My son Adam was 23 years old when he passed away in his sleep on 7th July 2011, the day my world changed forever. Adam was a fit and seemingly healthy young man, a non-smoker who regularly exercised through cycling and walking. He didn’t take any drugs, but liked a few drinks on weekends; nothing abnormal about that, I’d say.
Adam still lived at home with Mum, but was due to start University in September and looked forward to ‘leaving the nest’. We spent the whole previous day together as he had been on holiday from his part-time job at Tesco’s, indulging in PC gaming at home. He had tucked into his dinner with gusto in the evening. Not once did he complain about feeling unwell and there simply were no warning symptoms, at least none that I observed or that he talked about.
Adam was still up when I went to bed that night, happily gaming away into the small hours of the night as he didn’t have to get up for work early and wouldn’t normally surface until midday whilst on holiday.
I had had a restless night and it took ages for me to go to sleep, only to awake at 3.48am as if hit by lightning, with an awful feeling of foreboding. At the time I thought this may have had to do with a very good friend of mine who was terminally ill with cancer, and I resolved to visit my friend in hospital later that day. That it could have had to do with Adam – whose room was next door – never crossed my mind; yet I have since come to believe that Adam died on or about that time, although the exact time of death could never be established other than a probable time window from 2:30 – 7:30am.
I left the house at 10am to visit my friend in hospital; Adam’s door was shut and I decided not to wake him; he was on holiday and entitled to having a lie-in. Returning home in the evening, Adam’s door was still shut. Imagine my shock when I entered his room to find him dead, an image that is seared into my soul for eternity. I knew he was dead the moment I saw him, but the brain simply refused to accept the awful truth. I called his name, I touched him – but he was cold, so cold. An ambulance was called and arrived, but of course, by then it was far too late.
As Adam had died at home with no obvious or discernible cause of death, his death was treated as suspicious and the police were called. This is standard procedure, but at a time like this nothing is standard for the ones left behind. My house, and in particular Adam’s room, turned into a crime scene, with CID attending in protective clothing to prevent evidence contamination, taking pictures of everything. The police remained most sensitive and tactful throughout, stressing that this is simply procedure under these circumstances.
By then, word about Adam’s death had spread somehow and the close where we lived was filled with Adam’s friends who came in droves, feeling the need to be close to Adam and his family. My house had never been as full as on this dreadful day, ambulance, police, CID, Adam’s family and friends – meanwhile my baby boy was lying upstairs dead and I was not allowed to be with him which is all I wanted to do, just being with him, saying my good-byes. Eventually I was allowed back in his room to be with Adam, yet the room door had to be kept open and a policeman was posted outside, much to his own discomfort as he so clearly wanted to afford me the privacy I sought. Rules are rules.
Adam’s body was taken to the morgue and his room sealed until the post mortem established the cause of death. Not only was my son gone forever, now it also meant I couldn’t go into his room to feel close to him, smell his shirts, cry on his bed or simply do whatever the mood dictated. Walking past Adam’s closed and sealed door added to the heartbreak, yet I understood the need for it from a legal point of view – and in many ways it also symbolized what had happened: I was cut off from him and the door remained closed.
Imagining my son in the morgue awaiting an autopsy was one of the most difficult things for me which almost drove me crazy. This wasn’t just a body or corpse; this was my beloved son, whom I had hugged and kissed whilst alive, yet now bore a toe tag and occupied a slot in a refrigerator. I hated every second of his being in the morgue, but knew that Adam would have been the first one to demand an autopsy as he would have wanted to know how he had died.
Adam’s initial PM remained inconclusive other than “sudden cardiac death”. Samples were subsequently sent to Dr. Sheppard who established LVNC (left ventricular non-compaction), a rare genetic heart condition which is often hereditary. Suddenly this meant my other son could also be at risk. Could lightning strike twice? It certainly could, reading some of the stories on this site and for a while it all felt like a bottomless pit of despair and heartbreak. Thankfully my surviving son has passed each and every cardiac test with flying colours to date, including MRI tests. He will have (bi-) annual cardiac screening for the rest of his life and I am immensely grateful that he was attended to by excellent doctors throughout the entire screening process.
Adam’s death has left the world a poorer place and he is deeply missed every day by his family and friends. For me no words can describe his loss and the emptiness his death has left behind; a part of me died with him on that day. Yet I am thankful that Adam died peacefully in his sleep, he simply passed from this world to the next without waking up or feeling any pain. Had somebody told me that Adam would die like this at the age of ~80 years, I would have been very happy for him as I can’t think of a better way to die – but surely not at the age of 23 with so much still to look forward to and give to the world?
I am thankful that the exact cause of death was established, this now means that the rest of the family can be examined for signs of LVNC. I am thankful for organisations such as CRY – it has given me some comfort to know that I don’t share this heavy burden alone, although none of us want to belong to the club of bereaved parents. I am thankful that his brother and friends are turning Adam’s death into a positive legacy, celebrating his life and doing a fundraiser in Adam’s memory on behalf of CRY. Most of all I am thankful for Adam’s life, although it was far too brief – I would not have wanted to miss the experience of being his mother for all the riches in the world.
What is the measure of a man? Not earthly riches as Adam had none; but he loved and was in turn loved by so many who knew him. If measured in love, then Adam led a most meaningful life; love freely given in helping others and in being a true friend.
Forever missed, forever remembered and forever loved.