Despite how openly I write about what I think and feel, I actually have little idea who is reading all this. I know my mum does (because she ‘Likes’ them all on Facebook, and relates the stories back to me when I see her 🙂 ) but beyond that, I really have no idea. People rarely comment on the actual blog itself, occasionally they comment on Facebook or Twitter (where I publicise the updates) but beyond that, I suspect the blog goes relatively unread. I therefore feel quite safe in writing this next one. That may sound ludicrous given that it’ll be published in the public domain, but I don’t think of it that way – I think of my blog as being like a diary. Regardless of whoever else may or may not read it, I go back and re-read my posts from time-to-time; that was the whole point in writing it!
So what’s ‘the emotional one’ all about? In a word, Simon. No surprise there then! If there’s a chink in my armour, it’s Simon. My late brother was my best friend, and no-one has or will even come close to beating him at that, not even (when we were together) my husband.
Simon was slightly older than me – enough for him to feel in charge (at best) and ‘always should’ve known better’ (at worst). Yet we were close enough in age to get on like mates. When he went to college, I used to go clubbing with him and his mates. This caused much amusement when I’d occasionally get mistaken for ‘the new bird’ (to which he’d generally respond with “sod off, that’s our kid”) or I’d get approached by interested potentials, only to see him step in a warn them off.
When I was 11 and Simon 13, we moved 200 miles away from the place we’d grown up and started a new life in Yorkshire. Whilst this meant we got a better quality of life, at the time I hated it because I had my heart set on going to Northgate (the sport’s academy-style school with facilities second to none). Simon on the other hand, was over the moon, as it meant he could do what he’d loved as a small boy and farm. And he did it, and loved it, for a long time. Not too bothered with school, he picked up a job on a local farm, took on a day release NVQ course, and got himself an HND in what he wanted to do. After working on local farms, huge estates down south and even the Royal Agricultural Society in Stoneleigh, he moved into Agronomy (the equivalent of being a vet for crops, as opposed to animals). However, this was cut sadly short, when Simon died at the age of just 23.
I remember this like it was yesterday.
It was my 21st birthday on Friday 27th March. A few of my York friends came down to Nottingham for it, but Simon was working, so he said he’d come and collect me the following Friday, and bring me home for the Easter holidays. Fine by me – my brother coming to pick me up was far cooler than my parents, any day, and I got to smoke in the car going home – happy days. (I was a student then, smoking was accepted by all but my mother!)
The following Friday, it got to about 5ish and I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t heard from him. In a twisted kind of irony, the year before, I remember having a conversation with my flat mate, Alex, in her yellow bedroom, after Simon had had an accident at work and fractured his skull. The conversation went along the lines of “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost him…” the kind of conversation you have when you never actually dream that it’d really happen. Well here we were, one year on, and I was suddenly recalling that conversation. After a few hours, the phone rang and it was my dad, I think, it could’ve been mum, that bit’s a bit blurry because what they told me literally knocked me from my feet. Simon had fallen earlier in the day, hit his head, and suffered concussion. Whilst he soon came round, the doctors decided it wise to transfer him to York hospital to be on the safe side. Whilst on the way to York, Simon became ‘agitated’ and fell into a coma. My dad was with him, and says he said goodbye to Simon then, as we want’ to regain consciousness after that point. By the time he got to York, he was transferred to the Neuro Intensive Care unit at Leeds General Infirmary, which had been open only a few days. So was the best possible place he could be. He’s been examined on arrival at Leeds and the doctors identified swelling in his brain, which with a skull in the way, had nowhere to swell and was therefore putting pressure on Simon’s brain. This could cause serious complications so he was immediately rushed into theatre so that part of his skull could be removed, giving his brain space to swell. Whilst Simon was in theatre, there was little mum and dad could do, so that’s when they’d come and get me, and take me back up to Leeds with them, to wait for Simon to come out of theatre. Right. OK.
At that point, when I put the phone down, it hadn’t really sunk in. I’m not sure if I really realised the seriousness of the situation, or whether I was in shock. But I just sat down on the sofa on the right in the living room, with my flatmates around me, all staring at me, as if waiting for me to scream. I don’t think I did. But the following 90 minutes waiting for mum and dad to come and get me were perhaps the longest of my life.
The journey back to Leeds was weird. We didn’t cry or get panicky. Mum and dad were incredibly calm and I just asked lots of questions. (That was nothing new – mum always said Simon was her ‘how’ and I was her ‘why’!) So by the time we got back to Leeds, I knew as much as they did, and was kind of prepared for what to see. After all, only a year before, I’d seen Simon in hospital in York with a bandage round his head, looking like Basil Fawlty!
Only this time felt more serious. There were more nurses. There was more equipment around him. He wasn’t awake. The side of his head was yellow. He had tubes and cables everywhere. He didn’t look like Simon. But I didn’t want to leave his side.
For the next nine days, I went home in the middle of the night, got a couple of hours sleep, went to work for a few hours then drove back to Leeds for tea time, then stayed with Simon until silly am (whilst mum and dad got some sleep in the family room), before heading back to work. On the drive, I made various phone calls to update friends and family. The updates were generally the same – Simon was still in a drug-induced coma. They were intentionally keeping him asleep to give his brain time to settle down. Every time they reduced his sedative, his brain activity went off the scale – he was fitting in his sleep – so they’d send him back under for another few hours and wait for him to settle. So that was the routing for a week or so.
There were a couple of highlight moments in what became our new routine… the nurses were so supportive, that I brought them a basket full of mini chocolate eggs – it was nearly Easter after all – the chocolate lasted just half an hour! Such a simple thing but went down so well, I still do this (take them Easter Eggs every year)…
Because Simon hadn’t got me a birthday present, I bought a CD and told him he could pay me back for it when he woke up. Knowing it was one he’d like (and undoubtedly swipe when I wasn’t looking), I took it into the hospital and played it quietly beside his bed. The Best of James. I still love it…
Simon was a traditionalist. So if he’d known that one of the nburses caring for him was male, he’d have frowned. But knowing that said nurse was also homosexual would’ve scared the tractor out of Simon’s yard! So when the nurses asked if we wanted to bring Simon’s own boxer shorts in (rather than him wearing horrid hospital gowns all the time), what did we do? We gave the nurse Simon’s reed satin boxers…!
There were some signs of life, well we like to think there were. Simon and dad often used to discuss Assumpter Fitzgerald (of Balykissangel fame); Simon claiming that she liked the younger man, dad convinced of the opposite… So when in hospital, if someone mentioned Assumpter, Simon’s levels would blip on the monitors! His hearlt would literally skip a beat!
Unfortunately though, despite our chatting to him, when the nurses showed us his brain scans, there were black areas at the front and at the bottom at the back. This meant that, if he was ever able to wake up, those parts of his brain were badly damaged, perhaps even dead, and therefore his long-term memory would be affected… he wouldn’t be able to talk, walk and was unlikely to know who we were. In simple terms, if he woke up, he wouldn’t be the Simon we knew; there was a high possibility he’d be in a vegetative state and need constant care. I’m sure mum and dad discussed this with each other, as I did with myself. I was doing my finals; they were coursework heavy, so I could do them from home, move back and look after Simon. Mum and dad’s house was big enough for us all – we’d all lived there for 12 years, so it was doable. But it was never really talked about much.
I hardly slept on Easter Saturday night. Nor did mum and dad. Simon had been in Leeds for 8 days and hadn’t really improved. So when the phone range around 7am, I just ran into their bedroom, knowing it’d be the hospital. It was. Simon’s kidneys had failed overnight. The doctors could send him into theatre for a transplant, if a donor could be found, but it wouldn’t change his neurological condition. If anything, the additional trauma of further surgery could be risky in itself…
At this point, it only took us a short time to agree that this was Simon’s way of saying he’d had enough. He was done with fighting. He’d been fighting a hypoglycaemic condition for the past seven years, that was probably what made him fall and hit his head in the first place, who knows. Either way, we were sure he’d had enough. So when asked whether we wanted the doctors to treat his kidneys, we said no. We knew what this meant and the doctors suggested, therefore, that we make our way to the hospital as he may not have long left.
I don’t think we spoke between that call and getting to the hospital. It’s not often that mum doesn’t ‘direct’ dad in multi storey car parks, or dad avoids selecting some decent tunes for the radio. But we just drove there in silence. When we got there, the doctors said his condition had deteriorated and he had maybe 30 minutes or so left with us. Mum sat beside him, hoding his right hand;p dad stood behind his pillow, holding his head; I sat opposite mum holding his left hand. His head was tilted ever-so-slightly towards the left and when the final moment came, it was nothing like Casualty! There were no alarms, no crazy manoeuvres on the monitors, no-one rushing about. The nurses just pulled the curtains round and turned the volume down on the machines, switched the monitors off so we couldn’t see the levels, and left us to it. After a short time, no idea how long, one eye twitched, he drew a short breath and that was it. Whilst the twitch was probably a muscle spasm or something, I like to think he winked at me. But he was gone. And that was it. We sat with him for a few minutes before the nurses came in and suggested we give them a few minutes to clean him up and get rid of the machines and tubes, then we could stay with him as long as we wanted to.
So we went downstairs. Mum and dad went to make some calls, I headed for the door to go for a cigarette, just as my then boyfriend Neil walked in. Bless him, he’d driven up from Birmingham to be with and support us over Easter. He arrived just a few minutes too late to see Simon, but stayed with us whilst we say our goodbyes to Simon. Neil then drove me to the pub and I got drunk. Very drunk. Last orders that day didn’t count. It probably didn’t take much to get me drunk. I was so exhausted and emotionally drained. There was so much to do from that point, arranging Simon’s funeral and everything, but at that point I wasn’t interested. I remember feeling remarkably calm, I don’t think I had much emotion left in me at that point. So I just drank, and talked about him, a lot.
* * * * *
Today is 5th August. It’s two days before Simon’s birthday. At this time of year, sometimes I’m absolutely fine. But in the years that have passed since Simon died, I still never know how I’m going to feel from one day to the next.
This year is a tough one. I’ve no idea why. Maybe it’s because I’ve had so much change in my own life in the past year or so, that I’m less settled and therefore more susceptible to my emotions? I don’t know – but I’m not going to over analyse it! I lost my brother and best friend, and it hurts. Still. It always will. The gaps between feeling low get longer as time goes on, but they never stop.
I think about Simon every day. I have a photo of he and I beside my bed, and I always will. I have another photo of him beside my make-up box on my dressing table, and I always will. When I worked on the Olympic Park for two weeks, I took him with me. He’s in my wallet. He’s in my head and he’s in my heart every second of every day.
I occasionally wonder what he’d be like now, but I only have to look at his 23-year-old godson Tom (who was just eight when Simon died) and I get a pretty fair idea. I wonder how Simon and I would get on as we got older, and I only have to look at Tom and his sister Sophie (who are equally as close as Simon and I were) and I get a pretty fair idea. I wonder what he’d be like if he became a father, and I only have to look at his best friend Jolly (who now has a little girl called Lily) and I get a pretty fair idea. But whilst I love these guys, for who they are, how much they support me, and how much they still love and remember Simon; they’re not him.
Anyone who has lost someone so close will know that they can never be replaced. You never get over it, you just get used to it. So whilst the days you feel low get fewer, they never stop. Today was one of those days. I’m hoping tomorrow will be better and that, by Wednesday, I’ll be back to my usual bounce. I better be, it’s Simon’s birthday so it’d be rude not to raise a glass right?!
Here endeth the emotional one! Tomorrow’s another day 🙂 xx
AN: I’m not going to re-read or spell check this one, it’s going up as is, so whatever typos or syntax errors are in there, can stay!