Stephen Ridgley

Stephen and I had been together for 12 years. We had our ups and downs like most couples but we always stuck together and we were best friends. We finally tied the knot in October 2015. We were inseparable – in all of the years the most we had ever spent apart was 7 nights. I never thought I would be married at the age of 25 and widowed at the age of 27. I saw us being married for decades, neither of us ever contemplated the other one not being there, we always said we couldn’t live without each other. Being so young we never discussed what would happen if the other one passed, at our age it is not something that was ever thought about let alone discussed. Four weeks prior to Stephen passing we had moved into a beautiful house, something we dreamed of for so long, things were just perfect. Finally we had everything.

Stephen was a mechanic and had a huge passion for cars, mainly classic Fords. Steve could never keep a car as factory standard, he had to modify everything and make it faster and he accumulated many friends as a result of his passion. A few days before he passed away he landed himself a new higher paid job with great prospects. He was so excited about it, he spoke of the workshop and their own project cars and he said they told him they would make space for his car too. Things couldn’t have been any better for us.

On Friday 24th March we awoke in our house as normal, Stephen had a day off to relax before starting his new job on the Monday, he was so excited and happy. We had a little bit of a natter – I was jealous he didn’t have to get up and I told him “wait until next week when you have to get up earlier than me!!”

I left for work as normal, he was very chirpy. Steve had a fairly easy day ahead of him with the only thing he had to do was move his enormous toolbox from his old work to his new one ready for Monday Morning. When I got to work I sent him a message to ask him to put up some shelves for me whilst he was at home, he said he would see what he could do. The last message I received from him was at 8.50am to tell me his friend Gary would pick him up around lunchtime to assist him in transporting his toolbox. I messaged him early afternoon to see how he was getting on with no response – I didn’t think anything of it I just assumed he was busy.

I remember driving home from work, the sun was shining and I had a huge smile on my face – I was so excited to get home. We had planned for my uncle to come round for dinner and see the new house. I got home at around 5.20pm as normal, I saw his car parked outside which I didn’t think anything of – he was either inside or with his friend. I went inside, I am sure I called his name. I started tidying up in the kitchen and once done I poured myself a glass of prosecco and leaned my back against our kitchen worktop about to take a sip. At this moment I looked up and I saw his keys hanging up on the hook, instantly I felt this awful heart-wrenching feeling and ran as fast as I could upstairs.

I peered my head around the bedroom door and even at that first glance, in the first split second I knew he was gone. So blue, so lifeless. I ran over to him lying in our bed, I pulled the covers back and he was so warm, this gave me a little bit of hope but deep down I knew he was so blue it was too late. I pressed my ear against his chest and held his wrist tight to check for any signs of life. I shook him and screamed at him “Steve, please wake up, please don’t do this to me”. After a few moments I ran downstairs to get my phone, I was jumping and hysterically shouting in our kitchen with an empty brain and a shocked heart. I called my sister in sheer panic and when she answered I just kept screaming, the most harrowing voice breaking screams “Steve’s dead, he’s dead, Steve’s dead” this was only for about 3 seconds before the call cut off. Having told her suddenly I got myself together and ‘medical mode’ kicked in. I ran and opened the front door and ran straight back upstairs whist dialling 999. I remember the call, I was just screaming “please help me, please help me, my husband’s dead, please help”. The operator then asked which service I required, I just kept screaming for help. I was then put through to someone else and they asked me details about what had happened and my address, I don’t know how but I managed to reel it all off perfectly. The operator told me help was on their way and I needed to get Steve onto the floor to perform CPR. I was kneeled on the bed at this point just shaking him.
I tried to pull him onto the floor, I screamed “I can’t do it he is too heavy” they asked if I could pull the sheet from under him and it would help me, I couldn’t do it, I felt so weak. Suddenly I thought to myself ‘come on Sarah, you can do it’ and from nowhere I got the strength and I pulled his ankles and I did it, he landed on the floor. The bang was so loud I was worried I’d really damaged his head. The call handler was then trying to describe to me how to carry out CPR, I already knew and was ahead of them. They were amazing on the phone and kept me going. My body kept going weak and I was screaming “it’s too late, he’s dead, it’s too late”, they kept me going for what seemed like forever and I remember I was pushing on his chest so hard I thought I was breaking his ribs, I was so angry he’d left me and wasn’t waking up, he was my soulmate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My sister then arrived and I clearly remember her face as she stood at the doorway, a shocked silent face, her eyes instantly filled with horror and tears. I think she stood in shock for a few moments and I shouted for her to help me. We then took it in turns and each time I glanced at her and we momentarily made eye contact I could see she knew it was too late. We both knew it, we felt it. Approx. 30 minutes later the paramedics starting flooding the whole house and when they took over I ran as fast as I could outside, I couldn’t cope. Neighbours and passers-by surrounded all of the ambulance cars and looked on in horror. I saw a gentleman I knew walking up our road towards me, his face looked so white with shock and he said “Sarah, what’s wrong” I screamed, hysterically crying and said “Steve’s dead” I don’t remember his reaction or many things at that point, such a blur. A lady was holding my arm and speaking calmly in my ear “they are amazing, they can do amazing things you’ll be surprised what they can do” I told her it was too late, she proceeded to be calming and reassuring.

An air ambulance paramedic then approached me and said “We are breathing for him, so in the next 10 minutes things are going to move really quickly, we need to get all of our equipment and him in an ambulance, you need to decide if you are coming with us or you are travelling separately and meeting us there”. It felt like a miracle, i was filled with hope and happiness, the most euphoric feeling I had ever experienced. This was short lived, not even 3 minutes later he called me into our house and then told me “I am sorry there is nothing more we can do”, I was screaming at him, I couldn’t believe what he was saying. I remember screaming saying “but you just told me you were breathing for him, you just told me”. Those emotions in those few minutes from being given hope and it shattering again was the most extreme feelings I had ever experienced in my life. I couldn’t place myself, I couldn’t cope.

At some point I went back in and I went to upstairs to see him. Pads on his chest and a tube in his airway, lying there silent all blue. Just lifeless. I held his hand and laid my head on him. I grabbed him tightly and tried to hug him. He was still a little warm. The ambulances were called away but more people swarmed inside, the CID were taking pictures, I could see the bright white flashes. It was now a crime scene, an unexplained death of a 30 year old male. A policeman stood at the bedroom door on guard all night, it must have been hours. No one could enter the room. I did go upstairs and I asked if I could look and he moved slowly to one side for me and I peered in for a few seconds just absolutely heartbroken but in disbelief. Friends and family were present by this point and we were awaiting the undertakers to arrive. They collected Steve and took him away. At around 3 or 4am the next morning I left the house to go to my mums. I laid awake, empty, no emotion, no nothing just staring. It got lighter and lighter outside and I felt so sick. I couldn’t sleep for days, I couldn’t think, I was a complete mess. Simple tasks were such a struggle, I felt completely overpowered. I couldn’t do anything for myself it was the biggest challenge just existing.

I was in a state of shock for weeks, I couldn’t retain any information, I had to write any important things down I just couldn’t function. I remember crying so much because I just couldn’t sleep and I was exhausted, for weeks I couldn’t manage more than 3 hours sleep a day.

After 5 weeks the funeral came along, the most amazing send-off anyone could have. Steve was so full of life, so happy-go-lucky he had so many friends and this showed at the funeral. Lots of his friends came in a car convoy. We had a flat-bed recovery truck that carried his car which was surrounded by beautiful flowers. The car convoy consisted of so many cars, with huge stickers on with “Steeevo” and “Go-on-Steve” across their bonnets and windows. These were words that his friends always exchanged in their humorous encounters with him. The car convoy passed through our town, it seemed like the town centre stopped and looked on for minutes as the convoy slowly came through, I kept looking back from the car I was in with such a proud smile. The journey from our house to the Crematorium seemed incredibly long. We joked in the car that Steve would hate to be going so slow in the car and that the driver should probably be doing a ‘burn-out’.

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The service was non-religious like us. It was perfect. Filled with stories of him from his Aunty, my parents, his friends and my niece. It was magical and I could feel the amount of love everyone shared in that room. People flooded the room, most were standing. I realised I was incredibly lucky to have had such an amazing man in my life but at the same time so incredibly devastated that he had gone, a huge waste of a life. I spoke last at the funeral. I found the courage to speak in front of everyone. I had written loads but I knew it would never be enough. I had really struggled despite weeks of trying to write something down, every time I tried to write something my mind would go blank. I knew I couldn’t possibly sum up such an amazing man in a speech. Before I started reading my written words I remember apologising because it wasn’t enough. I read everything out unaided whilst desperately trying not to fall apart, struggling at times, trying to give Steve what he deserved. I was too scared to look up, I looked a few times but never lifted my head enough to see more than 3 rows back. I couldn’t look as I knew I would crumble and I had to stay focused. I finally finished, said goodbye and everyone applauded. I felt so relieved and so proud I did it.

Life has been such a struggle since, not talking to him every day, the one person who I truly confided in always above others. I always thought I was hugely independent until Steve left. I have come to realise that as two we were an unbreakable strength and we had an empowering bond. It is a loss I don’t feel I will ever fully recover from but I hope with the right guidance I can live a happy life again and look back on our memories and smile proudly.

Our friends and my family have given me huge strength which has enabled me to get this far, I would have been completely lost without their support and very much doubt I would be here now. A tragedy such as this has completely hit everyone in our circle of friends and family unit incredibly hard because Steve was such a central part to all our lives.

Coming across the Cardiac Risk in the Young charity, seeing their details on Coroners reports and on the correspondence from St. George’s, it has made me extremely determined to raise awareness and do all I can to help this amazing charity.

Sarah-Jane Ridgley