Just one week in a new place, one of the last holidays I remember us having all together as a family.
That home from home we didn’t want to leave.
Where we arrived and Mum began to bake,
The farmhouse kitchen just begging to be used. A basement store its dark cavern, full of unknown but interesting jars of produce waiting to be discovered.
A big pine table we could all sit around for breakfast overlooking the apple tree, laden with fruit as the tractors went about their business.
The big wooden bed with the patchwork quilt that you had to climb up onto and window seats to while away the time with a book.
The room I shared with my sister, looking out at the cows who came to the back wall to the cottage curious as to what we were doing laying on the floor looking out over the fields.
Memories of a Summer Holiday and the new friends we made.
A farm with barns and hay and animals, freedom to run wild and free in nature.
A true country farm cottage in the place with a very strange name.
This is a true story, we stayed in a holiday cottage at a place named Normanby-by-Spital, in Lincolnshire when my sister was very young, my brother and I were teenagers and although he was bored by the idea, we soon made new friends and explored the countryside. It turned out to be one of our most favourite holidays together.
I have awoken once again as I have done for as long as I can remember in the past few months, exactly two and a half hours after I had gone to bed. It seems to be such a regular occurrence now, part of the new normal forcing its way into my life. Again I am compelled to write about what has happened in the past few months and get it out of my head in the hope that it will not spend more time there and that I will be able to move on from it in some small way. I do not know if that is forcing something which is not ready to leave, or just stop it from occupying most of my thoughts.
I have been quietly writing in the background the past few months, so much has gone on in my private life which needs to remain private for now, but the difficulties of the past few years seem to pale into almost insignificance in comparison. I have sat and purposefully written in a bid to explain, but those posts will not be shared publicly, there has been so much pain to deal with and I have been fighting still despite feeling ill equipped to do so. I have also written a few more poems, some of which I’ve posted here on the blog.
It is difficult to know where to begin so I guess it will just have to come right out and say it, that which I am able to share with you. My brother passed away, he died suddenly and although it was a huge shock to us all. I am struggling to deal with it. The past almost three months since his passing, have felt like a year, endless in its quest and dragging onward. It is not over yet, since the grieving process has really only just begun due to the delays caused by legal formalities. He is not gone from my thoughts and remains very much a part of me. In my home I am surrounded by his things which bring back memories all of the time. Of course this does not just affect me, the rest of the family are left reeling from the shock of it all, he was a relatively young man at 48 years old and this was totally unexpected.
He lived his life in the enviable position of having no responsibilities in fact he positively shied away from them, left no will and made me his next of kin. Suddenly, there was a policeman on the telephone, faced with the duty of informing me that there had been an accident and that I was to contact his employer urgently. At that point, he was in a critical ward of a hospital in Corsica and it was my job to inform Mum. We spoke on the phone since I was also away at the time, and only a couple of hours later, he was dead. Gone forever it felt surreal. He had been working away for most of the last five years, returning only for short periods in between and staying with friends, who were extended family, whenever he was back in the UK we tried to catch up, but during his trips he would call me at length and tell me all about where he was living and the people he was working with. He was excited by life and new experiences and I loved those conversations. I was lucky to have had one such conversation the afternoon before he passed away, which made me wrack my brains and replay every moment in my mind to see if I could have sensed that something was wrong, if it could in some way have forewarned me of what was to come. But it did not. What happened was just an awful accident, cardiac arrest brought on by shock of the extreme heat of the climate, to cold water in an outdoor swimming pool. One misjudged moment in time, deciding to go for a swim and he drowned. It was awful and it still is. To think of a life so suddenly gone, I am still coming to terms with how final that is. He was just getting to do the things that he wanted to and living the life he felt that he should. He had plans and was excited by what the future may hold.
I still can’t believe that he is gone and not coming back, as a seasonnaire chef, his summer stint would be over and he would be back by now. I like so many others, his friends and his family are waiting for that phone call we would normally have had by now, saying “Hello, I’m back”. He stopped calling it home a couple of years ago, when he decided that he wanted to live in Italy and began looking for a flat there, alas that was not to be. But here was where he returned to, his roots and the extended family he had chosen, lifelong friendships with people who anticipated his return.
It was August when he passed away. It took two months to get him home and have the funeral since there was an inquest and repatriation to deal with. I am relieved that his employers were a reputable company who had insurance, otherwise I for one could not have coped with it all and the costs of bringing him back and dealing with it all would have been impossible. It would have been a very different situation since as far as I can find out he had no insurance to cover him for his death. He had not written a will and had no savings whatsoever surviving from one pay check to the next and never quite managing it consistently living beyond his means.
Thankfully, from a leaving people behind point of view, he did not have a wife or children, just parents and siblings, me and his sister. He also had literally hundreds of friends, dotted around the world. I honestly feel that he never lost touch with anyone he ever met, leaving a lasting impression upon them, they stayed in touch or he would walk into a place somewhere in the world and someone would know someone who knew him, or an old acquaintance would reappear. It was uncanny. He was a loveable rogue and when we planned his party for him, in celebration of his life it only then became clear to us how loved he was. He did not want a funeral where everyone was sad, he wanted a party where everyone could gather and talk about the good times, drink and dance and talk. Throughout the planning I was worried, wondering if I would make him proud. It had been many years since I had planned an event, but I wanted it to be perfect for him. Nothing would spoil it and as it turned out it was a wonderful night, which a month later people are still speaking about with fondness, cherishing new memories along with the old and rekindled friendships. It was a wonderful compliment to be told that if he had made it to fifty and had a party, then this would have been exactly what he would have wanted to do and it couldn’t have gone any better.
We picked a location he loved as fate would have it there was a real ale festival at the first pub. A local place where he always returned to, it was the perfect setting on a beautiful warm and sunny day. A refreshing seaside breeze after a funeral service packed out with around 400 people. It was massive and although emotionally exhausting, it was filled with love and tributes. We spoke, which was something I knew that I had to do, anecdotes from growing up together and then I read a poem I had written just after his passing, called My Brother. (You can read it here) It was a first for me, reading something I had written out loud in front of an audience but it was very well received. Our sister, who is a musician, sang a song live which she had written, also a first for her and it was emotional and beautiful. Our Mum told everyone stories from his past which had everyone laughing and smiling at the memories. My partner got up and spoke, thanking all of the people who had helped and been there for my brother and for us and the tribute from his friend, reliving the memories growing up, were both entertaining and captivating.
After the initial meet up where the beer festival was held, we moved onto another pub, where we had organised a buffet, some of his school friends who are DJ’s played the music he loved for a packed out pub full of people from all walks of life and all age groups who were there to say goodbye. Our sister played live with her bands and we were fortunate that the entertainment that the pub had already booked for that night flowed effortlessly from what we had done for him. Everyone had a great time it was not like a funeral at all. It was a day and a night filled with love for someone who has left a wide gaping hole in our lives by his sudden departure. We had guest books and reading them after the funeral was lovely. We encouraged people to write their memories of him and are planning to publish his story at some point, the book he didn’t quite get to write. I am sure that he was still too busy living his life to write it all down. I have spent two months looking for the book he always spoke about writing one day, but have not yet found any evidence of it. We decided that the stories should not die with him. They are too funny, heart-warming and vivid to let go.
I was sent out to Corsica by his employers, they arranged for me to attend where he lived and worked and meet the team, his working family and the ones who had tried to save him. It was cathartic towards the end of the trip, I was so pleased to be able to do that and it helped immensely to piece together the time before his death and share some wonderful memories with those who surrounded him. I returned only six weeks ago, it feels much longer. Time seems to drag on and all of a sudden it will be three months since he died, this weekend it has been a month since his funeral. The seasons have changed and with them so have I. Although I am not sure whether it is for the better or worse and I am so far out of my comfort zone lately that I can’t remember where it is any more.
As I deal with his affairs in the line of duty, my own personal grief has kicked in it catches me out at the most awkward of moments, creating havoc in the day to day. Having dealt with the formality of the funeral now, it no longer consumes my every moment, I am still dealing with formalities as this will take some time to do. I have time to think now and remember and those memories which fall as tears when I think of him, of that lump in my throat which arrives when I get to thinking about the fact that I will never again get to hug my infuriatingly haphazard, but very endearing and loving brother. Meanwhile I am surrounded by the belongings which I am still gathering in able to sort them out and share out amongst family and his closest friends. He left his things all over Europe and even now I am not quite sure where, some are only just coming to light now. I do not know if I will be able to recover it all. Despite my daily routine being somewhat relaxed, insomnia and concerns are wearing and damaging to the health and mine has suffered, along with that of my partner who has been at my side, supporting me every step of the way. He is tired, for that read exhausted and already suffering ill health it has really taken its toll upon him, I must look after my rock and not let it crumble. As he pointed out to me, life is for the living and we are still here.
Last night I visited one of his close friends, I called round on the off chance and we talked for over an hour about the funeral and how he would normally be home by now. That he still shows up now and then, in the strangest of ways. She has been married to his best friend for over 20 years and they were a very large part of my brother’s life, always there for him come what may. Only 3 months ago I had never met her. It was the case for so many of his friends throughout his life he kept them and his family separate. But the love and warmth that they had for him has been extended to me and the rest of us and never fails to move me. I came home happy but emotional it was good to talk about my brother, but I am conscious that we also talked about other things in our lives such as making plans for the future. It was just what was needed after a week where I have been going stir crazy at home, seemingly chasing my tail to get things done, although I have made small progress nevertheless.
As time goes by, things are slowly changing, things which are forcing me to re-evaluate and make new plans. I need to concentrate on improving our health and moving us onward. I hope that down the line I can begin to follow some of my dreams with regard to work and I want to be able to write again, not just poetry but other things. The future could be a long time, there is much to do.