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.