The strange, life-affirming nature of loss
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 Amazon.co.uk