The strange, life-af­firm­ing na­ture of loss

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

ques­tion my judg­ment – God knows, I have done.

It was 10 days be­fore Christ­mas in 2011 when he sent me one chill­ing line: “I might just kill my­self.”

I replied: “Don’t. Do you want to chat?”

I might have sounded flip­pant but that’s how the two of us con­versed, down­play­ing drama.

His part­ner had left him for some­one else, his son had re­cently flown the nest to start adult life, his busi­ness wasn’t go­ing too well and he had di­a­betes with high blood pres­sure. At 48, I think he felt washed up and lonely.

For two months we emailed and chat­ted on Skype. Tim’s mood fluc­tu­ated wildly. One minute he was telling me he didn’t “want to live any­more”; the next, he seemed to be turn­ing a cor­ner, plan­ning his next visit.

When­ever I dis­cussed it with Debs, we agreed he would never do any­thing silly. This was Tim af­ter all: unas­sail­able and worldly-wise.

I sent him old pho­tos to re­mind him of the good old days, mes­sages from my two boys – whom he was yet to meet. I told him I loved him many times.

A week be­fore he died, Tim wrote: “Please re­mem­ber I had a very full life with lots of amaz­ing places, events and peo­ple. Of all of them you are the high­light.” How I wish I’d told him he was one of my high­lights too. In­stead I thanked him, and promised to Skype soon.

Our last mes­sages were ex­changed days later, on Fe­bru­ary 23 2012. I was ask­ing to Skype and he replied: “It’s mid­night, I need to sleep.” I replied: “Have sweet dreams” – an eerily per­ti­nent re­sponse.

Four days later I was brows­ing Face­book when I strayed on to Tim’s page. I can’t re­mem­ber how I re­acted, whether I went tense or started to crum­ble, but Debs was alerted to my shock. ‘‘Oh my God, he’s done it,’’ I said. It felt as if the blood had drained from me. Debs took hold of me and we just stared in si­lence at the screen. On Tim’s pro­file, his son and his ex had posted mes­sages about hav­ing ‘‘loved’’ him and that they would al­ways miss him. I emailed Tim’s nephew Kevin and he con­firmed my fears – Tim had hanged him­self in the early hours of the morn­ing.

At first I just felt numb­ness – noth­ing. Then came dis­be­lief: check­ing Face­book to see if I’d imag­ined it. Soon af­ter there was in­credulity mixed with frus­tra­tion: ‘‘But it’s nearly spring, then there’ll be sum­mer… why did he want to miss out on all that?’’

The darker emo­tions were to fol­low. The anger at what many peo­ple told me was a ‘‘self­ish act’’ (I have since ac­cepted that while the act it­self might be self­ish, Tim the man was not), the ag­o­nis­ing guilt. I should have got on a plane to see him in his hour of need. He would have done that for me.

It goes with­out say­ing there were co­pi­ous tears. Af­ter a few days, on the ad­vice of a wise, older friend, I wrote a three-page let­ter to Tim, an out­pour­ing of th­ese com­plex emo­tions. I walked up the muddy lane by our house to the sub­lime views of Dart­moor on one side and Bod­min Moor on the other.

There, I read the let­ter aloud, my voice shak­ing, my eyes sting­ing and my heart thud­ding. When I fin­ished, I set it alight, dropped it on the ground and watched it blacken as the fire took hold, eat­ing the words and the feel­ings in those words.

As I watched the smoke drift up into the clouds, I won­dered if Tim could some­how see or sense me. It was a form of re­lease.

Last June, I found my­self start­ing a book about our friend­ship. It, too, was a cathar­tic process, which I hope might help oth­ers in a sim­i­lar predica­ment. I called it Re­lent­lessly Me, which is some­thing Tim tweeted about al­ways be­ing and that summed up per­fectly how he lived his life. I now re­alise we should all strive for that – to be re­lent­lessly our­selves.

A loss like this colours your whole life. I am so very grate­ful for my pa­tient wife. I’ve usu­ally been a calm per­son but the other day she ad­mit­ted I had changed since Tim’s death.

When I pressed her, she said I was quicker to re­act to sit­u­a­tions, that I didn’t tol­er­ate non­sense or poor be­hav­iour by some­one as much as I pre­vi­ously had. This is per­haps un­der­stand­able: at times I ache so much I feel as if I’ll im­plode.

Yet life must go on: I have a busy job as a writer and need to stay strong for my fam­ily.

Of course the boys are far too young to un­der­stand, but the other day Daniel caught me look­ing at a photo of Tim and asked: “Who’s that?” It trig­gered our first ever chat about life and death. His brow crin­kled as I told him Tim was now “asleep in the clouds”.

There is some so­lace. I have made con­tact with Tim’s friends and rel­a­tives in­clud­ing his mother and his son, peo­ple I’d never met whom I now con­sider friends. I’ve been able to be there for his son.

Then there’s the strange lifeaf­firm­ing na­ture of loss, which both de­lights and feels jagged. It goes some­thing like this: I’m so lucky to be alive, to de­light in th­ese won­drous rolling hills, all the amaz­ing peo­ple around… If only Tim were here to see it with me.

And of course there’s the fact you nat­u­rally hug your wife and chil­dren that bit tighter, ap­pre­ci­ate them even more, if that’s pos­si­ble.

Of course, there is no pos­i­tive as­pect to sui­cide. But Tim was a joy­ous per­son, full of life and love and laugh­ter and he’d hate for me to sug­gest oth­er­wise, or in­deed to be oth­er­wise.

It’s about cel­e­brat­ing the things we shared. I have such won­der­ful mem­o­ries: how I wish with all my heart we could just make some more of them.

Re­lent­lessly Me by David Hurst is avail­able as an ebook from Ama­

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