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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).