A while ago - I can't remember how, I stumbled across a blog owned by Connie which told the story of her friend Uncle Johnny and how he had passed away very suddenly. Johnny was a musician, a teacher and that very special thing, a good friend. You can read about him if you hop over to Connie's blog and follow the link to her earlier post. The post I've linked to, however, is an update on Connie's 'Piecing Together the Sky' project which involved collecting photographs of the sky from people around the world who had lost someone. I thought it was a fantastic idea and I went outside and took my photo of the sky, which appears in the video along with all the others.
You'll see that Connie has also asked people if they would like to post on their own blogs about the person who they have lost and of whom they were thinking when they photographed their sky, so I'm going to do that.
My brother Richard was born 16 months after me and we were always very close. When he started at school in the year below me, I immediately became his protector and would quite willingly - and happily, I have to confess - beat up any of the other boys who did anything to threaten him. Even if the threat was not very major...! In fact, I was nearly always the stronger one. We did a lot of swimming; I was encouraged to train for the Olympics, Richard got blue with cold after half an hour in the water and had to get out. But on holiday we would charge into the waves together and have a fantastic time. Our mother thought that I was far too boisterous and that Richard couldn't keep up. She probably thought I was a bad influence as well; in my teenage years I got in with a bunch of bikers and Richard followed, buying himself a series of motorbikes which culminated in his pride and joy, a Triumph Bonneville.
As Richard got older, he often complained of palpitations and occasionally had to stop physical activity for a sit down. We're not much on doctors in my family, we're more of the 'grin and bear it' sort. We both had paper rounds, and Mum would help Richard with his because the bag was a bit heavy on a Saturday. I never had any problems.
One spring Bank Holiday, Richard set off on his bike for a run down to Cornwall. He was with all his mates and he was very excited, but a bit anxious because his Triumph wasn't completely reliable. He'd had some problems. All the guys set off from someone's house, and within a mile the Triumph was having problems. Richard pulled over to the side of the road outside the ice rink, and a couple of the others stopped with him. He couldn't get it going again, and he told his friends to go on ahead. If he could fix it he would catch them up, and if he couldn't then he would take it into the workshop. He knew a bit about engines, and he was due to start a motorcycle mechanics course at college in the September, which he was looking forward to.
Afterwards, his friends said that they wished they'd stayed with him. But they couldn't have known what was going to happen. It was a very hot day, and Richard was wearing his leathers and some pretty hefty clothing for the long run down to the West Country. He must have been very, very upset and angry about his bike breaking down yet again, after all the anticipation and excitement over the trip. And what we didn't know was that those palpitations, the blue lips and shivering after half an hour in a heated pool, the sudden tiredness when he carried his paper bag, were all down to an undiagnosed heart condition. It's called cardiomyopathy, and straight off the top of my head I can tell you that Gabby Logan's brother Daniel Yorath, the footballer's son, died of it when he was just 15. So did Richard Beckinsale, the actor, Kate Beckinsale's dad. If you ever hear of a sportsman or woman suffering a sudden heart attack at a young age, my money's on cardiomypathy.
Richard had a sudden and massive heart attack, there at the side of his bike. A woman across the way remembered looking out of her window and seeing him tinkering with his bike, then when she looked out again ten minutes later he was lying there on the road. It's unlikely that anyone could have saved him. I've read reports since then, of people who have been struck down by this disease, and a PE teacher who saw a pupil drop dead in the middle of a netball match said that the girl was 'dead before she hit the ground'.
So that's what happened to Richard. Just before he died I had walked out of a crappy relationship and moved back to my parents' house. When I say crappy, I mean seriously bad, and yet nothing else had induced me to leave. That particular day I just packed a suitcase and left. Over the next couple of days I had felt compelled to spend time with Richard, watching Hill Street Blues with him, listening to music. We walked our dogs together and when he turned round to take his dog home - she wouldn't walk under the railway bridge! - I couldn't take my eyes off him. I practically walked backwards, watching him go back down the road and round the corner, until he was out of sight, like I was never going to see him again. On the morning he left for the run, I snapped at him for knocking my stuff off my desk, although he'd only come in to give me a kiss goodbye. And then I felt bad, and I had a really strong urge to lean out of the window and tell him not to go. Seriously. I didn't remember any of those things until weeks after he died, and I'm not making it up.
At the time he died, however, I didn't 'feel' anything. I know what time it was, and I know what I was doing. Mum and I had gone out for the day and were sitting beside a lake somewhere in the sun. Only my dad was at home when the police came round. There were no mobile phones in those days - 28 years ago - and after they left he just sat at the kitchen table for two and an half hours waiting for us to come home, laughing and joking as we came through the door.
My brother was 19 when he died, and I miss him all the time. He was always there for me and we shared so much that I will never share with anyone else. Every night before he went to bed he used to go into Mum's room and sit on the end of her bed for a little chat. My youngest son is forever sitting behind me on my bed while I'm here at the computer, reading or just chilling out, or asking me endless questions. And I only shoo him out when I really, really can't concentrate on my work any more! My eldest son is very, very like Richard, in looks and temperament, and I'm grateful for that.
So, there you go. My brother, the person for whom I took this photo
I don't talk about him very much because I don't think I dealt with his death very well. Or maybe I just deal with all these things in the same way, which is to walk straight over them and keep on going. I'm not a big fan of sentimentality - something I get from my father's side of the family! - but I love what Connie has done and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the stories which people decide to share on their blogs.