Not the Beginning
In which my brother dies,
I seem to be grown up,
and then life kicks me in the proverbials.
Please read the Declaration at the bottom of this chapter on the meaning of “truth” and assume it applies to anything else I might ever write!
Unlike a journey the beginning of a story can be located anywhere or anywhen. This story will begin slightly more than two years ago but won’t start for some time yet. The story time line will move around to suit the events that are, or have, happened; remember it is the events that are important and not the order that they happen in.
After spending almost 20 months on a work project in the last two years based on the South Coast and partly in London I escaped with what I was pleased to deem as my sanity intact. The journey to and from work each week was fabulous* involving many hours on multiple trains, tubes and taxis – obviously beating real work for a living!
I followed this with a few weeks between assignments lining up a new engagement. The start of this next project was arranged to be on Monday October 31st and I travelled to this customer that morning via train and spent the day getting up to speed with the people, events and peculiarities of the situation. However, as often can happen in life, ultimately this effort was wasted as family events overtook me.
I checked into a hotel in Derby and went to the internal restaurant, grabbing a pizza and several pints to relax at the end of the day whilst watching the football that was on TV. This relaxation took a large kibosh when shortly after it I received a phone call relaying some information about my younger brother, Glen. At the age of 45, whilst visiting a girlfriend in Kings Lynn, he had stood up to get a cup of coffee, walked two steps and collapsed; he uttered a memorable staccato phrase and moved on. The paramedics, ambulance and hospital staff confirmed that he had died before he arrived there; he must have decided not to hang around for public transport – something he had hated all of his life.
Very understandably the information took quite some hours to go via Glen’s devastated girlfriend, his devastated ex-partner, his distraught ex-wife, my current wife and then finally to me, arriving too late for me to get public transport home (Glen may have had a point). After a night of phone calls, attempting to absorb the information and totally failing to analyse or understand the impact I took the first train home from Derby to Newcastle next morning.
The suddenness of Glen’s death meant that the completion process had to involve a delay and a post mortem which eventually stated that he had died of a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage. This looks to be have been caused by an inherited weakness in the shaping or growth of a very small blood vessel, although I would rather say it was an in-built issue as it feels a lot less of a finger-pointing statement. You can’t blame hereditary for everything.
Given that Glen was living in Northampton, died in Kings Lynn and had to be brought back home to Sunderland where his family are based this added further delays and complications to the process. Archaically, the Funeral Directors had to pay each county that the body was transported through on the way home the sum of fifty pounds; they seemed incredibly keen to share this cost with the family rather than take on this responsibility themselves. I’m not sure how big the opportunity is but I’m fairly sure that we could write a navigation program to minimise the counties/mileage ratio to keep costs down. Sorting out Glen’s further travel arrangements also added to the time he remained “unprocessed” although I tried to convince him that a hearse was not public transport in any way, shape or form!
During the following two weeks we tried to sort out Glen’s relocation, his post-popping-clogs-processing and some of his paperwork. We also faced the bigger task of attempting to adapt to the emotional impact of my parents losing a son, Glen’s kids losing their beloved father and my brothers losing one of us. I am the eldest brother (Glen was next one down) so also had to face a further reminder of self-mortality that just about all of us would rather not have thrust in front of us.
This phase of addressing the issues we met seemed to be the period where I had to be the primary grown-up, informing our huge family and organising the mechanics of getting Glen sorted out. I prided myself on how really well I was adapting to this and how little the events were preventing me from carrying out the other things that ongoing life required**. Previously I have suffered from personal stress which impacted on how well I could deal with situations such as these; I kept on taking the tablets and felt that everything was as good as could be in a naff situation.
The two weeks around Glen’s death also included some other challenges which seemed designed to add to the stress of the events in the same manner as some kind of evil being playing an “It’s a Knockout” style joker card to make life more, umm, interesting. My father has been ill for around 15 years with probably 8 serious issues which he is coping with pretty well (his Doctor reckons he is the fittest ill-bloke he has ever seen – a born fighter that man); Dad obviously was hit hard by losing his son and felt his problems all the more. On the weekend between Glen kicking the bucket and managing to get the administration processes sorted out properly we had some further bad news – my father-in-law, Joe, a gentleman of the highest order, was driving his brand-new car at 07:30 in the morning when someone rushing to be at a religious ceremony of some kind drove out of a T-junction without stopping and almost wiped him out. Some four weeks after the event the car was repaired but we are still waiting for Joe to recover completely.
We managed to get Glen to the Crematorium on Friday 11th November; Remembrance / Armistice Day and very appropriate for Glen given his time spent defending our country. Accepting that the ceremony was going to be a Humanist one and not religious was a very easy thing to do, athough I may return to the subject of God, Gods, Goddesses or whole Pantheon’s of Deities at some point in the future. We made this choice for two reasons, firstly we were keeping the ceremony in nature with Glen’s belief’s but mainly we were making this a ceremony of remembrance for his life so that we celebrated the time that we had him with us, the love we had for him and avoided any religious angst or sorrow.
Eight hours after the celebration ceremony for Glen’s life the family suffered another loss when an Aunty who had been ill for quite some time died. We returned to the crematorium the following Friday for another event; this actually felt harder than Glen’s “Do” as the pain and loss for other people appeared stronger and more potent. I would say that anticipating the loss of someone does not make it easier to eventually accept as we keep hoping that things will not occur as they obviously will; I actually take some comfort from the fact that we lost Glen inside of several minutes – perverse of me perhaps.
Following my Aunties’ funeral we attended the Wake, paid our respects and left the direct family to cope with their grief. Several hours later our family decided to visit a local pub to close off the stressful times we had been having and we had a, surprisingly, enjoyable evening in the Harbour View reliving memories of people we had lost and, just as importantly, people we still had with us. The family spent the following day, Saturday, successfully trying to recover some elements of “normal” life. Sunday dawned with a beautiful, sunny but cold day. This was too much of an opportunity to miss, with the cares of the previous few weeks firmly put behind us my wife – my reason for living – and I took our Springer Spaniel dog for a walk down the beach. We then drove to my Mam and Dad’s house to elicit some food from the endless stores that seem to exist there; I felt only relief on this day, we had cleared some massive hurdles as a family and been drawn even closer together.
For the previous two weeks I had mainly adopted the role of “Des” – the designated driver so that other people could drink if they wanted to. If you know me very well you’ll realise the size of this sacrifice I was making for Glen and the others! :-) On arrival at my parents’ house we were offered a glass of wine or beer to go with the Sunday dinner that was waiting for us there. My wife very nobly decided to take over my role – she also claimed it had nothing to do with the largish session we had had in the Harbour View on the previous Friday but we weren’t fooled. I thought that I should make the most of the opportunity and grabbed a bottle of beer before she could change her mind. Walking from the fridge to the Conservatory I took a sip out of the bottle (spurning a glass and showing the natural class that I have); I sat down to hear my wife say something about her throat being a touch sore and noticed that mine too was strained. Starting to feel a little groggy I walked outside to sit on the bench there to get some fresh air.
Twenty minutes later I started to come around as I tried to fight off the paramedic in the ambulance, who was undoing my shirt to wire me up for an ECG. I had had a seizure which, in the words often attributed to John Lennon, is “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans”.
**false pride in retrospect!
When I have written this story I have given the statements in the nature of the “The Truth” – I do, however, reserve the right, to adjust the value of Truth to suit the Beauty of the Story. I also reserve the right to misremember events either on purpose for embarrassment, to save face for others or merely as a biological function of “getting things Wrong” (Note I won’t be admitting this last point again).