I had been to London to present some work that I had been involved in. It had been a long day and that evening as the train stopped at Leeds my phone rang. I was stepping onto the platform and looked at the screen; ‘Dad’. I wonder what he wants.
“Alistair has died, he’s taken his own life”.
My brother, Alistair, lived in London. It was his birthday that day, 43. After I had finished my presentation, I toyed with the idea of giving him a surprise visit, seeing as it was his birthday. I didn’t and choose to go home. Little did I know then that in the depths of that night I’d be back in London, only this time with my dad.
Alistair had suffered with depression for many years, to the extent he’d been hospitalised for treatment on one occasion. With the help of medication and his perseverance he seemed to be managing it well. You can only manage it; it doesn’t leave you.
The phone call with my dad was short but the news floored me. I agreed to pick my dad up from North Lincolnshire and then to drive to London. By the time we had got to Alistair’s house the police and ambulance service had gone. There stood my brothers partner and a friend. Alistair had left a letter for his partner and also for my dad. I remember one of the sentences to this day. He described depression as walking over a deep dark canyon on a tightrope. To get to the end and feel secure, only to turn around and have to do it all again. He said he just couldn’t do it anymore.
We stayed in London for a few days trying to make sense of it but essentially just in grief. A grief exacerbated by identifying his body, a funeral later and much later the corners inquest. Three months after Alistair’s death, his partner also died by suicide in exactly the same way. When I got the call, again from my dad about this and by strange coincidence, I was also due to be in London the following day for work.
I went on the train and made my way to a now empty house. I had agreed to wait there and meet my brothers’ partners family. I sat in the front room of a silent house. I remember staring at a Christmas Cactus on the table and as I gazed at it for what seemed hours, the last flower dropped off. I somehow didn’t feel alone in that room. There are many things form that time that remain utterly vivid to me in what I did and how I felt.
My message to anyone that has had a similar experience or living with depression or someone with depression is this;
- If you think about someone and wonder how they are, don’t just wonder, speak to them, or go and see them. I still carry the tube ticket form that day in my wallet as a reminder.
- We say, ‘it’s good to talk’, which heavily relies on the person who isn’t feeling good to open up. It more important to listen, not just when someone says something but to be open, to be receptive, to have a relationship with friends or family whereby exploring someone’s emotions isn’t unusual. Men especially.
- Grief hits people hard. My dad has never been the same person. I cried for weeks. But grief and blaming yourself is particularly toxic. I could have seen my brother that day and intervened. Would destiny be permanently changed; probably not so why blame yourself.
- Lastly, whenever I have mentioned this before, people say how they have had similar experiences. This is common. We shouldn’t be afraid of sharing and offering support, ever.
As a footnote, whilst not having an older brother anymore is sad. My memories of us as kids are happy ones, and it’s these that I cherish.