If nobody minds, I want to remember the awful night when I discovered my brother, Trev, had died. It’s partly a personal need to keep that memory alive, but also the small hope that it might be helpful for others suffering a similarly terrible loss.
I’ve been meaning to do this for months, but with the first anniversary of Trev’s death coming up in – unbelievably – just six days, now seems like a particularly apposite moment.
Sunday 30th January, 2011
Myself and the family had had a quiet Sunday following a busy day and late night on Saturday. Everyone was a bit tired, but it had been a good day.
I’d spoken to my Dad on Skype for a good hour already that afternoon – there had been something wrong with his computer, so as usual I talked him through the repairs.
The girls were in bed, the Lovely Melanie and I were watching TV – me on the floor, she on the sofa. It must have been not long after seven when the house ‘phone rang. The Lovely Melanie answered, said “Hello, Ron,” (my dad) and passed it down to me.
She later said it seemed odd because my dad’s a friendly chap who enjoys chatting with her usually. Instead, he immediately asked to speak to me.
“Hello, Dad,” I said, as usual.
“I’ve got some terrible news,” he replied.
I smiled inwardly at this, assuming he was being ironic and the “terrible news” was that his computer problem was back.
I often think of this precise moment as a dividing line in my life: a portcullis crashes down here, sealing off all the old life and its seeming certainties, leaving a new, darker, unknown one.
“Trevor’s died,” he said.
“What?” I said, struggling to think why he would say such a thing, “When? How?”
My memory of the exact conversation is a bit hazy here. I recall it was short and that I started taking very quick and shallow breaths, as what he had just said sank in. He was at home with my brother, Rich, and they’d only just found out.
EDIT: Apparently he wasn’t at home with my brother. I was the first person he called upon hearing the news.
Conny had been in Germany for a few days. She was catching the first flight back. My Mum was out at netball, oblivious to it all. They decided calling or going to fetch her; instead they were now waiting for her to get home.
My dad later told me this was the worst hour of his entire life.
I was at a loss what to say or do. Should I go to Bristol? To Swindon? Stay here? What about Trev’s Stag Reunion – flights, hotels and everything were all booked for next weekend.
As I came off the phone, no doubt looking pale and confused, the Lovely Melanie had come to sit behind me: “What is it?” she demanded, “What’s happened?”
Feeling something somehow falling inside me I repeated what my dad had said – “Trev’s died.”
“Oh, no!” she cried and burst into tears, hugging me. I hugged her back, but mostly just felt confused: Trev dead? How could Trev be dead? Should I be crying? What should I do?
Action was called for. But what? I couldn’t sit here helplessly and do nothing, so the only solution was to go to Bristol. The Lovely Melanie helped me pack a bag of spare pants, socks, t-shirts, toothbrush, medical necessities and my ‘phone.
Checked whether this was what she thought I ought to do (“Whatever you think you need to do,” I think she said) I kissed her, kissed the sleeping girls and headed off to the station.
I was outwardly quite calm. There was a problem, I was taking action to deal with it by going to Bristol. Something was being done. Good. As for the enormity of the problem, I didn’t think about that. I concentrated on what I was able to do right now.
At the station there were no trains – engineering works had seen to that. A replacement bus service was running. The timetable for that said it was, as usual, ridiculously slow.
I had an idea. Trains from Bexleyheath ran on a different line. I could catch a train from there. Checking my phone I saw one scheduled in 40 minutes. Plenty of time. I phoned a local taxi company – one would be with me in ten minutes, they said.
30 minutes later when that damn taxi finally arrived I nearly screamed at him.
Fortunately, he was a nice guy, so when told where I needed to be and when (but not why) he got me to the station in an astonishing (and probably illegal) time of nine and a half minutes. The train was waiting, doors open, when we arrived. I threw some money at him and jumped on.
Now I began to address the next problem: the Stag Reunion. With no phone numbers to call I sent Trev’s friend Matt my mobile number via Facebook and asked him to call me URGENTLY as soon as he got the message. Matt called after about 15 minutes, completely unaware what had happened.
How do you tell someone their friend is dead? I’d certainly never done anything like that before – my first experience of it had been 45 minutes earlier, telling the Lovely Melanie. After umm-ing and ahh-ing for a few agonising moments I finally said, “Look, there’s no good way to say this: Trev’s died.”
“What?” said Matt, the same as I had.
“Yeah, I don’t know much about it. I’m on my way to Bristol now. Can you help me by telling everyone else who was coming on the Stag Reunion?”
Matt sounded like I had felt: desperately trying to grasp what I’d just told him. But, bless him, he agreed.
Usually I like to read while on trains and the tube, but this time I didn’t. I did nothing. It was as though I was scared to do anything which might break my surface calm. I was a robot, a zombie, not thinking except to plan my next move and to get to Bristol.
Climbing aboard the Bristol train, I phoned Rich, my other brother, expecting some conversation with him. Disappointingly, he didn’t want to talk, though, and after we established that he was going to Bristol first thing in the morning I said good night.
The train from Paddington to Bristol takes almost two hours. I couldn’t sit like a zombie for that length of time, so looked on my phone for some music to listen to. There seemed just two categories of music there: “Inappropriately happy” and “Liable to smash my brittle calm“.
After a long search I eventually settled upon Say Yes! by The Hi-Life Companion, an album that will forever remind me of that night (particularly the achingly sad Fifty Thousand Acres Of Wide Open Space).
Unable to talk to Rich, I went on Facebook. I didn’t want to break the news there yet, just in case Conny or my parents wanted to tell some people themselves first. Then, two status updates appeared that, while not directly mentioning Trev’s death, could not be referring to anything else. So just before midnight, still loathe to upset anyone by giving it away directly I posted that I was “just desolate.”
I spoke to my Dad again. They were on a train ahead of me and Conny was due to land shortly, too. The police were picking them up from the airport and railway station, so offered to help me, too. I declined, with thanks.
I emailed my boss at work to save having to do it the next day. For some reason I was vaguely concerned that she might not believe me, but then wrote a very short email telling her what had happened, that I was on my way to Bristol and wasn’t sure when I’d be back. Then, I forgot about work.
My taxi from Temple Meads didn’t actually know where to go. While I took deep calming breaths in the back he drove around the streets of Totterdown for the longest few minutes of my life.
I threw more money at him and jumped out of the cab – but then felt very nervous going to the door. What was going on behind it? Would it be weird seeing where Trev had died? Was Conny calm or hysterical? How was my Mum? My Dad? Me?
There was a young policeman talking when I walked in; everyone was helping him to fill out some paperwork. Things seemed calm – strained, but calm. I stood in the middle of the room, adrift, while the paperwork was finished and the policeman left.
I gave my Mum a hug – we both shed a couple of tears – and then gave Conny a big hug. I may even have hugged my Dad. Everyone was being very brave, despite the shock looming just beneath their expressions.
My Mum’s phone rang – it was my Uncle Jason. She couldn’t face speaking to anyone so I took the call. Bad mistake. Jason was hysterical, howling like a wild beast – exactly what I didn’t need right at that moment. Speaking slowly and reassuringly to him for a couple of minutes I agreed that yes it was terrible but we were OK; sad, but OK, until he eventually calmed down.
Not very long after that, realising there was nothing we could do until the morning, we went to bed. Which is where my psychotic calm finally broke, and I cried, utterly bereft, miserable and not knowing what on earth to do. So I posted a blog entry.
And so, that was the worst night of my life, surpassing even the nightmare of Millie’s birth, because Millie survived and is now a beautiful little girl (as is her sister), whilst Trev is just…gone.
One final footnote: the next day was hard, but would have been harder without all the support we received on Facebook. I can still vividly recall Rich and I sat in the living room, continually checking our phones, occasionally passing on some particular expression of condolence or sentiment.
Lots of people – the Lovely Melanie included – scoff at the reality of “friends” on Facebook. All I know is, when we needed help – when we didn’t know what we needed but we needed something – there it was: dozens of people from all over the world, offering help, offering support, offering memories, and clamouring to meet up to raise a glass in memory of their friend, Trevor Carter.
Using Facebook we organised a wonderful memorial drink in Swindon for the very next day – something that would have been impossible on the phone (too personal – we didn’t want to talk to people, but we did want to communicate.
And Facebook gave us that channel; for which I say, thank you, Mark Zuckerberg.