It was during Euro 96 that I first met my new boyfriend’s family.
We were 23 and his little brother was just turning 13.
We bought him a looney tunes Euro 96 t-shirt for his birthday.
He was a bookworm, I mean a serious bookworm. I suppose there was no mobile phones back then, and he lived on a narrow boat, so books were a good option.
But I tell you, I’ve never seen anyone devour books quite so fast. Terry Pratchett, right then, he had a stack of them.
We spent many a week on the boat, the five of us.
Dan, a brand new teenager. Matt, my husband to be. And their parents, Sheila and Alasdair.
We would travel up (or maybe it was down?) the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Parking up at night and cooking BBQ’s on the tow path. Listening to BBC Prom concerts on the radio. Playing scrabble – I always lost, it wasn’t until quite recently I managed to beat this avid word-expert family at that game. Needless to say, I do still mention it often. So as they may not forget.
One of my favourite trips was going through the Foulridge tunnel. Dan and I lay in the cratch looking up at the stalactites. Flashing torches around, making ridiculous noises that echoed down the length of the very low tunnel – you can touch the roof as the boat travels through, it really is a pretty tight squeeze.
I never need much of an excuse to behave like a child, so having Dan around was the perfect opportunity.
I think my favourite early memory has always been this one though…
I had to be in Yorkshire for something (I remember not what) and it was suggested that I could go and stay on the boat to make the journey easier.
A night with my in laws, who I had barely met before, on my own. It was a scary prospect!
Not because they weren’t lovely, they were, and I loved Dan. But, well, you know, I really wanted them to like me, so you’d think I’d be on my best behaviour…
Space is limited on a narrow boat, so I was sleeping in the bottom bunk and Dan on the top bunk. We had gone to bed and Sheila was still up.
Now who hasn’t slept in a bunk bed with a sibling and done the ‘kicking the mattress’ thing? Pushing on the metal springs with your feet? Dan and I thought it was hilarious!
We found it hard to contain our glee and I have not forgotten Sheila’s increasing annoyance at us messing around… It still makes me smile now, so much for making a good impression!
It was in 1997 that Dan came down to stay with Matt and I in London. The re-release of the Stars Wars movies. Leicester Square. I hadn’t seen them before and the boys were stupidly excited. Best seats in the house, as a special treat we bought Dan a coke in a Star Wars plastic cup.
I guess that’s when we became slightly parental towards him. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t in need of parents, he had a very fine pair (they produced the man I have been in love with for 24 years, they make very fine sons!).
But he still needed adult guidance and in these situations we were the adults.
Fast forward to 2008 and Matt was offered a job in Norwich.
Dan had been living there for a few years, so this was a great chance to be near him.
For the first few months of Matt’s new job he kipped on Dan’s student house floor. Thankfully we moved in just down the road from Dan, and his then girlfriend Jules, in March 2008. Our son was 3 years old.
It was a while before we bought our house, but this was the house we were to spend 3 glorious years living with Dan.
Three adults and one child is a perfect combination. If we could have taken Dan with us when we moved on, we would have done.
He was the perfect Uncle.
But G and Dan were more than just Uncle and nephew. Always.
Dan was the cool babysitter that played you animated series instead of bed time stories.
Who played computer games and taught you how to play too.
He taught you about amazing computer stuff like coding, long before everyone else was doing that stuff.
He played ‘cool’ music and rode a fixed wheel bike.
He played you films above your age certificate.
He bought you a HUGE box of lego and built it with you.
There was never a better superhero/big brother.
Dan and I had some moments living together.
By this stage in our lives we had, what I guess was, quite a unique relationship. Who hasn’t heard stories of Dan’s dirty underpants being left hanging on the kitchen unit doors?! He was never the best at washing up. I think it’s safe to think housework was not his forte and deodorant was not his best friend!
We bickered. But always there was that deep down love that one has for a sibling.
An unconditional love.
I would blow my top at him. He would shout back (both generally by text message). And then we’d see each other and hug and carry on like nothing had ever happened.
There was never room or need for harbouring grudges.
My mention of sibling-love has come back to bite us in this past week.
We called each other brother and sister. Dan apparently told his mates in Thailand this too. I was his sister.
There’s been some confusion this week when people discovered his sister is married to his brother!
I don’t think any of us wanted to stop living together when we left Norwich. It worked. For all of us.
In the last 48 hours of Dan’s life we planned for him to come back and live with us. In my head I’d already shifted the rooms around to make room for him.
We were all really excited about the idea.
I was the last person to speak to him before the darkness in his head overtook him one last and devastating time.
I told him we all loved him so much and he must fight. That we had to get him better so we could get him home to us.
When we moved to Coventry, Dan and Earng were a tight item and talking about moving to Bangkok. Our departure probably made it easier.
In July 2012 Dan left the UK for Thailand.
We missed him like crazy.
I went to visit on my way to Australia (perks of a travelling job) in November 2013.
My mental health was pretty poor at the time.
But Dan looked after me.
We spent most of our time eating. This was the love we shared.
And talking. Talking a lot.
He took me to all his favourite haunts, and he DJ’d a gig while I sat in the corner, writing.
When another work opportunity arose in 2016, not just passing through Bangkok, but actually stopping there, I knew I had to take G with me.
It was going to be year 6.
It was going to be May.
It was going to be SATS (Government inflicted, compulsory exams).
We weren’t strangers to home schooling. We hated SATS.
There was no way the school would allow him to be absent that week.
There was no way he wasn’t coming with me.
When the opportunity came to home school for the entire year (for all sorts of reasons) we leapt at the chance.
On reflection it was possibly a false economy. We could have gone on a family holiday for the price of that years education! But I don’t regret it for a second.
George was old enough to still be able to hold the memories of that time close to his heart.
So that only left Matt who hadn’t been to Bangkok. The very hardest thing to say now. The bond between them is a sibling bond beyond words. Unconditional support and love most could only dream of.
After my recent major surgery (see Sindy-legs and Morphine), Matt deserved a holiday so so badly that a few weeks ago I talked to Dan about the possibility of sending Matt out to Bangkok, to him, in the next few months.
Duly I sent an email around to my family to ask if anyone wanted to contribute to the flight cost – I haven’t worked for the best part of 5 months due to my health.
We didn’t expect Matt to get there so soon.
We didn’t expect to be forced to ask for help from, not only family, but friends too.
We didn’t expect.
Our darling brother Dan had had episodes of devastating mental health before.
It wasn’t a new thing.
But we never imagined for a second it would end like this.
I spoke to him and his dearest girlfriend Bethy so much in his final 48 hours.
He did not want to die.
He was insistent he didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.
I am finding it hard to line up the term ‘suicide’ with what happened to Dan.
I accept that his actions caused him to pass away.
Maybe we don’t have a word for this scenario.
But I ask that you keep your mind open.
Suicide is not a choice when something, an infection or chemical failure, takes over your brain to the extent that your conscious mind seems no longer to exist.
Dan’s brain was the most loving, kind, creative, generous and beautiful that I ever had the good fortune to meet.
To call him my brother, an honour.
He leaves a hole in our family bigger than is possible to imagine.
And no one would be sadder about that, than him.
Rest in peace, our beautiful boy.
Dan 1983 – 2019 x
Photo Credit: Top photo Benjamin Pfau