Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Somebody's daughter, somebody's son.

I've hesitated about writing this blog post, and even now I'm still undecided about publishing it but we'll see. It's been prompted by the untimely death of Amy Winehouse who died after a long, and well publicised, struggle with drink and drugs. It seemed to me that some people had forgotten that she was - above all else -somebody's daughter and sister. 

I used to have four brothers.

I used to have a brother who was just 20 months older than me. I always looked up to him and we looked very alike too, more so than our other 4 siblings. I have a photo of the two of us when we were 2 and 4 and we look like two peas in a pod.

When we were little he was always getting into trouble for one thing or another - nothing serious but he just seemed to attract trouble. He was a rascal, a bit like Dennis the Menace - nothing malicious, just always getting into scrapes and up to no good. But he never got away with anything, he always got caught.

As an adult he was the life and soul of every party, any get together wasn't complete without him. He liked a drink and would sing, tell jokes and flirt with the women.  He was a very, very funny man, a would-be Elvis impersonator and a real live wire. The rascal had grown into a rough diamond and he was everybody's friend. But as I said, he liked a drink and unfortunately the drink liked him.

He had probably been drinking quite heavily for years, but in our circles - and even in our own family - people drank a lot. Going to the pub was a man's thing. Real northern men went to the pub and drank, and most of his social life revolved around the pub. He didn't stand out as having a drink problem as such, but somewhere along the way he crossed the line that divides heavy drinkers from alcoholics.

My brother was an alcoholic. It's very hard to write that, it seems almost disrespectful to him and also to my parents who both felt some shame of having an alcoholic son. I don't think they ever recovered from his death, after all burying your child has to be the worst thing imaginable for a parent.

But it wasn't just his death that broke them, there was a real sense of failure about it all. How could he come from a respectable family, a family that cared about him and yet be seduced by drink? But perhaps it offered him something we couldn't. What was it? An escape? An easy passage to a less painful world? I don't know.

He got into some desperate situations in the his final year, and some of the things that happened to him only came to light after his death but it must have been when he reached those depths that he realised he needed help. He asked my parents to help him and they tried their best. He had some help from his GP and I know he went to at least a few AA meetings because when he died we found some of their paperwork in his meagre belongings.

The last time I saw him alive was when he came to visit me and my new baby. He said he'd given up drink on the advice of his doctor who warned him he wouldn't live much longer if he didn't. I could see he was doing his best to keep away from the people and the places where he knew he would succumb once again, and so he was filling his time with other things. He was trying to be healthy, he'd got himself a bike and was getting some exercise and had taken up a new hobby after being given a camera. He told me he'd been doing a lot of walking, getting some fresh air and was taking photos of the countryside where he lived.  But the years of abuse had taken their toll and he looked frail and much older than his years.

Less than a month later he was dead. He died alone in his sleep. He was 39.

His death certificate said he died from alcohol induced heart disease. It didn't mention the fact that he had sought help, that he had made efforts to turn things around and that he was finally trying to look after himself, or about the guilt we all felt at not being able to save him. It didn't say anything about him being a much loved son, brother and uncle.

And now, 14 years on I still miss him every single day.