I woke with a start! Bang, bang, bang! A frenetic knocking on the front door and I almost jumped out of my skin as its urgency intruded my deep sleep. It was 7am on a dreary Monday morning in April and aware of the time, I felt unnerved. Who the hell could it be and so early! As I made my way towards the half wood, half paned glass door I felt sick to my stomach; with their faces pressed right up against the window panes and with their hands cupped around them so that they could see inside were my distraught brother Simon and his (then) girlfriend. They were both sobbing. A feeling of panic arose up inside me – what on earth had happened?!
As I opened the door and let them in I began walking slowly backwards, trying to escape from what they were about to say, terrified at what it might or could be. I wanted to put my fingers in my ears and sing LALALA like a mischievous child to drown out their words but I knew I was going to have to face what they said sooner rather than later. I took a deep breath and braced myself as they blurted out– “TRACEY! NICKY’S DEAD HE’S KILLED HIMSELF’!!! Oh God noooooooooooooooooo. It couldn’t be true! Please nooooooooooooo. Not that. Please not that. Please. Not that.
Nicky was my baby brother and along with Simon they were 7 and 6 years younger than me respectively and boy did I hate it when not only one arrived but another 15 months later! I was horrible to them both, yet over-protective and motherly.
Nicky was just 24 years old and had been found dead inside his car by two police officers at a remote beauty spot, poisoned by exhaust fumes. With him inside the car were 4 letters….one each to Mum, Dad, Amy (his wife) and a generic one; ‘Dear Everyone’….he’d driven about 7 miles from Dad’s house where he’d been staying since separating from Amy and down a remote and lonely road not far from where they’d lived as a family.
What a dark place he must have been in.
As the impact of the news began to take hold, I could scarcely breathe. We huddled together briefly, clinging on to one another sobbing and then I grabbed something, anything to wear as we jumped in to Simon’s car to go to our Dad’s house. My mind wandered with thoughts of what I’d perceived as ‘problems’ the day before, now seemed trivial and utterly insignificant.
In that moment, it was the end of my life as I knew it. It couldn’t ever be the same again. Ever.
The pain I felt from losing him was so agonising it was as if I’d given birth to him myself. I was drowning in grief and the images of my Mum and Dad who’d lost their youngest child will stay with me forever.
Arriving back home from my dad’s, I jumped straight in the shower. I wanted to breathe and think and get changed in to fresh clothes and somehow begin to comprehend the fact that my little brother was not only dead but worse, he’d taken his own life. As I stood there with the water pouring all over me I began to sob uncontrollably after I’d been holding it all in like a bubbling pressure cooker. Here, I could finally let go in private and have a temporary release before I started making ‘phone calls to tell friends the incomprehensible news.
Physically and emotionally wrung out as if I’d been through a mangle, I headed for the kitchen to make a cup of tea and as I sat with my hands enveloped around the warm cup for comfort and deep in thought, I was startled when the telephone rang. It was my Dad calling to say that if I wanted to I could go and see Nicky’s body which had been taken to Airedale Hospital in Steeton. I felt desperate to get there and Tricia, my friend and colleague, offered to drive me as I was in no fit state.
Arriving at the hospital, a lovely and kind lady guided us in to the mortuary and there he was – my beautiful brother laid out on what appeared to be a marble slab. I quivered from head to foot as I approached and it wasn’t because it was a dead body – I’d seen those before, it was because it was him, my little brother lying there cold and lifeless and my head couldn’t take it all in. I longed to reach out and touch him but hesitated, feeling scared. Sensing my fear, this lovely kind lady took my hand and gently placed it on Nicky’s shoulder. She kept her hand on top of mine for reassurance, soothing me with her words as she whispered “It’s alright Tracey, nothing will happen if you touch him, you’re safe”. Tricia stayed close by my side – I look back and think how brave she was – she was only young herself. As my hand came in to contact with his body I jumped back, shocked that he was so incredibly ice cold and solid but once over that, I found that I didn’t want to ever stop touching him and began stroking and straightening his hair which he’d been growing and was now quite long; how I longed to climb up on to that cold, soul-less slab and lie down next to him, hold him and make it all better, but we had to go. It hurt to walk away and leave him there all by himself and so with a heavy heart and an aching soul we left the hospital.
I felt desolate.
Dropping me off at home, Tricia left with a comforting promise to return later and bring her brother, Sean. We used to go out together and remained close as friends. I felt reassured that they’d be coming back but I was still very relieved to see a taxi pull up with them both inside.
Nicky’s wife Amy and baby Rosie arrived. Only 6 months old and here she was innocently snuggled up in her baby chair blissfully unaware that her Daddy was gone. My heart bled as I held her in my arms and there and then I made a vow that she would know all about her beautiful Daddy. Sadly, they’d quickly run into problems and after an October wedding, the marriage over by December, Nicky was back living at our Dad’s house – an awful lot of highly charged emotional experiences in a very short space of time. I now believe that it was this situation that lit the blue touch paper. Nicky had confided in our step-mum Linda that he was scared he would lose Rosie and he couldn’t bear it. That thought messed with his already fragile head.
Exhaustion swept over me. A taxi arrived for Tricia and Sean and as they were about to climb in I reached out to touch his hand and said “Sean, please will you stay with me tonight”? He looked straight in to my eyes and simply said “I thought you’d never ask”. I sighed, relieved to know that at least for one night, I was safe. Few words were spoken as we made our way to bed. He got in at the side of me, scooped me up in his strong arms and held me tight.
I was abruptly awoken the following morning by a call from my Mum asking if we could go together to the Chapel of Rest to say our goodbyes. I was glad not to be going by myself and besides we could support one another. Walking in to the Funeral Directors I didn’t think my legs would carry me and I had to half hold my mum up. I’ve never seen anyone so distressed and given that she was dying herself I don’t know how she found the strength to carry on.
As we tentatively approached the coffin, each moving to either side of it, the thing that struck us was that there was a big piece of yellow cotton stuck to Nicky’s eyelashes. My Mum was furious! We both took turns to try and gently pull it away but it was so firmly caught there, we got scared that if we carried on pulling we’d hurt him or we may even yank his eye out! In the end we decided we’d leave it where it was and get the professionals to remove it instead.
Eventually it was sorted and we were once more stood either side of the wooden casket and the overwhelm hit that it was him; ‘Our’ Nicky, in that box wearing his green wedding suit; Overwhelm with how breathtakingly good looking, how young and how seemingly from the outside he had everything to live for. My Mum just sobbed over his body and talked to him as I looked on forlornly, feeling helpless and as if my own life was at an end too. Where did I go from there because at some point in the not too distant future I was going to lose her too. How had our family come to this?
After a while I spoke out, “Mum, would it be alright if I spent a bit of time with him just on my own”? I was grateful that she respected my wishes and left us alone together. My mind began playing tricks – I honestly thought that any minute now he would open his eyes and sit bolt upright – that was really freaky but then I just started talking to him and with tears falling down my face and dripping on to his clothes I said “Hey our kid, I’m so sorry that I couldn’t help you, I never knew you’d got so low. I feel like I’ve let you down but I love you and that won’t ever change”. I leant over and kissed his ice-cold forehead.
What can I say about you to someone new in my life who knows nothing?
I could tell them about your green eyes and lovely smile that drove all the girls crazy.
I could tell them about your dream to be a star, on your saxophone, piano or behind the bar.
I could tell them about your career – a different one every week or the way you argued the toss at whatever price the cost.
Instead, I’ll just tell them about someone special who had a lot of strife; you my brother locked forever in my heart but now in a different life.