A few days ago, the mother of an old friend and ex-boyfriend posted this picture on his Facebook page. Another tribute paid to a fantastic young man who was still finding his way in the world, when a horrific and shocking accident struck him down in his prime. I was one of the first to hear the news when he had tripped while camping fallen on a huge knife used for cutting wood, and while in the woods, with his brother, he bled to death.
It was horrible and I’m getting a lump in my throat just thinking about it. Even now, more than half a year on, the thought still sends a wave of nausea over my body and the news hits me all over again. With family and friends scattered across the UK and Canada, it was difficult to pass the news on to others who, like myself, had grown up with him. While his body remained in Canada, his mother attending the funeral, we held a memorial service in his home town where old friends, family and school chums all came together and spoke of memories we shared of that crazy boy, before releasing purple balloons.
It was a very emotional day and really tough to see so many tear-stained faces there. His mother gave a beautiful speech about him and others spoke of their time with our dear friend. Despite losing others in years gone by, this was easily the most poignant loss, partly because this was the first time I was old enough to really register the loss, and because it was such a shock to us all.
There was another reason why – because this was the first time I had to report on a death that touched my life so much. As a journalist, I am used to dealing with death, horror stories and shocking news on a daily basis (as well as all the more feel-good stuff – it does balance out). I have been dealing with horrible accidents and death knocks almost since I first started and remember clearly reporting on the case of a three-year-old child that ran out into the road while at the town’s annual Mart (fair) and was hit by a car and died shortly after. I saw the accident happen and it was devastating to watch the family’s reaction, then a passer-by holding the little’ boy’s hand as he took his last breath. It was horrifying and I was in total shock, but the next day, I took a deep breath and headed into the office to report on the ‘story’. It was one of the hardest days at work that we have had for a long time, and I was reporting on it with a woman who has a little boy the same age.
It was definitely one of the worst stories I have ever had to write, but it was easily trumped when I had to write a tribute to a boy who used to be one of my best friends, and who was a huge part of my teen years. Having to chase up with the Canadian authorities the details of what happened to him and how the accident came about was hard. It was tough to hear them talk about him as a case rather than as my friend, but I battled through it. Being a journalist is difficult because once you release that part of your mind, you are constantly looking for the story in everything. When you are trying to comfort the family and friends of the deceased, it is tough not to listen out for the quotes and the introduction to your story. It is not heartless, just amazing training coming into play. But the last thing you want in this situation.
It became easier after the memorial service, when I saw his mother alone to put together a tribute piece to him. It was a tearful afternoon but was filled with laughter at lovely memories and it really helped me. It helped me to come to terms with the fact that my friend was really gone, but also to know that he would never just disappear as long as we all remember him. It also helped me to write a fantastic tribute that really did justice to the type of person he was, and I hope that all of his friends agreed.
This is the first time I have managed to speak about this in so much detail since it happened and I hope that I have used my friend as a way of illustrating that journalists actually do a very hard job – particularly if they live in the patch they cover and have to report on loved ones in terrible situations. Not all journalists are heartless, many, like myself, become completely involved in their area and genuinely love it. We live each moment of pride and failure for our town and form strong bonds with the people who live there. Journalism is not just a trade, or a job, it is a lifestyle and a decision to become a huge part of your local community.