It’s actually 22nd June but this post is going to be really hard to write and to post up for the world to see. So I’m starting it now so that I can work on it for the next 8 days to get it just right.
My sister would have been 50 today. She was sadly taken from us on 19th February 1991. I will go into that later but first our earlier years.
Julie was 2 years older than me. Early memories were of us growing up where my mom still lives today in Rangeways Road, in the West Midlands. We were a very happy family of four, not special but just normal and like so many families. We were both given bikes one Christmas, blue as I remember them and due to our love of horses we used to ride them in the street pretending they were horses, doing rising trot on them and the curbs were jumps. We also used to use the banister upstairs, we’d place a pillow on it as a saddle and ride the banister, thank god there weren’t any mobile phones then to record that! It was our dream to have our own horse. We would tease each other over the years at Christmas and Birthday’s. Whoever was up first would wake the other one up by saying that there was a horse outside waiting for us.
Julie was just like my mom, quiet, shy, hard to talk to and if you didn’t know her you would think that she was a snob but that wasn’t the case. Julie was not like me at all, she was a ‘goodie two shoes’! I was just like my dad. She was so good that one day she was given money to go to the shops to buy a paper, she brought a Curly Wurly instead and told mom and dad that she had dropped the money down the drain. Unable to live with the deceit, she soon owned up to it as she couldn’t live with the shame of lying. Apart from that incident I don’t remember her ever being naughty, I made up for that and brought my poor parents enough problems to make up for Julie’s short comings. Our love of horses lasted years and we spent so many hours working all weekend at a local riding stables for free. We were lucky to share in one of our dreams together, we had our own horse, Bonnie first and then later, Czar. Thank you mom and dad for making that dream come true for us.
We used to fight a lot and we didn’t like each other much at times. I look back and regret every argument and fight we ever had. I was the stronger one, both physically and mentally. I’m not proud of taking her soft, loving and gentle personality for granted. She didn’t have loads of friends but the ones she had were real friendships that should or would have lasted a lifetime. Julie was jealous of the friendship I had with my best mate Nicky. She said to me once “you two are always together” and we were. This meant there was no time for my serious, goodie goodie sister. I do remember going to a nightclub with her once. Now my sister never drank or smoked (see I said she was nothing like me) but this night she had cocktails! Within an hour she was under the table, pissed and it was just so funny as I think this was the first time she had ever really drank and I never remember her drinking like that again. She was hiding under the table saying “they’re all looking at me” it was fun getting her home that night!
Julie was not very brave at all and squeamish at most things. When she announced that she wanted to be a midwife we all laughed. We thought she was joking but she was deadly serious. So after studying in Hotel Management at Halesowen College and getting a steady job she packed it all in to start to train as a nurse first. This meant that she had to move out of the family home. She moved into the nursing training block and had a taste of independence. She found friends and started to grow in confidence. I was happy as I got the bigger bedroom but the family home wasn’t the same without her. I visited her and attended parties in the halls of residence which are precious memories but again pre modern technology of cameras in phones and Facebook, there are sadly no photo’s of those happy times spent together. She met Rachel during these years, a friendship through the studying years and someone, like many others that liked Julie for who she really was. By now we had sold Czar and she brought Amber, a Red Setter which lived with mom and dad.
She met Anthony and he made her come alive. She shared with him the activities that he was into and she loved them. Motorbikes, caravan holidays in Wales, water skiing and motocross. My sister used to say to me that when we are born we are half of an orange and when we meet the right person we become whole. She had found her other half of her orange.
Their courtship lasted and the wedding date was planned for 30th June 1990, Julie’s birthday. It was the happiest and best day of our families’ lives so far. A dream wedding day full of fun, love and happiness. I have a video of that day but I don’t watch it very often, it makes me too sad. Hearing their voices and seeing the people alive that you have lost, is heartbreaking. Their first dance of the evening was to Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight,’ a song that took me years to be able to listen to without crying. The memories of them dancing, so much in love, so happy, full of hopes and dreams of what the future held for them but was never to come to fruition. This made that song impossible to listen too. It was at their Wedding that I first saw Steve, he was going out with Dawn who grew up over the road from us and I had known her since I was 3 years of age.
Life continued as normal for us all, They had their honeymoon and then married life began for them and Amber, her dog. I visited their home often as we had both grown up in terms of stupid sibling fights and I was happy that she was married to Ant, who had become a dear friend. We shared lots of happy times together in the years before the wedding. We both had boyfriends into motorbikes. We would go down the local bikers pub at weekends. I stayed with them in Ant’s family caravan in Wales for long weekends. I shared in their circle of friends and we had some fantastic times just doing normal stuff that we all do, not thinking for one moment that life would ever be cut short. Death or my experience of death was limited. Uncle Fred had died, a friend of my Dad’s mom. My granddad had died (my mom’s Dad) in 1988 when I was 20 and my other grandad, but I was too young when he died and I can’t remember him at all really, but that was it.
I remember Christmas Day 1990, together in our family home. We had all put together and brought my dad a flying lesson and mom had brought him a new pigeon clock. He was so happy. Another great family Christmas, we had no idea that it was to be our last.
Julie had been studying for years and after Christmas she shared with us the fantastic news that she had passed and was now a qualified midwife. To celebrate this she wanted to go on holiday with Rachel. Her study partner and friend. The gulf war had just started and Anthony didn’t want to risk her going abroad at this time so they agreed that they would go to Scotland and that they would share the driving. So a week of fun to celebrate the end of years of studying and exams was organised. Anthony ran his own business and couldn’t take the time off. I think he knew that their friendship through the years, studying together and becoming qualified was the celebration, girlie time and men were not allowed.
My dad had a recurring dream for over 20 years that someone would go away on holiday and never return. So strong and frequent was this dream that my mom and dad never went abroad since the dreams started.
I had moved to Gatwick with my job and hadn’t lived at home since I was 19. One night in February 1990, I woke up and a feeling of grief washed over me from my head down right down through my body, I woke crying, I just knew that my sister was dead. The next day at work I shared my dream with Carole from HR and the only other person I told was Julie. We spoke on the phone before her holiday and after telling her of my dream I finished the call saying “I love you.” I think that was the only time that I remember ever telling her. Early years growing up were full of either our love of horses or arguments and fights over stupid things.
Julie wrote to me on 15th January 1991. I have selected some lines of that letter for you and a photo of the last page.
Hi Wend, Thought I’d start to write to you as I won’t be seeing much of you now. As soon as we start to be friends again, you disappear.
Now don’t forget if you want to chat ring me and I’ll phone you back ok don’t leave me out I quite miss you and we can’t quarrel on the phone! can we?
My mom and Julie had helped me take all my stuff down to my new room in a shared flat to start my new job. I was happy and making friends. The first night that I had been invited out had been a fabulous evening spent at a pub called ‘The Gamebird’ in Horley. I had a great night and I returned to the flat happy. I’d sang and laughed so much I’d almost lost my voice. The phone rang, I answered it, it was my mom, she said “it’s Julie” and I dropped the phone to the floor instantly and started to cry, I just knew she was dead. The dream the other night, my dad’s dream for years. I eventually managed to speak to my mom for the details that she knew at that time.
I phoned Nicky and then Daz (old boyfriend) I told them both what mom had told me. I didn’t get the response I wanted from them. I thought, hoped, prayed that they would say “no, no, no Wendy that’s not right, I saw her today and she is fine” but neither of them did, I had shocked them both. They both replied “what!” Nicky was always there for me and has been since we meet. She was there for my whole family through the difficult times to come, thank you Nicky.
I phoned my manager, Patsy. The next train out of London Euston was at 6 am the next morning. She arranged to meet me at Gatwick, she stayed with me all night, she arranged for a taxi to take me to the train station and sat with me whilst I cried in the chapel of rest at the airport. God sends us angels sometimes and she was mine that night. I arrived at Birmingham New Street running into the arms of my mom, sobbing. Other commuters must have been puzzled at the scene but I was not aware of them around us at all.
We know that there has been a car crash, it’s Anthony’s car. Two girls, one unconscious and one dead, and two handbags and so someone had to go and identify the body. Dad and Anthony set off to Scotland. My dad asked before he went into the room to identify her “is she in a bad way?” “No” the policeman replied. Apparently my dad had the policeman pinned up against the wall after he had been in to see her. I always wanted to ask my dad about what he saw, but I never did.
Another memory of those early days after she died was the need to be in church, the church where she married Ant just months before. It was late at night and dark, I had no idea if the church would even be open but I went anyway. I walked through the fields of my childhood which I had shared with Julie and school friends, I was on my own, it’s dark but I know every path. The church was open but empty and dimly lit. I was sat in the pews, crying. The next thing I know the Vicar is with me, trying to understand why I was there. I could hardly speak for crying but I do remember saying when trying to apologise for me being there so late was “oh God I’m sorry” Then I realised what I’d said, I’d used the Lords name in vain, in a church, in front of a Vicar. I was ashamed and the tears just kept falling. The next thing I knew was that Daz was beside me. I have no idea how he knew I was there, I hadn’t told anyone I was going. Daz dropped me back home that night. Church didn’t help that night, nothing helped, nothing took the pain away, nothing could.
Back at home over the coming days, family and friends came to offer comfort. We knew that it was Julie who had died by now and all hope of it being Rachel had gone. Isn’t it awful that we would wish that grief on another family? Dad and Anthony returned. I spent a few nights with Anthony to comfort him. I could hear him pacing upstairs for hours, wailing and crying for his lost love. I couldn’t comfort him, myself or anyone else.
The day after they returned everyone got postcards from Julie. Anthony’s started with “Hi Ant, don’t worry your car is still in one piece,” this was awful for us all. The postmark on the postcards we all received was 19th February, the day she died. The Valentines cards they had given each other just 4 days before were still on display in their home. I had to sort through her stuff for Ant. I found odd things really hard to deal with like her hair brush, I could touch her hair and her sanitary towels ready for her next period. I still have a pair of her jeans in my wardrobe today, I don’t wear them but I can’t part them either as I can still see her in them. The need to hold onto anything after someone has died is or can be unhealthy. Julie had baked profiteroles and they were in mom’s freezer, I think it took her over 5 years to throw them anyway.
My postcard, which arrived after she died.
Turns out from the autopsy that the last contents of her stomach were Coke (the drink) and cough medicine. Being a nurse she didn’t measure cough mixture but just took a gulp. My sister was too sensible to fall asleep at the wheel, as this is what they were saying happened. I believe that she became unconscious due to the cough mixture and coke mixing together. She was driving and Rachel was asleep, she was going around a bend on the A9 and coming the other way was an articulated lorry. He flashed his lights at her as he could see the car was out of control and swerved to miss her but she hit the back wheels of the lorry and her life ended. I felt sorry for this lorry driver, the impact on him of what he saw that day must have been horrific. We understand that they had to be cut out of the car to get them free.
Mom and I had to go to my Nan’s (my mom’s mom) and tell her that Julie had died, that was hard. I suddenly remembered my dream whilst I was there, I asked my mom if I had told her about my dream but she didn’t know what I was talking about.
I remember one night most of the family coming round. Mom being an only child it was my dad’s side of the family, his sister’s my Aunty Cynthia and Aunty Shelia. My dad’s mom who wore a hearing aid started crying as she just couldn’t hear or take in what was being said. Can you imagine outliving your daughter or granddaughter? Her death was announced in the local papers and the next night both my Nan and Ant’s houses were burgled. They took all of my sisters jewellery, wedding ring, the lot. There are some sick scum in this world. An appeal in the local paper sadly didn’t bring the jewellery back.
I received a call from Carole in HR at Gatwick to say how sorry they all were to hear about Julie. I remembered my dream “Carole, did I tell you about my dream? I asked as I knew I had told Julie but I couldn’t remember who else I told. She said “oh Wendy, I’ve just gone all cold”. After Julie’s death my dad never had that reoccurring dream again that he had had for over 20 years, that someone went on holiday and never came back.
As Julie was on holiday she had a camera with her. This is one of the last photo’s ever taken of her with Rachel. I’m glad that she was happy. They had managed to go horse riding and it seems comforting that horse riding, the one thing that we both loved and shared together was one of the last things she did.
The funeral day arrived and my mom said that I had to write a card for the flowers as these were the last words I’d ever say to her. But I had said mine that night on the phone, they were “I love you” and although I didn’t want to, I had to write the card. Anthony was in a terrible state. The hearse drew up and he was physically sick. We travelled to the Crematorium and it was like there was a football match on, so many people and cars. There were so many people that not everyone got in, there was about 100 people left outside. The aisle was full and people stood at the sides too. It was so strange because some of the people there I hadn’t seen since their Wedding just 8 months earlier. Ant couldn’t walk into the Crematorium, he was draped over two of his friends shoulders. I just couldn’t cope with it all. I like the rest of my family was living a nightmare. Julie wore her wedding dress again that day.
Ant wasn’t the first to be told about Julie, my mom was, as the details in her handbag were still in her maiden name, King. The police turned up but my mom was out having a pizza with a friend, I can’t remember where my dad was or who told him. With no one at home, by some stroke of luck they went to nanny Jan’s house (a neighbour over the road). Mom returned from the meal, the police and Jan were waiting. She was told about the accident and very calmly she offered them a cup of tea. No tears, as these took a while to come out. Mom called Ant and asked him to come round and told him that it was urgent and to bring a friend with him. She then had to tell him that his wife of 8 months, her daughter was dead. They never even had the time to have their first argument, she was taken before even a year had passed. They were still just so happily married, this was not supposed to happen.
After the funeral life was so hard. My dad was a wreck, he drank whisky all day without any effect on him and cried. Amber (Julie’s dog) return to live with my mom and dad. My rock, my world was falling apart and I couldn’t cope with it. I stayed with them for only one week and then I returned to work. The week that I stayed with them was shared between mom and dads’ and Ant’s house. On the third day after Julie died I woke up at my mom’s. I was in the bedroom Julie and I had shared together on and off throughout our early years, and I knew she was gone, I couldn’t feel her with me anymore.
My job at Gatwick was 140 miles away, far enough away to be able to hide from the pain that I saw in my parents, I could pretend it hadn’t happened, that I could call her to talk to her if I wanted too. Seeing my parents grief was too heavy a burden for me.
I then became angry and this anger grew as time passed. I would see drug addicts on the streets or the homeless, rapist or murderers in the paper and think why did God take my sister and leave this scum to live? I started to hate God, resent his power and for taking my sister away from us.
Julie having passed her midwifery course was invited to a presentation of her certificate at Brierley Hill Town Hall. I attended with my mom and dad. They went up to receive her’s along with all the other midwives that passed that year. I sat in the hall, in the audience with all the other adoring families watching my parents collect what she had worked so hard for, one of her dreams. It should have been her up there that day, being happy and proud of what she had achieved. I could feel the sense of pity from the audience as my mom and dad accepted the certificate. It was hard to watch them on that stage. She should have had this moment, it should have been her that day, on that stage.
My anger turned into depression and I remember coming up to the first year anniversary of her death, my feelings grew darker. I didn’t want anything, not light or dark, not sound or silence, I just wanted the pain to stop. Raw grief is dangerous, an empty feeling in your heart that just can’t be filled. I started collecting painkillers with the intention of taking my own life. I just didn’t want anything anymore, I didn’t want life. I never took those pills, how could I do that to my mom and dad? One of the hardest things that happens when you lose a sibling, if there was only two of you to start with, is that you are never enough. Every occasion, Christmas, Birthdays and especially Mother’s & Father’s Days were just so hard. She was always missing and I couldn’t replace that gap. The missing card on the shelf. No card was good enough, no present cost enough. Even now I spend more money on my mom at Christmas than on my kids as I can’t ever make up for Julie not being there, I never could nor could any card or present. I have never admitted that, the pain of never being enough. I’ve carried that around inside for years.
I have had to learn to be an only child. Which is not easy as for 23 years I had someone to share memories with of fun times with mom and dad. My mom struggles with meeting new people as the usual questions are asked when getting to know someone. Most ask “do you have any children?” Now what does my mom say? “yes, two but my oldest daughter died at the age of 25?” and risk the awkward silence and then seeing the look in that persons eyes who wants to just get away from her? Does she say “yes just one” and deny Julie ever lived and live with that guilt of pretending she never lived? It’s a hard one to answer. I however if asked always just tell the truth but hope that the question doesn’t really come up at all. I answer factually without emotion ever. This may make me seem cold and it is but I’ve learned to just say it without feeling what I’m saying.
I started to fear loving anyone, getting too close as I never wanted to feel hurt and pain like that again. I started to build a wall around myself to protect the inner me. I stopped feeling deeply and preferred to appear happy, as that’s what people want. Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.
I travelled back when the ashes were ready to be laid. Now I wasn’t prepared for this, I hadn’t thought what it would be like. It’s awful as a big funeral car arrives and they bring out a small box. The person that you are grieving for is reduced to a small box of ashes.
Every year on 30th June and 19th February my mom and I light a candle, in love and remembrance of my beautiful sister. I always exchange a text message of “thinking of you” with Ant. He has never missed a Valentines Day yet at the church yard in all these years that have passed. He takes flowers, 12 red roses usually, where they married and where she is now laid to rest. My dad has now also joined her in the same plot, in the church grounds where he gave her away to marry Ant just 8 months before she died.
I get no comfort from going to the grave, so I don’t go very often. My mom used to go every Friday evening after work with fresh flowers. She did this for 6 years until my dad become ill. I had just managed to get her to stop going and then dad died. She doesn’t go every week now but she has to drive past the church regularly. A constant visual reminder of where her loved ones are.
I met my first husband Andy at this time. He had a normal happy family and I was able to hide in them. I had been told that it would be very doubtful that I would ever be able to get pregnant but two years later to the month Julie died, Rebecca was born on 7th February 1993. She gave us all a reason to live again. 16 months later Richard was born, on 8th June 1994, my mom and dad’s wedding anniversary. he was born in Wordsley Hospital where Julie studied and worked in the delivery ward.
Anthony has had to move on. For years he used to take my dad for a pint on a Sunday night but these evenings faded away over the years. He has a partner and they now have two children. I am so happy that he has found peace and happiness, but he never got married again. When my dad died in 1997 Ant was in the main funeral car with Mom and I as he was and always will be considered part of our family from years before. It saddens me that Richard and Rebecca don’t know their Uncle Ant. If Julie were still alive today all of our lives would be so different to the life we lead today without her.
I found it hard to cope when her 40th birthday came along and now another 10 years have passed and she would have been 50 today! I hope my new friend, ‘my blog’ that holds some of my innermost thoughts and feelings can help me again in easing the pain that I have carried around for all these years, by sharing this with you all. As it has done through my journey with cancer so far.
Now my mom can’t think about me not being alive, nor can Steve, it’s just not an option for either of them that death may come knocking at our door once more.
The awful things that we see and read about everyday in the news of things that happen to others, but can never happen to us, or so I thought. I couldn’t believe that death had come to our family and taken my sister who was good and kind. She was only 25, I was 23 at that time and then my dad died who was only 57. As each year passes I mourn for my sister, I think of her everyday as I do my dad. I stopped being angry with God and I am thankful for each day I have. I decided that I wouldn’t be a victim but instead I would embrace life, but life isn’t fair. I hate causing my mom pain with constant bad news on the cancer front. I think that losing a daughter, a husband, a mom and a dad is enough for anyone and it’s surely someone else’s turn for grief. But ‘fair is for children’ as they say and who knows what lies ahead of us all, life just isn’t fair at all sometimes. My first milestone is to outlive my dad who died at 57 but I have learned to enjoy each day as it comes and sometimes you are better off not knowing what is around the next corner.
So the moral of the story is – live life, don’t let it pass you by. As Patsy once said to me when I asked her about whether I should go out with Steve or not, “my dear, run down the road and wave your knickers in the air as life is too short.” What wise words they were and they made me laugh.
Steve has made me the person I am today through his love and support. Listening to my life stories. Some of which I am not proud of. He loves me for who I am and what has made me, me.
I wrote this poem to express my pain after she left us and I’d like to share it with you.
As I look at past photo’s, I can count up to four
I look even closer, do you know what I saw?
A Mommy, a Daddy, a unit, one team
I look at our faces, how happy we seem.
A fills my eyes, I ache in my heart
our family of four is broken apart.
The future it holds for us only three
One Mommy, one Daddy and only one me.
No one could replace her, no one would fit
into our unit, the close family we’ve knit
and if she could see into our hearts
I know she’d be proud of how together we are.
But still we can never replace the fact
for us now there’s only looking back.
Forever young, beautiful and free
in our memories always to be.
In future days when looking at snaps
We shed a tear as there’s always a gap
as I count myself a Mrs and Mr
there should be another, my beautiful sister.
I know that this is my story about my grief in losing Julie and about those around my family at the time. I also know that those of you who have sadly lost loved ones will read my post and maybe moved by memories of your own personal pain of people you may have lost. I’m so sorry for your pain and that I may have made you feel emotions that you like I choose to hide away from the world. This post was written out of respect and love for my sister and all those who know the pain of raw grief. If you have experienced that raw grief, you are not alone and sometimes it’s good to remember and feel that pain. People are only dead when we stop remembering them and stop talking about them.
If memories are all we have then I had to share mine for my Mr Wonderful (hubby) my children and all who know me, as in this post are the details of which I have never really shared with them or you, but I have now.
So tonight I will be lighting a candle as will my mom. We do this every year on her birthday and death day. I have been given a candle holder for this year by my much loved Aunty Shelia, thank you. This year she would have been 50 years old and married for 25 years. Instead of family celebrations for us there are memories and a candle of remembrance.
Finally thoughts: If the price we pay for loving each other is the pain that we feel if we lose our loved ones. I’d rather have loved and lost then to never have loved at all.