Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Saying goodbye

We only said goodbye with words / I died a 100 times

On Saturday afternoon I was jolted back to Thursday 19th April 2007. The night my eldest brother was found dead in a corridor next to two empty bottles of vodka. That night, I drank whisky in the Hawley Arms in the presence of Amy Winehouse, who died on Saturday. Not knowing he was dead. Not knowing that four years later she would succumb to the same addiction Paul did. Not knowing that the same chemical I was using for enjoyment had killed my brother in massive amounts. Not knowing I had missed the chance to see him just one more time. Just once more. One more time and that’s it.

It seems crass to use the death of one person to bring attention to your own grief. I do not mean to do this. I mean to reflect on something I have shared with few people and to give tribute to a man whose loss marks my soul. Who introduced me to music and told me about our Irish ancestors, who was the big brother who’d beat you up if you were mean to me in the playground.

Paul Christopher Maddocks was born in 1969 to my Mum and her first husband. I won’t pretend the loss of a brother is the same as the loss of your first, beloved son. Paul was 8lb 12oz, and upside down; my Mum 7 stone 12lb and without the offer of a Caesarean section. He nearly killed her then and he nearly killed her when he died. The shock of bereavement slammed her adrenal glands. She stopped producing the hormone that regulates salt levels. But the doctors didn’t know that. After a week of suspected stomach flu, when her body ridded itself of every drop of water to rebalance the salt in her blood, she went into “Addisonian crisis”. Her vital organs were shutting down, breaking like her heart had on that day in April. The vicar who visited her says he’s seen people that left hospital in a coffin who had looked better than she did.

Mama's gonna keep you right here under her wing / She won't let you fly but she might let you sing / Mama will keep baby cosy and warm.

After Paul’s birth, Mum swore “never again”. She went on to have four more children. She always wanted a girl and along I came in 1985. Paul was 16 and already drinking too much. I don’t believe addiction is just a disease on its own, I don’t think people abuse alcohol for no underlying reason. He was always searching for something, for who he was, what he was.

Paul's dad left my Mum when he was just five, a disruption that began a lifetime of searching for an identity. He was obsessed with his heritage. A few years before he died I met him in Farringdon, to vainly hunt for the death certificate of our Irish-born great-grandmother in the Family Records Centre. Years after our grandmother’s death he discovered that she, an illegitimate child of World War One, had been sent to a nunnery when she was an infant. Her nun’s name? Sister Mary Louise. The connection must be coincidence as not one family member knew of this before Paul. I’m forever grateful he revealed this unknown link between me and my half-Irish Gran.

Where Lagan stream sings lullaby / There blows a lily fair / The twilight gleam is in her eye / The night is on her hair

Our Irish ancestry fired Paul’s imagination and his writing, which he tried to make his living, but failed. Each knockback from a publisher or film producer would always turn him back to drink. The family research inspired poems about Irish lords and kings, the pseudonym Pól Mac Madóg and beautiful Celtic drawings in his notebook that I pore over every time I’m reminded of him.



For my fifteenth birthday, he bought me an Irish drum, a bodhrán. He had one himself since he was fifteen. I think he wanted his only sister to be just like him. So I adopted his tastes in music: Van Morrisson and The Bothy Band to go with the bodhrán; vehemently on the side of Oasis during The Battle of Britpop in 1995. Later on he played me The Fall but The Smiths won my heart. The broken, remelted and remade remnants of a copy of Hatful of Hollow are scattered in Hamworthy Park, Poole amongst his ashes – I placed the CD he gave me in his coffin before he was cremated.

Someday you will find me /Caught beneath the landslide / In a champagne supernova in the sky

When I was 16, on Christmas morning, Paul told me his ex-girlfriend was pregnant. Just like that, like I was supposed to already know. I didn’t. I’ve never met Billy. Paul didn't meet him much either.

Another Christmas we had to lock all the alcohol in the shed because Paul had crashed again. It was always a cycle of recovery, remission and relapse. Nothing we did could help him for long. Like Amy Winehouse, and all the world’s addicts, celebrity or not, he just seemed unable to resist the demons of self-destruction.

In the last few years of his life, Paul studied music on South Uist, an island in the Outer Hebrides. It was something of a joke to run away to the Hebrides, but he actually did it. But he couldn’t outrun those demons. He was clean for a year before the drinking started again. By January 2007, he knew he had to get help once more and we met him at Euston Station at the end of a two-day long journey from the furthest reaches of Scotland. For him, a two-day long binge. He was unconscious when the train pulled in.

Wake from your sleep / The drying of your tears/ Today we escape, we escape

At UCLH he begged to stay with me. Through tears of shame, “I want to stay with Louise.” You might think I cried too, but I was numb with fear and worry that this was the worst he’d ever been. And filled with a cold fury that my eldest brother, the one who called to chat about bands and books, the one I talked to about politics and life and what on earth is the Daily Mail banging on about now, was poisoning himself with alcohol and he was going to die and it wasn’t fair.

This is a sad fucking song / You'll be lucky if I don't bust out crying

We took him to stay with Mum. After three months, he had kicked his habits. Drink, fags, long shaggy hair all gone. A new man thanks to the bloody-mindedness of the mother who survived him being ripped out of her feet first. The mother who would later turn away from death, and the oblivion from grief that she could so easily have embraced, through sheer will to protect her family from another death.

Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head / See, the sea wants to take me / The knife wants to slit me / Do you think you can help me?

But when Paul left Mum’s home for his new life, he broke like a glass bottle smashed against a wall. The thing about addiction is that it has to be the addict who is strong. Family and friends can only form a barrier to those demons for so long. Faced with being on his own, he folded. And drank. And drank. And drank.

A week before Paul died, I went on holiday. I deliberated phoning him. I knew he was in a terrible state. The hour-long, rambling phone calls. The desperation in his cracking voice, his throat raw from neat vodka. Every time I said goodbye I wondered if I’d ever see him for one last hug. A farewell kiss. One last listen to Half Man Half Biscuit.

What could I do? Cancel my holiday and fly to his side just in case? One final effort to make him give up the ghost that haunted him, the ghost of obliteration?

When they found your body / Giant X's on your eyes

A week later I was in the pub. A week and a day later the phone call from my Mum, “He’s gone. He’s gone.” I realised I had said my final goodbye, two weeks before, the last time we spoke on the phone. He died, and a bit of me died too. And it still dies again and again, every time I realise I will never get to see him that one last time.

We only said goodbye with words / I died a 100 times
Paul Christopher Maddocks, 26th January 1969 - 19th April 2007
Rest in peace, Paul. You're still alive in your son Billy, and when I meet him, I'll share with him everything you shared with me.

6 comments:

  1. Not that it helps, but of those that I know that have lost loved ones, I hardly know of any that really feel like they had the chance to say goodbye.

    Cast the regrets aside, to leave more room for the happy memories, shared beautifully, as this is.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comment Scott. It's something I try to cast aside, but death never leaves you. I guess I shouldn't ruminate on the sadness though, as you've said.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm sorry for your loss.

    Thank you for a very moving and honest tribute that must have been difficult to write.
    K

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh man. This sweet old world. I'm sorry, Lulu, truly.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My heart fell heavier as I read on until I stopped, stupefied. I think I read somewhere that 'stupid' originally meant 'struck with grief' to the point where you can't think straight.
    I felt a little of that when I read this.
    That we can share traces of such painful yet precious emotions means we are never alone.

    That's what gives me hope.
    I started to believe a long time ago that emotions were real, tangible things that do exist without us.
    And that we are blessed by the connections we find and can share.
    It's all Love, even the grief.

    ReplyDelete
  6. since i wrote this piece i have met Billy, Paul's son. he is a lovely boy with a wonderful family. i gave him a CD with music on that Paul had introduced me to. his mum was so pleased. i can't wait to see him again.

    ReplyDelete