door on me. My aunt came out of the house, so she had been in there the whole time. She told us that she had a training event to go to – this is all heavily orchestrated isn’t it? Another uncle came, ready to launch himself over the front wall at me, all because (a) I’d been writing about his brothers’ behaviour on Twitter and (b) I wouldn’t leave and had the audacity to talk to him. By this time, we had Dee’s brother on the scene, because after the first encounter with the other uncle I’m ashamed to say we both felt like we needed a man’s protection. I remember looking at my uncle and thinking: “Can you not see how you look right now? So aggressive, so angry!” And then I told him and he was shocked, like it had never occurred to him. He then refused to speak to me and Dee, because he wanted to have a conversation with my male cousin, man-to-man, but we heard everything they were saying and there was absolutely nothing that was said in that “man-to-man conversation”, that could not have been said to us women.
Since that night, Dee and I have not been back to our Grandmother’s house, because we’re both too scared.
We have been failed on so many levels:
- Newham Social Services have failed us – the male social worker actually called Dee and me “aggressive” for trying to pursue our case of abuse. Seeing also as I’m currently studying an MSc in Mental Health and Psychology, I also knew that hoarding was a mental health condition, and gathered evidence from the DSM-5, however was gaslighted and provoked into an argument and was later proven right by his manager as hoarding has been included under the Mental Health Act.
I am yet to hear back from the Social Worker who is supposed to be keeping me updated on the situation.
- Our family have failed us – they have left it to the younger generation to clean up their mess, but refuse to listen to us, even though we are more educated than them, and now we’re stuck in this limbo. This cycle of abuse has been going on for years and it is definitely cultural where instead of talking about it openly, family members cover it up. I actually found out recently that my Aunt’s hoarding problem has been going on for years and a decade ago, it got to this point before, but instead of encouraging her to get help, they covered it up and just cleared out the house. But guess what? It’s happened again. Women in my family have been sexually and physically assaulted over the years, but nobody is allowed to speak out; the older members of the family actively engage in protecting the perpetrators. I remember confronting my Aunt about whether or not she knew that my Father had sexually abused me as a child. Her reply was: “well, there were rumours…” and during the altercation outside my Grandmother’s house, the Uncle who nearly hit me called me a “broken person”, and I wondered if he called me that because I was abused, to which my retort is: well you all knew, you could’ve saved me.
We have other cousins who are similar ages to us, however they don’t seem invested in the cause.
Probably out of fear.
My mother who is my grandmother’s daughter just buries her head in the sand and expects me to fight on her behalf.
All I can do for now, is fight from afar, which is why I’m writing my story.