I wrote these words over the last month, and I share them now as a tribute to my brother, another way of marking and remembering his life. And also with the thought that perhaps something here may help someone else facing a loss, especially a sudden and tragic one.
Thursday 31st March 2016.
Philip died today.
My brother. The next eldest to me. Here we are on holiday in Norfolk, and Philip just had a heart attack and died.
It's a shock. I don't know how to connect to it, so I'm writing it down. I feel disconnected. I understand perfectly well what's happened, but I don't understand how to feel about it. It hasn't caught up with me yet.
When Philip was born, Mum went into hospital. Somewhere called Holbrook, I remember them saying that, I think. I had no idea where that was. Still don't.
Today we heard that Ronnie Corbett had died. He was in his 80's. Philip was younger than me. In his 50's. He liked Ronnie Corbett. The Two Ronnies. It's the sort of humour we all liked.
Philip was the quiet one amongst us. Taller than any of us. A bit of a loner. I don't think he was ever very close to anyone outside of the family. He had the same sense of humour, we shared the same brand of teasing, sarcastic, wit. But he was gentler with it than the rest of us. Very caring, very loving, very generous. When we were going through difficult times, he found every excuse to help us out.
There was a beautiful sunset tonight. Here in Hunstanton, from the balcony of our holiday home, we looked out over the Wash and watched this huge red ball slide down into the water.
It was Philip's sunset. It was beautiful and peaceful. And now it's gone, and Philip isn't with us any more. Not in this world.
He stopped going to church when he was 16. Never talked much about it, at least not to me. I never talked to him about it. But when I was thinking about that, I had a thought. Perhaps my imagination. Perhaps more than that. Perhaps God spoke through my imagination.
If so, what he said was:
“I loved him too.”
Goodnight, Philip. We all loved you.
Saturday 2nd April 2016.
Two days, and I think it's finally starting to sink in.
Emotionally, that is. Mentally I understood right off. I didn't have any problems with denial, with being unable to accept it. But I've struggled to feel it.
So you go about your life, and do the normal life-things that you do. You eat, you talk, you walk the dog. Everything just the same as before.
But every now and then you remember. I remember. That Philip has gone.
And slowly, bit by bit, these little moments of realisation begin to build into an emotional understanding to match the mental understanding I already have. Slowly I begin to grasp on a visceral level that something terrible and unalterable has happened. An uncompromisingly real and true tragedy has happened. And Philip has gone. That person that I've known nearly my entire life is irrevocably gone and he is never coming back, and there is nothing I can do about it.
It's not the facts of it that seem so hard to get a grip on. It's the enormity of it, the absoluteness of it, the utter finality of it. Something unique and lovely has gone out of the world forever. My brother, with his gentle smile and with his kindness and all his other qualities – he's gone.
It's just too much to really take in all at once. For me, at least, it's building up slowly, filling up with each drip, drip, drip of realisation.
And as it does, it makes the 'real' world seem a very shallow place. A painting, all light and colour and brightness – but a very thin place. And I start to feel that there must be some place else, some place where Philip now is, because he can't simply not be anywhere. He must have gone somewhere else.
Of course, I'm a Christian, so I'm inclined to think like that. But although it may be emotional and not rational, not logical perhaps, it's difficult to believe that an entire personality can simply cease to exist.
That would be easier to understand, but much harder to believe.
Sunday 3rd April, 2016.
It finally caught up with me today.
I had been praying, and as I finished my thoughts turned again to Philip. I thought of his last few minutes. We've heard that he'd been for a walk. I wondered where he'd been. Had he enjoyed it? I hope he did.
Then he went to pick Mum up, and as he got out of his car, a sudden massive heart attack took him. He fell right there, and was probably dead before he hit the ground.
I thought about that. Wondered if he'd had any premonition at all, any small chest pain, any inkling.
And that's when the emotion finally hit me. I don't know why it was then, or what triggered it, but I was sobbing so hard that my body shook. Annie heard me from downstairs, and came and held me until it had passed.
It was cathartic, I suppose. Afterwards – well, nothing has changed. The loss is still as terrible, still as real. But I feel relieved in a way, that I've acknowledged Philip's passing with my heart as well as with my head. There will be more tears, I suppose. But I'm glad that there have been tears. I needed it, and Philip deserved it.
There is a peace that follows grief. Not the peace of relief or of something accomplished, but the peace of knowing that all that can be done has been done. The peace of knowing that our loved one has not passed unacknowledged.
Monday 25th April, 2016.
Time has moved on. Nearly a month now, since Phil died. The funeral's today. We're leaving in a few minutes. Everything's sorted. Discussing and making the arrangements, doing all the other necessary things has taken time, but the family has all pitched in.
There have been some surreal moments. Down in Bedford, collecting the death certificate. The lady we dealt with was very good, efficient but sensitive with it. But the process seemed unreal. The bureaucratic formalities so mundane to be connected to such an absolute thing as death. We might have been applying for a bus pass or Social Security.
Later, the street where it happened. Standing where Philip had been. Seeing what must have been his last sight on earth. And thinking ridiculous thoughts, like, 'If only I'd been here.'
We talked to the Vicar. It happened right outside his house, he and his wife were in the garden, and were one of the first to be there. He told us some of the details. It seems that Phil was sitting in his car, on the passenger side, reading. He must have felt suddenly ill. The book was still on the drivers seat. He opened the door, leant out to vomit, then collapsed on the pavement. So quick.
For some reason, it was a comfort to think that it was a minister who was there. Certainly, it was a help to me to talk to him. A young man, who made time for us on his day off.
In the Nursing home, where Mum had been visiting Aunty Mary when it happened. Looking at the photos on her table. There was one there of Nana and Granddad – Olive and Henry Bidwell. They were young, in that photo, that old pair of black and white portraits. They're long since departed, of course. There was a colour picture of Philip with our sister Rachel, just in front of them. To me, it seemed as though they were looking over his shoulder. Watching over him. Illogical, of course, but at these times you take comfort where you can find it. And who knows but that it might not symbolise a deeper truth, something beyond our limited logic and narrow understanding of reality?
Dear Aunty Mary, she was so sympathetic to us. And now she's gone as well. Not a shock, not even a surprise, but another sadness, another bright light gone out of the world. So strange that she and Philip were within a few hundred yards of each other. Perhaps he'll be there, with Nana and Grandad, to welcome her home.
Clearing Philips flat was something else to do. He didn't leave much behind. He didn't have need of much. A big TV and an enormous comfortable chair. His house cleaner, Tracey, was as upset as any of us. He may not have made a big imprint on the world, but for those who knew him it was a significant one.
Nearly time to leave now, and say our last goodbye.
Monday 25th April 2016
So many people came to the funeral, so many people to support the family and say goodbye to Philip. Even many of his work colleagues, who had travelled a long way to be present. One of them said to me 'The Philip you talked about in your tribute, was the same person we knew at work.' Or words like that. The point being that there was no falseness in him. What you saw was what you got. He had his quirks, indeed, but what people remember was his kindness and humour and massive knowledge of football and fondness for chocolate.
He was remembered well, he's missed and mourned by everyone who knew him. And that is no bad legacy.
We laid him to rest, and the April showers passed over long enough for blue skies to show over his grave.