At my brother’s funeral my parents made the decision to hand out cards to enable people in attendance to write down some of their memories of Simon and each one of the many that were handed back to our family said the same. “Funny”, “happy”, “smiling”, “fun” and “daft” seemed to be common phrases that we read through the evening after the celebration of his life and each and every one of those words summed him up completely, so what caused my older brother to take his own life?
That question has played through my mind every day since his passing just over a month ago and answers come and go, and simply raise more questions both about my brother and about myself. Was Simon a great actor? Was I too ignorant to notice anything was wrong? Was it a mistake? Is there anything I could have done?
He had a difficult and challenging twelve months prior to the morning of Sunday, 21st December 2014 and maybe for just a split second that consumed him stronger than the happy and smiling brother I’d known for the last twenty-eight years of my life and in that blink of an eye he couldn’t see beyond anything else. The sibling I’d shared a bedroom with in our youth, the man that took me to my first football match, the person who had taken me into his home when I needed a place to stay, the big brother who I thought was indestructible had shown himself to be fallible.
I can still recall that morning vividly because it began in the same way as any other Sunday morning; I woke up, I made a brew and I sat down to watch Match Of The Day and then I noticed I had a missed call from my sister. It’s unusual anybody ever telephones me, I have a strong aversion to talking on the phone and most people close to me know this, so I knew the reason behind the call was important. When I rang back my sister told me, “I have some bad news…” and my imagination ran wild; had something happened to her, to her husband, or to my niece? To my parents? But never in that moment did I think the next words I’d hear would be “...Simon has died”.
The brain takes milliseconds to process information but to this day I’m not sure my brain has fully made sense of those words. When they hit my mind for the first time, I dropped to the floor and the tears began to flow and they haven’t really stopped since. Nobody teaches you how to grieve, the right and the wrong way to do things in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy such as this; as my sister asked what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to go down and be with her or wanted her to come to me, all I could tell her was “I want to have a shower”.
By 5pm that Sunday evening I was two hundred miles from my home, sitting in my older sister’s house and still unable to begin to make sense of what had happened. Three days later we were joined by my parents, coming to be with us in an attempt to salvage what we could of Christmas, and as soon as they walked through the door we hugged. All four of us, tears in our eyes and down our cheeks, clutched together knowing that someone was missing.
The feeling of somebody not being present continued throughout the following days, on Christmas Day as we sat together to eat breakfast I looked around. I saw my mother. I saw my father. I saw my sister. But I didn’t see my brother. The same happened at dinner. The same happened as we went for a walk on Boxing Day. The same will probably happen whenever I am with my family next time. And every time.
And when we were together for those days, the questions about what happened and why still continued. And still no answers seemed forthcoming. We had plenty of distractions, my niece served as a source of strength and joy for each and every one of us affected by the death of my brother. Discussing the events of Simon’s passing with police and coroners took up much of my parents’ time, as did making arrangements for the funeral. For my sister, her husband and myself, we were charged with creating a presentation for the funeral because although every one of us loved and cared for Simon, not one of us could express that fully. Looking through photographs of him throughout his life, from the day he was born almost up until the day he passed away, was a helpful reminder of the wonderful individual he was. And then we had to decide on the music; he’d always said that he wanted Good Riddance by Green Day at his funeral and while you may know what song your brother wants at his funeral, you never expect to have to tell that information to your own parents. And you especially don’t want to tell them it’s a song with that title.
Throughout that time I received an unimaginable amount of support from friends, family, people I hadn't heard from in years, and strangers on the internet. Each and every message I received was hugely appreciated, and kept me going day by day. Grieving, although almost exclusively doing nothing at all, can be quite time consuming and I couldn't express my full gratitude to all those who took time out of their own day to send condolences. However, every single piece of reassurance I received was a great comfort and the words "Thank you", although all I had at the time, didn't and never will feel enough to say to all those kind souls that helped me day on day.
The funeral took place on 9th January 2015, almost three weeks since Simon passed away. In those three weeks we took the decision to raise money for CALM; a charity which exists to help prevent male suicide, which now accounts for 78% of all suicides in England and Wales. My dad set the initial fundraising target at £200, that was surpassed within two days of the page going live and at the time of writing this donations have exceeded £3,000. While we cannot bring Simon back, we have all taken comfort in knowing that CALM will put that money to good use and can try to stop other families going through what we have felt since my brother took his own life.
The funeral was well attended by those who wished to remember Simon; family members, friends, colleagues, people who had been with him the day before he died and those who hadn’t seen him since school but could still recall his happy nature and friendly smile. As a pallbearer (along with my brother-in-law, one of our cousins and three of my brother’s closest friends), I felt lucky and privileged to be able to be close to Simon for one final time, and to carry him on my shoulders as he had for me on many occasions in my life. We watched the presentation on the big screen in the church, we heard the songs that we had chosen for him, the lights were set as blue and white for his beloved Preston North End, and it was a fitting and beautiful way to remember the life of my big brother.
To all our surprise, my dad had decided to say a few words during the service. The first thing he did was to ask people to consider being on the organ donor register, as my brother had been, to assist those who need life saving operations. The second thing my father said was that if anybody ever feels low, feels sad or feels depressed to speak to somebody. That nobody should ever feel too proud, or too ashamed, to admit that they need help. And that everybody should be prepared to listen if somebody needs to talk about how they are feeling. This is why we decided to give money to CALM, so that if anybody ever feels low and feels like perhaps Simon did in that split second just before Christmas, there’s somebody there for them to speak to. And if my brother knew about that telephone number then maybe he’d have been with us on Christmas Day.
Along with not knowing why my brother did what he did, I also do not know how. Maybe one day I’ll find out, but my mind can wander and my thoughts can be vivid; without knowing the how, I can allow myself to remember my brother as so many others did when filling out those cards - happy, smiling and daft; everything I could have ever wanted in a brother, and in a friend.
You can find out more about the work CALM do here; http://www.thecalmzone.net
You can donate to CALM in memory of Simon here; http://www.JustGiving.com/Roger-Sharples/