Simone shares her story of her brother’s unexpected death on her birthday and explains the whirlwind of the day. If you have a story to share with Let’s Talk About Loss, we’d love to share it and help break down the taboos of death and grief. Email us to tell your story.
When my alarm woke me up at 6.30am on 19 May 2015, I saw a flurry of text messages, WhatsApp notifications and missed phone calls on my phone. I half smiled to myself thinking how quickly people fired out the annual ‘happy birthday’ message to me before cracking on with their day.
These weren’t birthday wishes, though. My mum and dad had tried calling countless times, I had missed calls from numbers I didn’t even recognise. Fear hit me. Desperately I tried calling my parents. My boyfriend then text me, saying ‘I’ve woken up to missed calls from your parents, is everything OK?’.
Eventually, my dad answered. The knot in my stomach got tighter and tighter, I was crying my eyes out, I could barely speak.
My elder brother, Liam, had been in a motorbike accident. He was in a bad way and my dad said his arm was a ‘real mess’.
At the time I lived in Southampton, so my boyfriend drove for two hours to collect me. I was in no state to drive, and that was the last thing my parents needed to worry about. I had two hours to sit, think and worry with barely any information to process. That’s when my best friend called me and filled in the time and silence.
I packed a bag – how many days would I be ‘home’ for? How long would I be visiting Liam in Oxford’s John Radcliffe hospital? – and before Adam (my boyfriend) and I set off to the hospital, I grabbed the birthday cakes I was planning on taking to work with me that day. What on earth was I thinking?
I don’t know what we spoke about in the car. In fact, there is so much of that day that I don’t remember, but so much more of it that I relive a lot and it’s crystal clear.
Intensive care unit
We waited ages for Liam to come out of theatre. The accident had happened around midnight, but it wasn’t until gone 1pm that we heard he was back on the intensive care unit (ICU) and that we were able to see him.
His girlfriend and her family saw him, so did my mum and dad, before Shaun (my eldest brother) and I finally sat at the edge of the bed.
What do you say to someone on life support? It felt odd. Forced. On television everything seems so profound and not a word is wasted. It got too much for Shaun, he left the room and Adam came to sit with me for a while.
I didn’t want to spend too long next to Liam because I didn’t want to ‘hog’ him.
As we walked into the corridor, Adam broke down. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him like that. Despite seeing Liam hooked up to machines and noticing the extent of his injuries, it wasn’t until Adam broke that I absorbed how serious this was.
Long road ahead
In the family waiting room, we sat and waited, we spoke to the police and we filled the time. All day my phone notifications were kept busy with messages saying, ‘happy birthday’, ‘have a great day’, ‘hope you’re doing something amazing’ and so on.
We knew it was going to be a long road ahead of us, the recovery for Liam was going to be tough. We presumed he’d be in a wheelchair for a while and perhaps he might lose his arm – we all knew how much he’d hate being told he couldn’t ride his motorbike any more.
Eventually, my parents, brother, Adam and I decided to drive to my parents’ house, get showered and come back later in the evening. When I got home, I was even encouraged to open my birthday presents.
Then, we were told to get back to the hospital.
We were getting updates from the doctors and nurses. I ran out of the family room crying. Then a doctor who had been on duty when Liam was initially brought to the hospital, just 24 hours earlier, came into the family room. She mentioned ‘catastrophic’ injuries.
At 3am on 20 May, we stood with Liam as he passed away.
He was 28 years old. He had a partner and a four-year-old son. I can’t even remember the last words I said to him, but I remember stroking his hand trying to keep him warm.
Why am I telling you this? Well, this is the shortened version of my story and if bereavement has taught me anything it’s that telling your story is one of the most important parts of coming to terms with the death of a loved one.
It gets to a point when you’ve told your friends, extended family members and maybe even some colleagues, but if you still haven’t processed it and you run out of people to share your story with, it becomes almost torturous.
So, share you story. Write it down. Speak to a therapist and reach out to others in the same rocky bereavement boat as you because by telling your story, you’re coping and you’re remembering those final moments with your loved one.
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