This blog was originally going to be part of another, but as I was writing it, it was obvious that the moments recalled needed to be on their own.
Christmas 2002. That was tough. Tracy and I were now married and living in our own fantastic apartment in the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in Dublin. Our Christmas was great. It was the boxing day/ 27th December phone call. 3.30am there was a ringing noise that permeated my sleep and seemed to be part of my dream. It was incessant though and eventually forced me out of my sleep.
My sister Yvonne called, “John’s in hospital, he is really sick” she said into the phone. John, or JP as EVERYONE knew him, was my eldest brother. We all adored him. Not a malicious bone in his body, even all the kids of friends and family etc all loved JP. John’s only problem was that he had been really badly hurt in a long-term relationship he had been in. His partner that he absolutely doted on cheated on him with a neighbour. It wasn’t just losing the partner, but her young daughter had been a massive part of JP’s life, and she was torn away too. JP had been the perfect dad to her, and as far as we could see the perfect partner. JP just did not know how to deal with this though and retreated into binge drinking. You would not see him all week, he would hide in his room in mum and dad’s. Then at the weekend he would drink and irritate you with his niceness.
I remember Tracy being shocked at JP hoovering at 5am in the morning. He was up, it needed done for his ma so why not. Or waking Neil up early hours to ask him what time he needed woken up for work. Or JP’s ability to fall asleep in the most ridiculous of locations.
Or the other side of JP. I dare you to answer mum or dad back. Or not be disruptive or disobedient to them. He would smack you. In so many ways JP was the perfect big brother. He showed us how we should speak to mum and dad. Friends loved him, neighbours loved him. Parents of friends and neighbours loved him.
There are enough stories about JP to fill a book, but I want to talk just about THAT Christmas.
Anyway, 3.30 am I was dealt with the shocking news that he was in the hospital. Yvonne also told me that the ambulance guys had to get the police to make him go in the ambulance. JP was fiercely proud and private but was in denial over how ill he was. He had accidentally swallowed a tiny sip of antifreeze. John had been on the prowl for alcohol and had come across a bottle stored away as it should have been. He took a sip, knew it was not alcohol and put it back. Unfortunately, the antifreeze went onto cause a lot of damage inside. Undetected for hours. When the family were aware he was sick, they called an ambulance, he refused point blank to go. The police came, everyone was aware how sick JP was, except JP. Eventually, they got him into the ambulance and off to Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
Still half asleep and not really processing the news, I drifted back off. A couple of hours later Yvonne called again, “Stuart you really need to get here. It really isnae good. John’s in a really bad way.”
“Ok” I said meekly as I hung up the phone. The days of cheap flights between Dublin and Glasgow had only really started. I had been in Glasgow the week before with our Alisha. JP had been there, but as it was midweek, I never saw much of him. He did take Alisha out. Had her at friends with their kids etc, but until I was about to leave, had not really spoken much.
By this time Tracy was very heavily pregnant with our Zoe and only just allowed to fly. I called Ryanair, (we did have internet but you could not book last-minute flights online) they had no availability. I called Aer Lingus, holding out little hope and wondering how on earth I was going to get back to Glasgow. “£35,” says the sales agent. “What?” I replied. I could not believe it. Tracy and I had prayed before we called. We knew we needed a miracle. The flight was at 10.30, it was now around 7.45am. Not only did we get a flight, but at a price that was completely ridiculous for the timescale involved.
The next couple of hours was a blur. All I remember is landing at Glasgow Airport, being met at arrivals at 11.30am (I had stared at my watch the whole way over) and being told: “I am really sorry son, he is gone.”
Imprinted in my mind now is those last seconds from the week before, as Alisha and I were heading back to Dublin and about to leave mum and dad’s, JP was standing in the middle of the sitting room. I was in the doorway and JP looked me straight in the eye, walked over towards me, hugged me and said: “I love you and I am proud of you”. “I love you too, John, thanks”. It was so out of character for either of us. But little did we know that God was giving us a moment that so many do not get. I got a proper goodbye with JP. I am actually weeping as I recall this. It was special. We all miss JP terribly.
This blog is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.
Alternatively, you can visit the Media Links page and see a short visit done by BBC Radio Scotland for an interview I did there.
If you or someone you love, needs help with the Christian response to addiction, or if you would just like to know more or need hope, please click on one of the following:
Teen Challenge Strathclyde
Teen Challenge UK
Teen Challenge Global
Bethany Christian Trust
Cornerstone Assemblies of God, Maryland
Broken Chains Ayr
Easterhouse Community Church