When someone dies in the days before social media, they don’t have a tribute page where friends can come together and support each other. They don’t have a Facebook profile where people can talk to them, leave messages, and check every now again to keep the person alive in their mind. They don’t have a Twitter page where you can re-read their words and remember their thoughts, their dreams, their conversations. There is nothing online. Nothing.
But they still existed.
My brother died in 2003, 11 years ago today. Facebook didn’t exist then and there is no trace of him online.
But he still existed and I want people to remember him.
He was 18 years old when he died in a car accident with one of his closest friends, Amy. I don’t have permission from her family to talk about her, so I will just say that she was also 18, just about to go to university, very bright, and very beautiful. We think about her often.
Anthony was having a year out after school, playing rugby, and looking forward to heading to university at the end of that year. He was popular, cheeky, creative, and very talented at rugby. He had a big group of friends who he went to school with, played sport with, holidayed with, and partied with. He hated doing school work, but always managed to do well in exams (much to my annoyance). We didn’t have the best relationship as children, but we had bonded in recent years with mutual friends at the rugby club – so my brother, my sister, and I spent most weekends together.
Anthony had met my now-husband and told me that he liked him. We had only just met when Anthony died, so that quick comment means a lot to me now.
He had everything to live for.
I was living in London at the time he died, in the first year of my first job at a magazine. It was the middle of the night on November 28th that my phone rang. I saw it was my home number calling and I knew instantly that it was bad news. In the split seconds before I answered the call, the names of my immediate family members flashed through my mind. I had been with them that afternoon, before returning to London on the train, so I knew where everyone was heading.
When my Dad’s voice came on the phone, my first thought was ‘Dad is OK’, but then I remembered that someone else wasn’t. He confirmed it with: “I have some bad news” and the words that followed shattered my world in a split second.
I don’t think about that night often, but memories come back to me at this time of year. I remember sitting on the wall outside my house with my housemate Tom, our breath turning to smoke in the cold air as we waited for a taxi to drive us back to Kent. I remember seeing a stag stood majestically on the side of the road on that long journey and not even blinking. I remember walking into our family home and my Mum asking whether the roads were foggy – I thought she was enquiring out of interest; it took years for me to realise that she was wondering how the accident had happened. I remember the sound of the kettle boiling as endless cups of tea were made as we waited for the darkness to fade and morning arrive. I remember my Dad making phone call after phone call as the lightness arrived. And then I remember family and friends arriving very quickly afterwards; I vividly remember one family friend arriving with her hair messy, sleep still in her eyes, as she threw on some clothes and ran straight out the door when she heard the news. I remember the shock, the sadness, the tears, but I also remember the support from those around us. I remember my auntie’s dog moving from person to person, allowing us to stroke her for comfort. I remember the bowls of soup and casseroles arriving, the visits from the parish Priest, having to go into town to buy myself a funeral dress to wear to two funerals in a row, and I remember the feelings of anger and injustice bubbling to the surface when we had to pick a coffin from a catalogue.
That night changed me, changed my personality, and shaped the course of my life. If people ask me how many siblings I have, I always say: “I have a sister”, but inside I am screaming ‘I have a brother too”.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about him.
And since becoming a mother, I feel his loss even more intensely, especially when my two-year old recently pointed at his picture and asked: ‘Who’s that?’ and we tried to explain that it is his Uncle, who is now with the angels and the clouds in the sky.
Stanley is named after him: Stanley Anthony. And I will tell both the boys about their Uncle as they grow up, making sure they share his love of sport, cheeky sense of humour, and zest for life. They will grow up knowing that he existed.
So you may not have a Facebook or Twitter page, but we remember you Anthony. And we will always remember you. Today and always.