It’s a bummer when you are not sure exactly what date to remember your deceased brother on.
On reflection, it’s probably not an uncommon dilemma. A family member is found, passed away, and the question is, did they pass away on the day they were found, or on the day prior, on which they were last seen about 1am? A coroner’s office can provide a letter with a date in it, but in a situation where they are unable to provide the cause of death, it’s easy to also assume that their guesswork includes the time of death.
So when this time of year rolls around, there are 3 days in September that feel significant in relation to my younger brother’s death 3 years ago.
One is 9th September. In 2011, 9th was a Friday, and it was the last day that John would ever get up in the morning and go to work. He did an early shift, at the residential care facility where he worked as a PSA (Personal Services Attendant), starting at 7am and finishing at 3pm. After work he travelled home on public transport, as he didn’t see the point of paying for the petrol, maintenance, registration and parking permit required to have a car in the inner Melbourne suburb where he lived. He probably arrived home and had a shower, and then relaxed, listening to Sonic Youth, or Depeche Mode, or reading, or watching TV.
As it happens, 9th September was not just any old normal working day for him, and he would very likely have been in a pretty good mood. It was his last shift before 2 weeks of annual leave he’d organised in advance. He had been thinking for a while about training to become a Registered Nurse, had recently sat the required tests, and enrolled in the course. He was about to have a rare weekend off, and start on Monday at a 2 week intensive, which would be followed by weekly evening classes. Having left school at the age of 16, he had never undertaken tertiary level study before, so it must have been an exciting time. He had a few drinks, made dinner, for himself and my youngest brother, and after hanging out until late in the night, he went to bed.
After that point, time slows down.
10th September 2011 came and went, but it sits in my mind like the twilight zone. It’s the hazy, not-quite-real, in-between date. It’s the gap in-between John last being alive, and being found, passed away, in his bed. It’s the day that seemed normal at the time, but in hindsight it’s an abomination, because it’s the day where the rest of us went about our Saturday assuming all was still right with our world, not realising there was a terrible chasm between our imagined reality and real life. In the morning, I took my daughter shopping for shoes and to the local op (thrift) shop. In the afternoon, I phoned my sister, who lives overseas, to tell her the news I’d received, that a friend of hers had passed away suddenly from an asthma attack, at the age of 39. I phoned my brother with the same news, but he didn’t pick up. I thought nothing of it, and he rarely responded to messages so I didn’t leave one.
We do not know at what time on the 10th his sleeping state was disrupted by something, perhaps, (as suggested by the coroner), a seizure, that turned out to be catastrophic. We don’t know when whatever-it-was changed sleep to something else, perhaps a coma, or perhaps death in mere moments. No detail about this was revealed by the coroner after the autopsy and I don’t spend a lot of time wondering about it because no answer to this question is any more satisfactory than any other.
I said that the 10th was the gap in the middle, but in fact, we do know that he was alive at the start of the 10th, because he was seen by our youngest brother, P. who lived with him. John got up at some time in the night, perhaps 1am, to get a drink, while P was still up watching TV. P. decided to go to bed, and that was the last time he ever saw his brother, and housemate, alive.
So this brings us to 11th September. It’s a date already loaded with images of grief and death for those of us living in Western countries where we associate the World Trade Centre attacks of a decade ago in the U.S. with that date. (Despite the telling fact that many of us could not name the dates of any other recent terrorist attacks in Western countries such as the London or Barcelona or Bali, let alone recite any details about the ongoing incidences of such terrorist activities in non-Western countries).
On 11th September 2011, the airwaves and the media were particularly heavy with collective memories as it was the 10th anniversary of the attacks. I drove to the supermarket that afternoon, listening to a radio program where people were calling up and sharing their memories of the day 10 years earlier, and for the first time, I felt my daughter was old enough to hear an edited version of what people were referring to, so I explained it to her.
11th September was to gain a much more personal significance for me an hour or two later when I was back at home, trying to think of something to write about on this blog, and the phone rang. That significant moment was drawing closer, that turning point in my life was now only minutes away. Those minutes ticked by while my youngest brother had a conversation on the phone with my partner. The last full minute of blissful unawareness that I had left, slowly disappeared as I followed my partner up the stairs because he “had to tell me something”. Now that I replay it in my mind, I hear those final seconds bang their way loudly past like a goddam drum in a symphony orchestra. They were the last few seconds of my previous life, the life where I thought everyone I loved was alive. That was 11th September.