Fourteen years

Posted: 9 January 2012 in Uncategorized

Fourteen years. A decade plus four. Or to be more precise, fourteen years and eight or so hours since my brother died.

Despite me rewriting it nearly every year, I post something about Mike annually on this day with not a smidgen of guilt or concern.

Michael deserves a public remembrance from me every year.

9th January 1998. I’d gotten into work early and having dropped my bag at the office, was having a coffee across the road. About five-past eight, someone else who’d been in early came to get me; a call from Laura. Then a call to the hospital, the growing suspicion from the understandable reticence of the doctor to tell me anything over the phone… and then the knowledge – the horrible, horrible knowledge – that my brother had died.

Not a good morning.

Mike was 38 years old, nine years younger than I am now… And that’s a thing you never get used to – that you’re older than someone who was older than you. And that’s completely apart from the fact that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost the chance to see Phil grow up, and that Phil never got the chance to know Mike. Not properly, not as a growing child should get to know someone.

Where the hell has fourteen years gone? Well, I know the answer to that: I look at my son, and know the final family photo taken of Mike was with Philip, when the latter was a little over two years old. And Phil’s now sixteen. Still, where have the years gone?

Fourteen Years.

It’s utter nonsense to say that ‘time heals every wound’. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even come close. What it does do, I’ve rediscovered with ever passing year, is lessen the temptation to pick at the scab.

So with every year that passes, it hurts a little less… most of the time.

Michael Russell Barnett wasn’t perfect, far from it. He loved puns, just didn’t ‘get’ comics at all, had problems carrying a tune in a bucket, and his enthusiasm for the guitar wasn’t in any way matched by his ability.

Still, as a brother, Mike was as good as they get and if I’d have gone to Brothers ‘R’ Us, I couldn’t have picked better. He taught me so much, including the most important things in life, like the proper glass out of which to drink scotch: “one with a hole at one end, and no hole at the other.” I was best man at his wedding to Lynne, and that he trusted me (at the age of 21) with that responsibility honoured me then, and it still does. I’ve still many wonderful memories of Michael, but those few hours on the morning of his wedding when it was just me and him… ah, they’re memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.

He died fourteen years ago today and I miss him dreadfully, especially today. I miss him always, but today, it’s a bugger.

Rest easy, brother.

A few years ago, after I posted something similar to the above, I got several emails and messages from people who either didn’t know I’d had a brother, or didn’t know what had happened. Both asked what had happened. Here’s what I put up in response.

Soon after Mike’s death, I was asked to write something about him – this is what I wrote.

  1. emma_emily says:

    ive been doing Cruse training this weekend and we were talking about how society expects you to be over a bereavement within a certain time period. This puts a lot of pressure on someone going through a natural process…and dont even get me started on GPs who prescribe anti-depressants because someone is grieving…grieving is a natural thing which anti-depressants just mask…you have to work your way out of the mess that is your grief in the time that is right for you…tablets wont stop you grieving…

    Anyway we were talking about how years later you can still go into that grieving place. It still hurts and you miss them dreadfully. It was the anniversary of my nans death just before Xmas and as i was driving past Derby on the M1 i suddeny realised that i was crying. I find it easier now…i miss her but when i feel that im being thrown back into that grief it feels different somehow. im sorry that she isnt here right now, helping me through the massive life-changes im going through but the majority of emotion that i feel is love…like a warm, pink, fuzzy feeling inside. And then i feel so sad that she isnt here.

    Everyones grief is unique and we all have different ways of dealing with it. personally i believe that the essence of the person that has died still lives on inside those who love them and remember them. Thats why i think its so nice when you write your annual blog about your brother.


  2. This past Christmas was the tenth anniversary for my Dad’s death.

    I think I’m doing well enough with it, but still…there are times.

    So, yeah, “emma_emily” has it right. It’ll take as long as it takes. And if it takes my whole life…or yours in your own instance, then stuff the experts.

  3. Phil Friel says:

    Amen to that, Lee. I know exactly how you feel. I’m exactly the same about my son Philip’s death (remember the little tyke that I used to spout off so proudly about in Comicopia?), except that my feelings are a bit more raw, as less time has passed for me.

    Almost six years (on April 19th coming) since his death. I still really can’t believe that my little boy has gone. He was about a year younger (almost 15) than your Phil is now when he died. He’d be a man now, with us making preparations for his 21st this coming July 12th. I’ve spent the time since his death just surviving, not living, surviving. Slowly but surely clawing my way up out of that horrible black hole, sliding back into hell every so often, clawing my way back out again, back down again, one step forward, two steps back, one step forward again, almost 24/7, 365 days a year, growing gradually stronger, inch by inch, but SOOOOO slowly.

    I can barely remember the first two years after he died, except that I was in the most agonizing hell imaginable, wanting to die because the pain was so unbearable, but refusing to top myself because whatever vestiges of religious belief (I was raised a Catholic) I had still inside me dictated that I’d NEVER see him again if I took the easy way out. I still ended up almost killing myself through self-neglect. My weight ballooned out to 19st (and I’m only 5 feet 6), blood pressure through the roof, I became type 2 diabetic, and developed extreme lymphoedemia (fluid retention) in my legs, due to part of my lymphatic system packing it in. The damage I’ve done to my health is permanent, none of these ailments will just “go away” again, and I’ll spend the rest of my life having to manage them. Before my son died, I was as healthy as a horse. Now every day is a struggle, and a battle to get some semblance of fitness and health back again.

    Even after almost six years, it’s still too painful to think about him too much. I feel myself starting to slide into that big black hole again, and I have to turn my thoughts quickly to something else, before complete emotional collapse sets in. I’ve survived the past through years by forcing myself to NOT think too much about my son, by learning to divert my thoughts to something else, ANYTHING else, every time he smacks me upside the head, because to keep him in my head all the time would’ve killed me in the end. I WANT to think about my boy, every minute of every day. I love him more than life itself. But I can’t. I wouldn’t survive. I’d just sink down into that black hole again and never come out.

    Your “picking at the scab” analogy is very apt. The pain NEVER goes away, as does (in my case) that totally overwhelming feeling that my life is just so WRONG, that nothing really matters, that I’m just living out time until I die, that I have no right being alive whilst my son is dead, never having the chance to really live his life. The searing pain is ALWAYS there, under the scab, only to be brought right to the surface again every time the anniversaries hit each year (in my case, it’s his birthday, the day he died and Christmas). It never ends, never truly allows you to heal. You just get more used to it, more capable of dealing with it, and pick yourself up again and again to get on with what’s left of your miserable life.

    But we’ll never forget them, Lee. Your brother, or my son. I never even met your brother, or you for that matter (although I’ve always thought of you as a “friend” in that inexplicable way we do online acquaintances whom we’ve never actually met in person). So I share some of your pain, and some small understanding of what you’re feeling. If I had a bottle of wine here right now, I’d raise a glass to your brother.

    Cheers Mike. I hope you’re looking down on us all, having a good laugh. Give my boy a big hug from me.

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