Receiving the news
I was lying in a hotel room in Brussels when I got the message.
I hadn’t checked my social media all weekend, but after getting a notification at 2.30AM from a friend’s brother—a very unusual occurrence—I felt something in my gut.
The message read:
I’m not really sure how to say this, so I’m just gonna have to be very blunt about. My brother passed away this morning. They think it was a heart attack.
I’m really sorry to message you like this but I know he cared a lot about you so I felt you needed to know. I know nothing of arrangements etc. If you could do me favour and tell whoever needs to be told that would be great.
I read it again, unable to process the words.
How could he have a heart attack? He was 31. Was this a joke? We were wents for drinks over Christmas. He seemed fine. He was in a good mood. He had lost a lot of weight, but…
I saw him smiling at me in my head.
I lay in silence for nearly an hour in shock, stone cold. I took a beer from the fridge and stared out the window.
Fragments of memories came back to me. With each one I could feel intense emotion building within me like a pressure cooker.
It’s swelling up now as I write this.
I thought of his smile again. Our childhood together.
….the first day I met him on the schoolyard when we were seven… when he was the new kid and I wanted to be his friend.
…the first time I visited his house when he showed me his favourite band, Radiohead. His passion for the music and the way he explained the interplay between instruments inspired me. That album became the first I ever owned, and later resulted in my first concert.
I thought of the long handwritten letters we had sent each other when he moved to America for a year when we were 10.
I thought of him teaching me the guitar when were 12.
I thought of him in secondary school. Those countless nights of us jamming together and writing songs. Him on the bass. The two of us on stage. The reggae band we formed while I was at college. “Musical soulmates” we called each other once.
I thought off all the conservations that lasted until the sun came up. His incredible intellect. The trips togethers. The dreams we shared.
….the days I drove out to him when he moved out to his studio flat in Dublin.
….the days I visited him when he wound up in hospital for six months for losing too much weight.
….the days I tried to help him out of his depression afterwards.
….the days before I left Ireland and how he continued his struggles.
I thought of how he was when I came home for Christmas in 2016… when he looked better than ever. He had become a professional musician, put on weight, and looked happy.
Then I thought how he was this Christmas just gone… when I got a shock to see he had declined again, looking frailer than ever.
“Jesus man, when was the last time you just had a pint with a friend?” I asked him, noticing how glad he was to see me.
“Months,” he told me. “I’ve been in a bad place.”
“You need to set up a Facebook again,” I told him. “How can we communicate…”
I thought of the last time I said goodbye to him…when I hugged him and felt nothing but bones.
“I miss you, man,” I told him. “Come fly over and visit me in April.”
“Yeah, Let’s do it,” he told me.
That was the last time I saw him alive.
I thought that if only I’d been living back in Ireland, I could have been there for him. I could have seen it coming. I was once his guardian, and I’d failed him.
I’d fucking failed him.
My eyes swelled up and the dam burst.
The pain of loss was unbearable. It was the one of worst experiences of my life.
The wake and the funeral
A few days later I flew home to a snowy Ireland for the funeral.
At the wake the night before, I walked in his family’s living room and saw the body resting in a coffin. I walked up, touched his chest, and broke down. Unable to hold back the tears, I shuffled passed the other visitors and stepped outside.
I had just managed to compose myself when my cousin found me and handed me a hip flask of whiskey. I took a mouthful, my hands trembling. I passed it to my friend Dan who was with him (he’d flown home all the way from Oman).
The three of us all loved him.
The next day was the funeral.
The family requested I perform at the mass.
“This is for you, man” I thought as I picked up a guitar, and then I started singing a slow rendition of “Black Star” by Radiohead to honour him…it’s what he would have wanted.
As you can imagine, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.
I kept it together, but once the song ended, the pain in my heart came back stronger than ever, and I let it all out at the back of the church. The tears in my eyes. All the grief.
I let it all out.
I never knew a man more principled than he. He was as good as they come. His intellect, talent, and warm nature was unrivalled in my world. But more than that he was one of my best friends. And I will miss him so much.
When the past dies you mourn, but when the future dies a part of you dies with it.
If there’s anything this experience has taught me is that life is fragile. We owe to those not here to live it well. And appreciate the things you have.
Thank you all so much for the support you shown me throughout the year, even though I’m not around as much as I used to be. I care for you, the lost boys of my generation. My legacy may not be the noblest, but I hope I have helped you to some way, and have inspired some of you to live their lives to the fullest.
RIP, my friend.