Is This Real Life?

Lucy

10th January 2015

Today, we will finally able to see my brother’s body.  Since the moment news broke of Peter’s death all I have wanted is to see him, it has felt like torture that he has been on his own for weeks and weeks in the morgue.  I probably sound crazy – but I wonder if he was lying there wondering why his family hadn’t visited.  Yes, I do feel like I am losing my mind.  The funeral directors have warned us that seeing Peter will be extremely upsetting, they say we should think carefully about it and that they have done their best to make him look peaceful.  I travel in a taxi with my Mum and Aunts, from Redditch to the undertakers in Birmingham.  When we get in the taxi, the driver asks if we are going to a party; how do you even begin to answer that?  I think the penny drops as he inputs the address into his sat nav; we stay mostly silent on the journey – small talk is exhausting.

We meet my Dad and Robert outside the undertakers.  Mum and Dad go into the room first, the rest of us can hear them crying, my Mum is saying a prayer.  Mum comes out to get Robert and me.  I stand on the edge of the room – I can see the coffin and I can see Peter and I am so frightened to look at him, and to take in just what has happened to him.  My whole body is shaking.  Robert and I go in, and stand between our Mum and Dad, this is the last time we will ever be together.  Our Aunties come in the room, and everyone cries and cries.  My Auntie Pat helps me to hold Peter’s hand.  We put his Christmas presents and cards, letters and photographs in the coffin; we put a teddy bear with him which has the words ‘one in a million’.  Peter has been wrapped in a shroud, we can see his face, his right hand and the top of his shirt collar only; the rest of him is too damaged for us to see.  I can’t bear to think about it.  Leaving that room, leaving him there, feels so unnatural, I don’t want this to be the last time I ever see him.  Why did this have to happen?

15th January 2015

I am sitting in the back of a funeral car; I am in the back-middle seat and have a clear view through the windscreen, to the hearse which is ahead of us.  I can see the coffin which contains Peter’s body, and the flowers and other tokens which have been put in the car to travel with him.  I feel like this image is being burnt into my brain; I will remember it forever.  My Dad and my brother Robert are in the funeral car too, as is Peter’s girlfriend and her parents.  I have so many shared memories and experiences with the people in this car; this is not a moment we ever imagined we would be sharing.

I feel like I am not properly here; as though I am floating somewhere outside of my body and looking down on events.  I feel crazy.  It is like I am watching the final scene to an episode of Eastenders and at any minute the music will start, and the credits roll; and I can change the channel and watch something more enjoyable.  The trouble is this is real; today is my brother’s funeral.  It just will not sink in.  Even as I stare at the hearse ahead of us, it just will not sink in.  Robert is shedding some tears, I feel like I should cry too, but I am so numb, it is like I cannot feel anything.  That Peter is gone forever, is a reality I am nowhere near ready to deal with – I just have to get through today, our family and friends just have to get through today.  Everything is one day at a time right now, that is all we can cope with.  Those that tell us we will heal once the funeral is done, have no idea what we are living through, or that we know that this is just the beginning – there will be a court case to come.

As the car turns into the cemetery, we become aware that there are loads of people; we expected a big turnout – but the car park is full, and cars are parked all around the crematorium.  I see my Mum and Aunts waiting for us to arrive, and I see those of my brother’s friends that have been chosen to be pallbearers listening to the funeral director as he tells them how to lift the coffin.  Everything is totally surreal and weird.  My brother’s girlfriend is distraught, and I have no idea how to comfort her; we follow the coffin into the chapel and there are so many people standing and watching.  I feel sick.  I see my friends Adam, Rosie, Amrit and James; they all grew up knowing Peter, our friends always mixed with each other, they don’t know what to say to our family, but they are here with us, and that means everything.

My Dad speaks first – he talks about Peter’s childhood.  He talks about the difficulties he overcame in life and how he grew up to be determined and hard-working.  I’m watching my Dad give this eulogy knowing that it is one of the most painful moments of his life and there is no way I can make it feel any better for him.  I speak next – I am so nervous, I hate speaking to groups and usually avoid it at any cost, but I have been determined to do this.  I have written a poem for Peter, I get through it by blanking out the fact that he is lying in his coffin, just behind me.  In my head, I imagine that I am saying the words directly to him.  Peter’s best friend speaks next and recalls the tales of them living together in Erdington; there were 4 lads sharing a house and they had the best time, these are memories that can never be stolen.

The rest of the day seems to pass in a blur, when we arrive at the wake the number of people is again overwhelming – but a complete testament to Peter and the fun-loving life which he led.  A group of his friends stand up and sing ‘On The Wings Of Love’ which Peter loved, and I feel sure at any moment he is going to appear, it is so strange seeing them all stood there without Peter in the centre.  A group us take taxis into town and we go the Trocadero.  Again, I expect Peter to be standing there, this is his haunt and it is wrong to be here without him.  I suppose you could say we are partying now; someone buys shots and we even end up in Reflex.  I don’t think any of us have accepted Peter has gone, I am looking at the door willing him to turn up.  This is what he loves – everyone together, having a fun time – surely, he will show up in a minute?

I get home somewhere around 2am, and when I shut the front door the reality that we will never be seeing Peter again tries to creep into my brain; but despite seeing his body and despite being at his funeral, I just cannot believe it.  I have no idea how to begin facing up to the facts that my brother has been taken, and he cannot be brought back.  I do not know how we will all carry on when we hurt so much.

To our Dear Big Brother, you were a blessing,

And I hope that in heaven, from the place that you are resting,

You can feel all the love that you are being sent,

And know that we will never forget all that you meant.

To our Dear Big Brother, your time was much too small,

And we never could have seen what was to befall,

We never could have known that this would be the year,

That with your friends you’d share your very final beer.

Dear Big Brother, you did more than you know,

You made us laugh so much Pete and set the room aglow,

You kept us all so safe, and tucked us under your wing,

And taught us to pay homage when we heard Neil Diamond sing.

You taught us many lessons Pete, important knowledge and facts,

Like when to win and when to place, and how the horses run around the tracks.

You taught us to dress smart and add a little glamour,

And introduced me to your mate, named Tequila Slammer.

You taught us to graft hard, and always tried your best,

You taught us to stand up and tackle every test.

You stood for what you believed in, and made your opinions known,

And never were afraid to bring an honest tone.

You said it how you saw it, and sometimes made us gasp,

But we always knew the real you, you never wore a mask.

You taught us that a family is about so much more than blood –

But who you would look out for, through the bad times and good.

You were a Price, a Harrison and a Weaver,

And with you around our lives were so much easier.

 

I never will forget Pete, when I was oh so low,

And wondered where it was my life was going to go,

You took me for a walk and said some words so kind,

Words that I can still hear loud and clear in my mind –

“Dear Little Sister, why didn’t you come to me?”

“Dear Little Sister, why don’t you see what I can see?”

“Little Sister know, I’m always here for you –

And though we might fall out sometimes I’ll always get you through.”

“I know I mess around and act the clown,

But I can be sincere –

And anytime you need it

You have my listening ear.”

Well I never did tell you Pete just what that walk home did,

Or how very much I idolised you when I was just a kid.

Elaine

Spring used to be my favourite time of year.  I loved it, the winter would be slowly disappearing, and you knew that spring was coming.  The mornings got lighter, and then the daffodils.  Oh, the beautiful daffodils that I so loved, their bright yellow colours.  This spring of 2015, I disliked it more than anything.  I could not look at those flowers that I once loved.  The seasons were changing but the pain in my heart remained.  It was heavy and it hurt so badly.  Life was moving on, but I was not.  My life had felt that it had stopped; but everything was still continuing and changing.  Nothing changed the pain that I felt it was still so raw, so real.  It felt as though this had happened just yesterday.  I can still her voice so clear, our conversations feel like it was yesterday.  I miss our conversations – we were always talking and laughing, messing about, I would try on her clothes (she had the best style).  Now it feels like silence, everything has gone quiet.  I don’t hear laughter anymore; not mine at least.  It just feels so quiet.  How could this have happened and why does time just keep rolling by.

Spring was no longer my favourite time.  I just couldn’t seem to truly enjoy anything.  I would smile with my friends but, I felt that I was just not being real I was being fake but I couldn’t stop it.  I wondered if they noticed.  My lips smiled but my eyes were always ready to spill tears in secret.  I didn’t think they could cope with my constant sadness.  I could barely cope with my sadness.  It was overwhelming and all-consuming at least it felt that way.

Life felt so strange since the funeral; the emptiness shouted louder than anything.  Grief can be a lonely road.  Despite the fact you have family grieving you all grieve differently because it’s so personal to you.

How were we meant to “just get on with life” with Gina not being here.  How could I just go back to normal when in fact my normal was lost.  I desired my old life back, my old silly problems.  I missed being carefree and planning the future.  Now my sister was missing, she was gone, now I was meant to navigate life without her.  I don’t know how to do this.  I don’t know this path and neither do I want to walk this way, but I have no choice.  I have to keep going if not for my sake then at least in Gina’s memory; she would say life is for living and in the next breath tell me to stop procrastinating.  I was always putting things off, but not Gina she would decide that she was going to do something, and she would have it done.  I miss her so much.  I keep expecting that I’m going to wake up from this nightmare, that it was all a bad dream and she’ll just be there.  I know this isn’t a dream, this is reality, an awful, cold, painful, reality.

It’s hard to find the joy in each day when you’re hurt and your pain cuts so deep.  I wish this agony would leave me.

For anyone who has experienced bereavement through road death and may need support, please see www.roadpeace.org (the national charity for road crash victims).

Why Are We Waiting? We Are Suffocating.

Lucy

1st January 2015

It is New Year’s Day 2015 – I don’t want anyone to wish me a Happy New Year, this is the most horrendous New Year I could have ever imagined.  My brother was killed over a month ago – and we have not been able to have his funeral, we have not been able to move him to a chapel of rest, we have not been able to have him washed and dressed in the clothes that have been picked out for him, we have not been able to see him, sit with him, or hold his hand.  My brother’s life has been stolen from him, and now his peace is being stolen too – his right to be laid to rest and the rights of his family and friends to say goodbye are being stolen.  We are being prevented from giving my brother dignity in death.

Why?

The answer is because of the defendant’s right to consider a second post mortem.

Absolutely horrified, utterly dumbstruck, completely tormented – actually, I don’t think that the words exist in the dictionary for how I feel right now.  The man that is responsible for ending my brother’s life is entitled to consider whether he would like a second post mortem carried out, specifically for the purpose of the defence.  Even worse, he is allowed at least 28 days to consider this, maybe longer.  We cannot get our heads around this, though the police try their best to explain it – a second post mortem would look for something like an underlying heart condition, any undiagnosed disease – anything by which the defence could argue that it was not the speed at which Peter was hit, that killed him.

Over the past four weeks I have thought an awful lot about the driver of the car which hit Peter, I have thought about his girlfriend who was in the car with him, I have thought about their families – I have felt sorry for them.  I HAVE FELT SORRY FOR THEM.  Yet, as each day passes my feelings change – this driver, whoever he is, must know that Peter will have a grieving family, grieving friends, he must know that Peter’s family will want to hold his funeral, he must know that Peter’s family have spent Christmas Day with Peter in a morgue – yet, he cares only for himself.  I have imagined so many times what I would do if I was to run someone over, I really don’t believe I would consider asking for a second post mortem, I don’t believe that anybody with an ounce of decency would do this.  A first post mortem has been performed, this is an invasive forensic post mortem, it leaves no stone unturned – why on earth would anyone think there was justification to do this all over again?  The police tell us that if the defence are prevented from considering a second post mortem the case could be thrown out of court – if we want justice, we must wait for the defence to make up their mind.

Let me tell you something, we haven’t even thought about justice yet, it is too much to take in – all we want is to lay Peter to rest.  As I write this I know how angry I sound, but I won’t apologise for it, because I am angry, my insides are raging.  I think about people you see on the news, who speak about how they have forgiven the person that killed their loved one, I admire this, but I cannot do this.  How can I ever do this, when we cannot even give my brother a funeral?

Somewhere, deep inside the darkest recesses of my mind I am aware that this situation is having a terrible effect on me.  I have been getting up every morning, going to work, getting through the day – but it is all wrong.  Yes, I am grieving – but this is not like grief I have known before, this is not like the straightforward sadness I felt when my Grandparents passed.  I have lost hope.  I have lost my belief that the world is a good place.  Everything is numb.  On Christmas morning I went to church – I didn’t know what else to do, there is no guide for ‘what to do on Christmas morning when your brother is in a morgue’.  I found no solace, if there is a God I do not like him very much – I cannot understand how any loving God would allow this to happen to my brother, I cannot understand why someone who lived a good life, and was killed through no fault of his own, can be treated like he counted for nothing.  When our family sat down to dinner on Christmas Day we raised a glass to Peter – there was dinner, there were presents, and there were tears in the eyes of every single person at that table – because there was no Christmas spirit, just a bunch of broken people trying to comprehend how life could be so cruel.

There are so many thoughts going around my head that I cannot rest.  I wonder if my brother knew how much I loved him.  I wonder if he suffered.  I wonder if he is watching us from somewhere in the sky, angry with us – because we cannot stop him being treated with such disrespect.  I feel that I have not been a good enough sister, I feel that I am not fighting hard enough – but what can you do when the authorities tell you the law is the law.  I feel that I have let Peter down.  I think about the people that are trying so hard to be there for me, but I cannot let them in.  I think about the people who are so terrified by a grieving person that they have turned and walked in the opposite direction when they have seen me – I cannot say I blame them. I don’t know who I can tell this to – I don’t want to talk to my family as they are all coping with their own grief, I don’t want to talk my friends or colleagues because I am so ashamed of how I feel – I just keep it all inside, stay silent.

As darkness descends on the first night of the New Year I feel no optimism or excitement for what the next 12 months might bring, I just lay on my bed, still unable to turn my light off, holding a picture of my brother, and I cry the whole night through.

Cut You to Pieces
They have stolen you, and now they steal your peace –
as it becomes clear that they will not release
your body.
Such torture to think that you are cold and alone,
when all we want is to bring you home.
It is like it is not enough, that you had to die,
but now they are blocking our chance to say goodbye,
and nobody can tell us why.

They talk to us, about the defendant’s right to request –
that once more they might cut open your chest
for examination.
It is normal procedure, standard, routine,
but to those who loved you it feels obscene.
It is like it is not enough, that your life was cut short,
but now your family find themselves caught,
in a situation where you are treated like nought.

They say it could take anything up to 28 days –
but how can it be right that it is the victim who pays
for the crime.
Because you lay there and lose your dignity,
and all we can do is pray to God or the Holy Trinity.
It is like it is not enough, that you were a person deserving of respect,
now you are just evidence for them to inspect,
and this second post mortem is having a terrible effect.

And now they say they understand the anguish and the pain –
yet they seem so shocked that we cannot refrain
from anger.
So, with each passing day we remember your face,
the length of time it took to leave you safely in your resting place.
But it is like, it is not enough that you had to die,
and we spent weeks waiting to say goodbye,
even three years on, we cannot understand why.

Elaine

I couldn’t wait for the Christmas period and New Year’s Eve with all its hopes, dreams and new resolutions to be over.  I wanted to package it away and forget it ever was.  The thought of a New Year filled me with anxiety.  I couldn’t imagine or bear the idea of going through a year without Gina.  I’ve never known life without her.  Each time such a thought passes my mind it’s as if my breath just disappears from me.  I can’t breathe, and I feel afraid.  Afraid of life without her, this is much too unbearable.

Our police liaison officer had told us before Christmas that a post mortem would be done on Gina on January 3rd, I knew we had to start planning the funeral as it wouldn’t be long before we got her back from the hospital.  We started making phone calls to funeral directors.  The next day my brother-in-law and I had an appointment, we both sat there in shock in their office trying to explain why we were there.  Tears just rolling down our cheeks.  Yet, despite the words leaving my mouth, I still couldn’t believe it that this was real, this is our life now.  I don’t like this path that we are  walking with all its uncertainties.  I can’t think any further than hour by hour.

The funeral director gave us a booklet to look at with different coffins.  In my head I’m thinking, “this isn’t right this just isn’t right”, but I don’t tell them what I’m really thinking and that I want to scream.  We start planning when we think the funeral will take place and what we need to do – church, flowers, songs, tributes.  Trying to think of the things that Gina would want.

A few days have gone by and we haven’t heard when we will get Gina back from the hospital.  Our police liaison officer tells us that the driver, the guy whom the police had charged, his solicitor was requesting a second post mortem.  That moment my grief changed – I spiralled into a deeper form of shock – is that even possible?  It was then. A second post mortem!!  Why would she need to have a second post mortem?  Our liaison officer told us that a defendant has the right to do this, to have their own post mortem.  We didn’t even have the results from the first, we didn’t even know if she died from the crash or the fire.  Yet, they want another post mortem, they want to subject my sister to this again.  This is when the anger began in me, I felt like they were now treating Gina as the criminal.  He was the one who killed her, and now suddenly he could make choices over her body.  The pain inside of me just seemed to grow even more.  How could they do this to her?  Why are the police allowing this?

Don’t they understand that we have lost her, don’t they understand the agony that we are feeling right now?  How can this be their, right she’s my sister?!  I started to search the internet trying to find an email or an address for this guy’s solicitor.  I know it was crazy at the time I didn’t know who I was looking for, but I was desperate to stop this.  I was going to write to them tell them not to do this, it was wrong.  We want to lay her body to rest.  She needs to be treated with dignity, not laying in a mortuary.  The liaison officer told me not to do this, she said if I did it we could end up losing the case if they don’t have their own post mortem.  I couldn’t understand this it hurt so much.  I stopped, I felt like my hands were tied or I was gagged from speaking up or standing up for the dignity of my sister.  She would have done the same for me, for any of my sisters or my brother, she would have done the same and more.

In the days that followed the defence went ahead and planned the second post mortem.  I felt powerless to do anything.  I didn’t want the case to be lost but I knew this was wrong.  I never knew that this was a practice that happened.  I felt like this so-called justice system just failed us. Why was the  defendant  allowed more rights than us and why did his rights take precedence over our pain and loss.

To add more salt to our open wounds they even cancelled and rescheduled the date whilst they scrambled to find the finances to do it.  It was just under two months before we got Gina back and could have her funeral.  Sleepless nights and nightmares of what they did all because they were allowed this ‘right’.  It didn’t make sense to me, but I just didn’t have the energy or the fight in me to stop it.

I can’t begin to express how this delay and the defendant’s rights crushed me even further than I thought was possible.  For weeks we didn’t know when we could have the funeral.  Family and friends would ask “When is the funeral”?  I didn’t have an answer, I didn’t understand this myself.

Then finally we had the call that Gina was at the funeral home.  We planned to go there just to be in the room with her again.  I can still hear the groans and anguished tears of my mother as she stood in the room with her child for the last time; just the two of them. I hear the muffled cries.  A few days later we said goodbye to Gina’s physical body and laid her to rest.

For anyone who has experienced bereavement through road death and may need support, please see http://www.roadpeace.org (the national charity for road crash victims).

 

 

The First Week – The Dark Cloud Descends.

Lucy

Monday

It is Monday evening, 1st December, my brother died on Saturday. My brother was killed two days ago. My brother isn’t alive anymore.  Nope.  It is not going in.

I have an advent calendar, I haven’t opened it.  In all honesty, I just want to throw it in the bin.  Along with Christmas.  Yep…let’s put Christmas in the bin.

We know very little.  Two people are being questioned in connection with Peter’s death.  There may have been a speeding issue.  It happened on the Hagley Road West.  My phone has been going mad with notifications, people messaging to say how sorry they are.  I look on Facebook and see that someone has shared what is on the front of the Birmingham Mail:

‘Tributes to Oldbury Hit and Run Crash Victim.’
‘Man identified as Pete was said to have been taken too soon in Hagley Road West Crash’.

This is too much.  You read these stories all the time, but now my family and friends are the characters in the story.  I mean, are you kidding me?  We are not allowed to know the names of those who are being questioned, but journalists can go and get my brother’s name off the flowers that have been left at the scene.  I read what has been written in the Mail and then glance at my brother’s Christmas presents which are stacked up at the bottom of my bed…it is unbearable.

My other brother calls me, he has learning difficulties and he has asked a few times if we can go and visit Peter in the hospital.  No, we can’t, he didn’t make it to the hospital, he is dead.  Robert’s sobs are too much…again, this is unbearable.  Rob tells me he has thrown his Christmas tree out of the window at his home, I think that sums up how we all feel.

I pick up a pen and I write a poem about Peter.  I am scared that if I do not get things down on paper, right this instant, someone might steal my memories, and they are all that is left.

Tuesday

I am at my Dad and Mary’s house; Peter’s partner is here – the plan is to begin discussing the funeral.  My Dad went to Sandwell Hospital yesterday to formally identify Peter through a glass screen…we know for sure the police really have got the right family now, I suppose I had hoped that there had been some terrible mix up.  Dad has said very little about the identification, I cannot imagine how it must feel to have to identify your son. The police have informed us a post mortem has been performed and we figure at some point in the next few days Peter’s body will be released to us, though they haven’t said this.  Hang on…here it comes again…the wave of nausea…it hasn’t stopped since I got the news.  Deep breath, let me steady myself.  I can’t understand how my fit and healthy 39-year-old brother, who was very much a part of my life until a few days ago, is now dissected and alone in a mortuary.  I cannot think of my brother as a body, empty of his soul and his being.  It is no wonder each time I let myself feel anything I want to wretch…better just to stay numb.

We sit down in the lounge and we talk.  We talk about pallbearers.  Peter has so many friends to choose from.  We talk about funeral cars.  We talk about who will speak at the funeral.  I want to read the poem I have written, it is the last chance I will ever have to do something for my brother.  We all talk very slowly, it is like every word we must speak hurts.  Afterwards we eat pizza and try to be normal, we try to ignore this awful blanket of grief which we are all swathed in, but the food hits my stomach and I want to heave.

I can see Christmas lights twinkling through the window of the house opposite.  I feel empty.  I feel cold.  I feel nothing.

Wednesday

I have decided I am going to pop into work, the ladies have sent me some beautiful flowers and I want to say thank you.  At the same time, I am full of anxiety about facing everyone, and I just want to get it over with.  I left the office last Friday completely normal and looking forward to the weekend, but now I am that girl whose brother was ran over.  I know that people mean well, and that everyone is stunned, but I know that my family are being talked about and it just feels so weird.  I feel exposed and sick…I feel sick again.

One of my friends comes with me and we get in my car.  As I am driving I think about my brother and then BOOM it flashes before my eyes, I see a vision of him being thrown off a car bonnet.  What the hell was that?  I don’t know but I block it out and I keep driving, I don’t want to imagine that, and I don’t know why my brain has just done that to me.

When I get to work, I nearly turn around and go back home again without seeing anyone, my heart is thudding rather than beating.  A few weeks ago, Peter dropped something off to me at work, and I can see him so clearly, standing in the car park, waiting for me to come down.  The memory is good.  Yes, he was real.  Yes, he was here.  It makes me feel close to him and I want to cling to it.

I go into work and everyone is so kind, lots of cuddles and sympathetic faces but nobody really knows what to say.  I have got into the habit of telling people who ask me how I am that I am fine – it is the most stupid, false and factually incorrect answer – but it is the easiest thing to say.  My manager tells me a story about coming to work with two different shoes on, and I really appreciate that she talks to me like normal, and not like she is terrified of how I might be.  I just want to be normal.

Thursday

Growing up, my brother’s childhood best friend was named Paul.  I remember walking in the middle of the two of them to go to the shops or play football on the Common.  I was so little compared to them, and they always looked after me – even though it must have been annoying to have a little sister trailing after you.  When the boys were 18, Paul was killed in a car crash.  I was only 6, but I remember the funeral, and I remember my brother giving a eulogy.  Perhaps this is why I want to speak at Peter’s funeral, if he was brave enough to do this for his best friend, I want to be brave enough to do it for him.

I am on the train, I am going to visit Paul’s Mum.  Understandably, she is so upset with what has happened, it is like lightening has broken the rules and struck twice.  I need to see her and to be around people who understand that this kind of loss is different to someone ‘passing away’ – it is violent and frightening, there is no peace.

I am sleeping very little.  When I do close my eyes, I see this vision again – of my brother being thrown off a car bonnet.  Or my brother going under car wheels.  I don’t know where this is coming from, I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it, and I know very few facts – but my brain is constantly imagining it.  I cannot turn my bedroom light off at all.  I have become like a little girl frightened of the dark, frightened of the monsters in the night.

Friday

I have had no sleep.  I was awake the whole night thinking about the last time I saw my brother in person.  It was a Sunday morning, at Dad’s house.  I had been out the night before and had a little hangover.  We sat on the sofa and just talked about all kinds of rubbish.  Dad had baked some mini Victoria Sponges and Pete was shovelling them in.  We watched Gogglebox and we talked about his 40th birthday which was a few months away.  There was nothing profound, nothing final – and as he gave me a hug I had no clue I would never see my brother again.  It isn’t right – aren’t you supposed to be able to say goodbye properly and tell someone everything they have meant to you before they die?  He has been taken with no warning and now I can never tell him how much I loved him.  How much I love him still.  I want to go back to that day – I want to go back and talk about important things and hug him tighter.  I wish I knew my time with my brother was running out.  I thought he would always be there.

I am desperate to go and see his body, most of the family are.  We need to see him to say goodbye and to take it in, but his body has still not been released.  We are not sure what the delay is, it seems strange.

I am going to go back to work today – I have only had 4 days off, but I don’t know what to do with myself and I will go insane stuck in the four walls of my bedroom.  I want to be around people, then I want to be alone.  I want to scream, but I can’t let anything out.  I want to process what is going on, but I want to deny that this has happened.  I want to be normal, I cannot accept life will not be normal again.  I want to see my brother.  I want to see my brother.  I WANT TO SEE MY BROTHER.

I get into work and get to my desk as quickly as I can.  I don’t really want to look at anyone, and there is no more news to report.  We are waiting for the funeral, we hope it will be soon, but we are not sure.  I bury my head in emails.  I have never felt so alone.

Saturday

I don’t know what I have done today, I really cannot remember.  Everything I am doing is on autopilot, and I am vacant.  Mostly, I just sit and stare into nothing.  When 9pm comes I know I light a candle, I light a candle and think that one week ago paramedics were fighting to save Peter’s life.  Why did he have to die?  Why?

Sunday

My family are hopeful Peter’s funeral will take place before Christmas.  It seems right we should be able to put him properly to rest before Christmas Day, and there are a few weeks yet, so we see no reason why this won’t happen.  I go to town with my Mum and Aunties as there is some panic about having smart clothes for the funeral.

I hate this day.  I truly hate it.  We wonder around a shopping centre with Christmas songs playing and decorations everywhere, to look for outfits, for a funeral that should not be happening.  I feel sick, I feel numb, I am interested in nothing and I just want to be alone.  Everything feels like pressure, and my insides cannot cope.  I am fine though, that is what I say, I am just fine.

Elaine

Saturday and Sunday came; my parents’ house filled with family and friends, the neighbours, people from the church.  Everyone talking, asking questions that we didn’t have answers to.  We didn’t know how it happened, who did it, why it happened, what was next.  The phone never stopped ringing and texts coming in.  Endless tears followed by shock.  My brother in-law shows us the newspapers, where the story is written and I can see pictures of the damage to the guy’s car, but Gina’s car is covered by a blue police covering.  All I keep thinking is Gina is in there behind that cover on her own.  I cannot bear thinking that she’s there alone.

On the Monday, following that awful Friday, me, my sisters and brother in-law drove to the Magistrates’ Court.  The police had told us that they had the guy who did this, and that there would a hearing.  We knew that the guy who had crashed into Gina had ran off.  I thought maybe this guy was scared and that’s why he ran off, and he wasn’t thinking.

We arrive in the court building; a grey and horrible place.  The place is brimming with people all waiting around for court cases.  I keep thinking to myself we shouldn’t be here, why are we here?

We then met our Police Family Liaison Officer (Tracy).  When there’s been a fatality and there is a criminal investigation, all families get assigned a liaison officer to inform them of the procedures and plans.  She ushered us into a tiny, cramped, beige room.  I don’t know why, but had I brought a notebook with me, and was writing down everything that she said.  I guess I knew that there was going to be a lot to take in.  Right from the start, I think I was running on adrenaline to survive.  Adrenaline won’t last forever, and it didn’t.

Tracy told us that today would be the hearing that would decide if he would be given bail.  It felt so surreal sitting there.  All the time I’m expecting to see Gina walk in –  because she would be there with us.  Whenever we got together as a family Gina would be there; in fact she would be the spokesperson or the organiser for us all.  She was like a born leader and wasn’t afraid of any challenge.  I always tried to emulate her, she just seemed to be good at so much, but I guess big sisters are like that.  All my other sisters and my brother would go to Gina because she always gave great advice.  She’s not here.  She’s not in the room with us, but we are talking about her.  It really feels
so wrong.  That same nausea when I heard the news is there right in the pit of stomach.
Tracy told us that we needed to make a statement to the press to stop them from bothering us.  I get my notebook out again and we start to put a statement together about Gina and how devastated we are and we wrote:

“Gina was a wonderful wife, sister, daughter and friend.  She was an inspiration to all who knew her.  She loved life and was full of energy.  She was gifted and talented.  No words can ever express the pain and loss that we feel at this difficult and traumatic time.”

How horrible it is that we have sum up my sister in a few words.

Tracy said to us that sometimes it can take up to 18 months for the case to be heard in the Crown Court.  I wonder how we can survive 18 months without Gina.  I can’t imagine it, I don’t want to.

A little while later members of the police come back into our room and they say they need a mouth swab from one of us sisters to help identify Gina; they said they will also use dental records.  I’m convinced now they will find out that it’s not Gina and this has been a big mistake.  My sister Monica gives the swab.

A few hours later we are called into the court room and we are seated at the back.  My heart is pounding, who is this person who ran off and left my sister to die.  They brought him in the room.  He’s dressed in grey, scruffy jogging gear.  He’s 27.  They seat him behind a glass panel and he stands only to say his name.  I want him to look at us and see our pain but doesn’t, he never once looks up at us.  Then the story starts to slowly unfold.  Yes, he ran off back to his girlfriend’s house to change his clothes and then went to the train station and there he was arrested trying to leave.  He never once phoned for an ambulance or called out to any of the houses for help.  He just RAN.

He wasn’t given bail.  We had another date for a further court hearing when he would make his plea.

We later found out in the Crown Court trial that he was already banned from driving (even though he never actually had taken a driving test) and had not long come out of prison.  When he killed Gina, he was still on probation.  He had driven onto her side of the road at 70mph in a 30mph zone and he never braked, he sped up.  When he crashed into her he got out of his car and went over to look inside her window and then he ran off.

We all travelled home that day in disbelief.  The days that followed felt as though I was trudging through fog and mist and greyness and then Christmas day came on the Thursday, which was the worst of all.  I desperately wanted Christmas to be over and all the Christmas cheer to be gone with it.  A few weeks before I had bought Gina’s present –  it was a sparkly silver bath set.  I was excited about it –  “do you want me to tell you what it is” I asked.  “No”, she said, “let it be a surprise.”  I still have the box, unopened.  How I wish she could have it, it’s nothing special, but I just wish.

Our plans as family were that we would all be going over to Gina’s and my brother in law’s house on Boxing Day to celebrate.  My sisters and their children would travel down from the North, I was going to make the pudding.  It would have been their first Christmas in their new home – but it didn’t happen.

Here we sat on Christmas Day, with my parents (two of my sisters had gone back home) feeling bewildered and confused.  There was dinner on the plate, though I don’t really recall anyone eating.

Constantly the questions swirling in my head – did she die from the crash or the fire?  We wouldn’t know until we got the post mortem result, which should be just after the New Year.  I couldn’t bear the idea that she was alive in the fire and each time the question came the pain grew in my stomach and the dark cloud just seem to loom ready to descend and cover me, cover us.  Why didn’t that guy try to help her?  If he helped she might not have been left in a burning car, why didn’t anyone get her out?  Then my mind would flip and I would think maybe she is alive somewhere and they’ve got the wrong person, maybe she’s in a hospital somewhere, maybe I should phone around different hospitals.  Maybe this is all a bad dream, a nightmare in fact.  I’ve never felt this kind despair before.  Where nothing makes it better, the only thing that could would be to have her back and be sitting next to her and talking and laughing; but she’s not here.

On the Saturday after Boxing Day we came together again as a family, we all met at my others sister’s house.  My brother in law’s family came, only this time we sat around discussing funeral arrangements and what we thought Gina would want.  Different ideas.  Talking about the flowers and the cars.  My Mum is quiet, I can see the deep pain edged in her face.  She is full of sorrow, she’s hardly eaten anything in the last week, just drank tea.  Her eyes are red and sore.

My brother in law looks so lost, he and Gina were always together.  You didn’t see one without the other.  The last time I met up with her she was telling me how happy she was.  They had a great marriage.

We all continued our conversation of the funeral plans, everyone trying to be strong and not break down.  We didn’t know when it was going to be, but we imagined the funeral would be very soon.  We knew Gina wouldn’t have wanted us to wear black, but bright colours, that represented how she was and how she saw life.  She always said ‘life is for living’.  She was always about making the most of life and giving to others, she was so generous and never thought twice about helping someone.  She had started a business several years prior, making and designing wedding and engagement rings, and I always used to say to her you’ll never make any money because your always giving people discounts when they tell you their story.  She would just laugh.

The Viewing

It has been so long since I saw her and spoke to her – we spoke every week and usually early in the morning.

Tracy, the liaison officer, said that we could go to the mortuary at the hospital to view her.  I’m afraid, and scared, I’m not sure what I will see, but I need to be near her.  I know she will be covered up, but I’m scared of seeing her crushed body.  My sister Monica wanted to go as well, but I was afraid that if she saw Gina, the vision may remain with her.  I tried to encourage her not to and she decided to go home.  I thought I could handle it, I didn’t realise that I would be left with that memory.

Me and my brother in law went to the hospital mortuary, the liaison officer was there with us, and stood outside the room as we went in.  Gina was lying on her side, covered by a green blanket, on a trolley.  We weren’t allowed to go close, we weren’t allowed to touch her, that’s why the officer was there.  I can’t express the horror of being faced with her body, just there.  The dawning that this was real, yes – a nightmare, but this was real.  My beloved sister was dead.  How can this be?  NOOO, I WANT TO SCREAM.  I’m trying to hold it together.  I want to hug her, but we are not allowed to touch her, I want to support my brother in law, and be there for him.  He is sitting on the floor, crying, faced with the reality that she has gone.  I hear him crying for her.

That was the day the clouds descended, and it felt as though the darkness had arrived and I was standing in it.

For anyone who has experienced bereavement through road death and may need support, please see http://www.roadpeace.org (the national charity for road crash victims).

Life Changes In An Instant

A little over three years ago, the two of us were complete strangers, happily going about in our own reasonably carefree worlds, and probably failing to appreciate just how good life was. Little did we know that both of us were about to go through a shocking loss – which would ultimately collide our paths and set us on a mission to call for dignity for the deceased.  So, as we spend another evening immersed in letters and emails, getting our heads around medical and legal terminology and questioning why we are staring at our computer screens instead of settling down with a cup of tea and Corrie – it seems apt to go back to where it all began:

Lucy
It is 30th November, around 7:30am.  I am trying to wake up as I have so many jobs to do today, but I have had the worst night’s sleep I can remember.  I was up at 1am, and again at 3am – weirdly, my Mum was awake too – and we met on the landing in the middle of the night and exchanged a mutual feeling of anxiety.

I spent yesterday Christmas shopping in Birmingham with my Dad, I got a couple of presents for my oldest brother, Peter.  Dad has quite a few things planned the next few weeks, so when we said goodbye at the train station our parting words were that we would see each other a week or so before Christmas.  Peter and I have already bought our Dad’s present – Pete transferred me his share of the money a couple of days ago.  Christmas is such a happy but hectic time.

I really do need to get out of bed – I have so much to do today but I am seriously tired, I give in and decide I will shut my eyes for a little longer.  There is a faint sound of a door knocking, I think that this must be next door.  I snuggle under my covers.  I hear a door knock again, I am confused, it is too early for a visitor.  I sit up and decide I had better go and check – perhaps we have a delivery.  Would we get a delivery this early on a Sunday?  I can hear my Mum running herself a bath.  I pull back my bedcovers, and the house phone rings. I freeze for a second and then I run downstairs to answer the call.  Something feels wrong – our house phone hardly ever rings.  I have a relative that has been poorly – I think perhaps something has happened.  I pick up the phone.

“Lucy, can you answer the door please?”, it is my Dad’s voice.  I am stunned, not what I was expecting.  This is weird.  Why would my Dad be here so early in the morning, when I saw him just yesterday?  Instinctively, I panic.  I am a little frantic, searching for the keys to unlock the door, I’m still half asleep.

My Dad is grey, his whole colour is grey, I don’t know how else to explain it.  Something is badly wrong – Dad comes in and asks me to go and fetch my Mum.  I ask what has happened and Dad says he cannot go through it twice, he will tell me when Mum comes downstairs.  I hammer on the bathroom door and try to explain to my Mum, that my Dad is here, and that she needs to get out of the bath, right now.  My Mum looks at me like I have lost my mind.  I run back to the lounge, my stomach is churning.  I have another brother, who lives in full time care – I ask my Dad if something has happened to him.

“He is fine,” my Dad says.  I know that someone is not fine, I know this from my Dad’s demeanour – I have never seen him look like this.  I start wielding off the names of family members – but Dad replies that each one of them is fine.  Then it hits me, I feel like I have been punched in the stomach…

“Is Peter ok?” I ask.

“Dad, is Peter ok?” I ask again.

My Dad’s silence scares me, but Peter is so healthy and fit, surely nothing can be wrong with him.  I ask again, and still my Dad cannot answer.  I am afraid now, and it is like I know, I can just tell, I can see the pain in my Dad’s face.

“Dad, is Peter alive?  Dad, is Peter alive?  DAD, IS PETER ALIVE?”

Oh God, please God no.  I run up the stairs again.  My Mum is about to dry her hair.  I tell her to stop, that she must come right now, that I think something has happened to Peter. Mum follows me, it is all a blur.  My Dad sits on the sofa.

“It’s Peter, he’s been killed,” Dad’s voice breaks.

It feels like the world has stopped.  In a split second, it is like the whole world has stopped.  There is silence, but my insides are in chaos, I feel sick.  What?  How?  When?  Why?  Dad explains, the police came to his house shortly after midnight, Peter had been hit by a speeding driver, not far from his home.  All kinds of help had been scrambled, the air ambulance was on standby, but they couldn’t save him – he died on the roadside.  Dad decided not to come and tell us in the middle of the night – he wanted to let us sleep a bit before he broke the news.

My hilarious, loud-mouthed, invincible big brother has died surrounded by strangers on a roadside.

I cannot take this in – I bought his Christmas presents less than 24 hours ago.  There is some discussion – but I cannot really comprehend what is being said.  I go the bathroom and switch the shower on.  I let the water run for a bit, I take my mobile out of my dressing gown pocket and I call my oldest friend, Rose.  I tell her.  I put the phone down, I stand in the shower, the water splashes off my skin, but I can’t feel it, I am numb.  I throw on some clothes and I get in the car with my Dad.  I text a colleague and ask if she has my Manager’s number – how do you tell work you need time off because your brother has been killed?  I don’t know what to do.

This morning I was worrying about finishing Christmas shopping.  Now, there won’t be a Christmas.  Now, there will be a funeral.

And this, is just the beginning.

Elaine

On December 19th 2014, my sister died, in fact she was killed.

Life changed on that day it felt as if the bottom had fallen out of my world, and my family’s world.  We were never going to be the same from that day onwards.

The day started like any ordinary day.  It was a Friday, I was busy at work on a day shift.  I decided not to take my lunch or dinner break as I just wanted to get my work done and go home on time.  My phone was in my bag, I didn’t check it for the whole day.  It was 19:20pm, I finished work at 20.00pm.  One of the ladies at work came up to me.

I remember her words so clearly “Don’t be alarmed, but your Mum is on the phone.”

I repeated her sentence to her, questioning “my Mum on the phone?”

How strange, why would she be calling here, why?  I didn’t know she knew my work number.  I felt a little panic rising up in me.  I picked up the phone – distinctively my Mother’s voice was different, she sounded strange, not like my Mother.  She was talking very quickly, telling me I needed to come home, she wasn’t making sense to me at all.

“What’s happened Mum”, I kept asking her.  Finally, she says there’s been an accident. Initially, I think it’s my Dad and his diabetes, he’s really not been managing it well and I keep telling him he needs to check his sugars.  This is not the case.  It’s dawning on me something serious has happened, my Mum is quiet and I know it’s not my Dad.  I feel the tension and nausea rising in my stomach.

“With whom?” I ask.

“Your sister Georgina”, she replies.

My first thoughts are right I need to go to the hospital, where she is, I need to be there.  I ask my mum “Where is she, which hospital?”  She tells me she doesn’t know.  Thoughts are running through my head, how is she not with Gina, how does she not know where Gina is?

Mum keeps on saying “You need to come home, I don’t want to tell you this on the phone”.

Then I say the words I dread “Are you saying that she’s dead?”  She won’t answer, she just repeats you need to come home.  I tell her that I will call back.  I’m in a daze but I am acutely aware that there are a number staff standing around watching me, but I don’t see their faces.  I’m trying to work out what my Mother has said.  The anguish is growing. My colleague Sarah puts her arm around me and guides me to the office.  I’m telling her what my Mum has said and I’m feeling confused.  She goes and gets my bag I call my Mother again from the office phone and again she repeats you need to come home, I still don’t know what has happened, she wont say.  We finish the call and all I know is something bad has happened to Gina; I need to know where she is, I need to get there.  Sarah brings my bag into the room I check my phone – 10 missed calls from my sisters and my brother-in-law.

I call my sister’s husband and his first words are “You’ve heard, I’m sorry”.

I scream and shout “NO NO!! NOT MY SISTER”.

He then tells me there was a crash and her car exploded.  Tears are streaming down my face, I cant believe this, she can’t be dead.  Sarah wants to take me home but I insist that I’m going to be ok to drive, but I just need to go.  I’m driving home to my Mum’s and I keep thinking they are wrong, Gina isn’t dead, they’ve made a mistake.

I arrive at the house, my Mum’s Pastor from the church is there.  One look into my Mother’s eyes and I knew.

I collapsed in her arms and she held me but I could hear her groaning a deep, deep groan from her stomach.  That was the day life changed.  The physical pain that followed ripped through me and the life of my family.  Grief overwhelmed and stung my entire body.

There’s nothing that could ever take that pain away or make it better.