Saturday, August 11, 2007

This is what personal blogs are for, rly

Monday the 13th of August is the 20th anniversary of my brother's death, a fact that takes my breath away at odd moments. I have mentioned him obliquely over the years, as his memory bobs up and down. Today I will go full frontal. Ish.

Twenty years is a significant anniversary, and aside from the usual feelings of loss, grief and helplessness, I feel an urge to know what some of his friends are doing now, and since I have this first-person narrative thing chugging along on teh interwebs, I thought I would put some feelers out there in case any of you know anyone who knew him.

So rather than attempt to say all this in an personal notice in a newspaper, I have placed an abridged In Memoriam notice in a couple of large newspapers for today, and at the end of the notice I have placed my blog address, and that is why I am posting about this today and not Monday. No doubt the newspaper typesetters will set up my notice in a rather ugly fashion and the blog address will blend together with the personal message completely illegibly, but those who are interweb savvy will hopefully get the gist. Maybe others will think it is poor taste to promote a blog in a death notice, but it is 2007, for goodness sake, so get jiggy wiv it.

This is the ad I placed (or how I would like it to look):

FLORANCE, Jamie Andrew
1/12/69 - 13/8/87

You were wrong: life isn’t better without you.
You are loved and missed.


I didn't include the photo, of course. It's a very old and battered photo, and the only one I could find. I get so used to seeing images of him at my parents' house that I forget that I have none around my own house apart from this so-very-alive one. Yes, his t-shirt says 'adildos'. He was a teenager :)

I would also have liked to expand that line a bit to: You are loved and missed, especially by those who would like to have known you. By that, of course, I mean Bumblebee, and Best Beloved.

Bumblebee thinks and talks about Uncle Jamie constantly, and is very concerned that we don't visit his grave enough. I've tried to explain that I don't feel the need to visit his grave site often because I don't feel J's presence there, but B likes the formality of a graveside visit. And I think he was deeply impressed by the year we went to a florist to get a flower to lay on the grave, and 5-yo Bumblebee was asked by the shop assistant if this pretty flower was for his mum or grandma. 'No,' he replied seriously. 'It's for my uncle, he's dead. He killed himself.' The shop assistant went to pieces and gave him the flower for free. I'd never really made a fuss about visiting a cemetery with him before that (it was a bit like visiting a playground), and it was his first taste of someone treating such a subject seriously.

Best Beloved finds the topic poignant, probably he is a little bit younger than Jamie and can see it on a peer level. He wishes he could have met him, especially after viewing Jamie's Good News Bible, his school's religious textbook of choice, altered during many long boring Religious Ed classes, with every line drawing adapted and captioned in a hilarious Monty-Python-meet-The Goons fashion. I think that Bible is my family's most precious possession, a capsule of my brother's taste and ability in comedy. Always look on the dark side of laugh.

And my parents and I just miss him, like a gaping hole in our lives, slightly patched by the inclusion of B and BB, but something that will never, ever be filled properly.

Here's a few things about my brother, just in case it jogs anyone's memory or social set:

He went to Cranbrook School, in Sydney, Class of 1987.
(No, we weren't/aren't rich, he had a full scholarship that is only given once every 6 years to a Defence Services child. Just in case you were wondering.)

Yes, Class of 1987 means that he died the year of his HSC exams. Just before his trial exams, actually. And his friends were NOT given permission to delay an exam to be able to attend his funeral. But they came anyway.

His story is quite similar to the film of Looking for Alibrandi, especially the area of Sydney used in the film, and the schools the characters went to. So similar that when I saw the movie, I couldn't see the credits for tears, and I wondered if the author, Melina Marchetta, had known my brother and his girlfriend. I don't think so, but I don't think I can ever watch the movie again. The book was published only 5 years after his death. It's too close to home, literally, or at least the home we were in at the time. Except that my dad wasn't a bullying perfectionist lawyer-type that drove his son to his death, or whatever it was.

When he died (he gassed himself, on our kitchen stovetop, BTW) his friends tossed some ideas around on how to commemorate him at the school. One idea was a plaque on one of the toilet cubicle doors. He would have loved the silliness of it, but the school thought it was undignified and refused, missing the point completely.

Names of friends I can remember without ringing my parents (who will probably find this post excruciating): JJ, Sam, Gaby, Justin, Julia, Rod, and Kathi. I hope you're all doing really well, and having happy lives. I'd love any of you (and any others) to get in touch, by commenting or by email (mentioned in the sidebar of this blog).

I wasn't, to my eternal regret, around a lot at the time, but that's not anyone's fault. By the time we got past that whole 'my sibling is dumb' phase, I was at university having a big sister life, and although we wrote and visited and got on extremely well, I mostly got long-distant reports about what my family were going through for the 9 months (there's that irony again) between his nervous breakdown and his death. Nine very hard months for my parents, who tried everything they could think of to keep him alive. And we had plans for him to come and live with me while we both went to uni, so I guess I was counting on a bit of quality time then. But no, it was not to be.

Actually, the message I really wanted to print is:


If you know anyone who is showing suicidal tendencies, tell them it sucks. It sucks big time. It really does. For those who go (gee, you showed 'em), and for those left behind constantly wondering why (no matter how many reasons you give them) and if they could have done anything, or anything else to help. It's a lose-lose situation.

Anyway, that'll do, Pig. He was a good brother while I had him, and I hope he's happy where he is. I have a number of drafts of notes he tried to write, and the last line of one of them is:

I know you can live without me. Please do.

Smarmy bugger. As if we had any choice, bless him.


ThirdCat said...

take care in these difficult days ...and I wish you well with your search


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this portrait of your brother. It's beautiful, and it can't have been easy to write. I hope your search for his friends is successful.


Amanda said...

Thank you, Duckie.

I wonder if you have considered using Facebook? There are undoubtably Cranbrook related groups there and the message might get out to his friends more quickly. Probably you have thought of it, but it was the first thing that came to my mind.

Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks for writing this very real post. As a fellow member of the dead brother club (a group no one would want to join) I salute you. I hope you get some responses from the ad. I understand the need to connect with them.

tigtog said...

Oh, Duckie. What a sad, enraging, tender and loving monument to your brother this is. How awful it must have been for him and for you, and how terrible it still is for you.

I hope some of his friends do get in touch.

sikamikanico said...

This is a truly beautiful thing you wrote...and to publish this link in the paper, was a generous thing to allow others to share it. I wish you peace, and hope your brother has found the same.

fifi said...

What a dreadful loss.

I'm sorry,
so sorry.

Ampersand Duck said...

Hey thanks, peoples. I appreciate your thoughts.

Mindy said...

Beautiful post. I hope they get in touch.

Boysenberry said...

A great In Memoriam made more poignant by my similarity in age to your brother Jamie.

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

wow, thank you for the beautiful post Ducky.

Fyodor said...

Thanks, Ducky.

Amanda's suggestion is a good one. Another is contacting Cranbrook's Old Boys' association:

They're usually pretty good at tracking down alumni.

lucy tartan said...

Beautiful post, Duck.

Ampersand Duck said...

Again, thanks dudes, especially for the suggestions. The Old Boys are probably a better prospect than Facebook, where a search on Cranbrook School revealed [a] that there are lots of Cranbrook schools in the world and [b] a group called 'Bitch please, I went to private school in the eastern suburbs', full of the most shallow commenters I have ever read!

Fyodor said...

Bloggers. Facebook. Private school. Eastern suburbs.


Computer says: "no shit".

Sach said...

Hello darling duckie. Thinking about you today. All my love to you. Sach

Anonymous said...

I am on my way to bed, (I have been remembering all weekend what today would be.)Hoping you would talk about Jamie in your blog today. Now I wish I had looked over the weekend and got to read it instead of all the thoughts in my mind. It has shown me a side of you that has not been showen before to me and others. I will need to put some more words to you in an email. Love West Aussie

Wallagoot Girl said...

Been thinking about you & the Colonel & Mrs Duck(?) all day yesterday (Monday)- quite a milestone isn't it- 20 years! I don't expect it gets any easier for any of you, even twenty years later...and I just cannot imagine a worse scenario for a parent (or sibling) to endure. Good luck with your quest! ...and this IS what personal blogs are for! XXX

Ampersand Duck said...

Hey Wallagoot Girl! Great name. Now I'm feeling very guilty about not catching up for so long! Thanks for popping by.

And Auntie L, we're going to have to get you a proper web name. I love the way you come and visit here!

Jennifer said...

A beautiful and heart-wrenching post. I hope you find some more connections from it.

I'm so sorry.

Teej Mahal said...

Beautifully written.

genevieve said...

Oh dear, Duck. Have been offline, purchasing and wrangling a new modem, and didn't get to read this till today.
I've just realised that my younger brother is the same age as Jamie, about six months older. And as I've mentioned at another time, I do know another family like this, person of a very similar age. I cannot pass a guard of honour of schoolchildren without remembering them.
Where does twenty years go?
A deeply affecting post, and a great place for it to live.

elsewhere said...

God, how awful. The stuff about Bumblebee's response bought tears to my eyes.

My brother died several years ago, and afterwards, I went on a bit of a quest to meet/contact some of his friends in Australia and the U.S, partly because I hadn't spent much time with him in the preceding years (he'd been living overseas). It was a bit of an odd experience; I think it stirred up guilt and other issues for some people, in the way that young deaths do. Generally I found my brother's female friends more open to talk and his male friends less so (not wholly surprisingly). I made one new and lasting friend as a result of my search, and probably gained a couple more readers of my blog as well.

Re: the Cranbrook people: is it possible that Jamie's year might be having a 20 year reunion about now through which you might be able to make some contacts? I wish you well.

Ampersand Duck said...

That's a very good idea, elsewhere. And thank you for your story. I've been following bits of it over the time. The weirdest thing about losing a sibling is how much of a gap they leave behind, even if you didn't think they were a big part of your life at the time, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful boy.