“When you lose a child it doesn’t matter how they died. When you lose a child, you lose a child,” says Irene MacDonald about the circumstances surrounding the death of her youngest son, Robin, nearly 19 years ago following a heroin overdose.
At the time of his death, Robin had battled with heroin for some time, but the family were optimistic about his chances of recovery, not to say completely unprepared for the shock news of his death and the events that were to follow.
It was an otherwise ordinary Tuesday evening in November when the MacDonalds, Irene and her husband Ian from Cheltenham, learned of Rob’s death. Home from work, Irene was settling down to watch TV, while Ian was getting ready to meet friends for a night out. Then the phone rang. It was Rob’s partner.
“She told us she had found him dead in their house when she came in from work. I don’t remember much of the journey [to their house] but when we arrived, there were already loads of people there. Police, paramedics, the coroner’s officer.
“What I remember most is the police treating Rob’s house as a crime scene. They kept calling him ‘the body’, told us we couldn’t see him and asked us to ‘go away.’
“When Rob was taken away we didn’t know where he had been taken to. It was just horrendous,” recounts Irene. It took four days before Ian and Irene could see Rob.
“[The police’s] reaction was, because he was a heroin user, he must be a criminal and they seemed more concerned that there could be an outbreak of deaths [because of the batch of heroin] rather than the fact that our son had died.” Irene tells me.
“I know people mean well, but when someone said to me ‘move on’, I just thought ‘move on where?’” Irene says.
“I went to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, then I went to the Library,” Irene recalls. “I had two leaflets thrust into my hands with numbers that were out of date.”
“So we set up our own service,” adds Ian.
Four years after Rob’s death, the MacDonalds set up Carer & Parent Support Gloucestershire (CPSG), a small voluntary organisation offering support to family members whose lives have been touched by drug use.
“As we reflected on things through our period of grieving we suddenly decided that, if anything positive was to emerge from Robin's death, there might be something we could do to help other people in a similar situation.”