My name is Murdo Macleod and I live in the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.
Andrew Macleod, my son, was born in April 1990 and became the focus and purpose of the lives of my wife, Dolina and I. We were not blessed with any other children, but we considered ourselves fortunate to have been so lucky to have Andrew in our lives. Life was contented and full of things to look forward too, until the morning of 21st October 2011, when the bottom fell out of our world!
Andrew was serving as an Engineering Cadet in the merchant navy. He was in the final year of a three year diploma course, which was comprised of attending Glasgow Nautical College, interspersed with ‘sea phases’ where he gained practical experience, spending up to 4 months at sea on board a container ship on the Euro/China route. He had been on the same ship the previous year and had taken to the routine well.
We had frequent contact with him when he was at sea, thanks to modern technology, with almost daily e-mails, or contact by mobile phone if the ship was near land and in range of mobile signal. We had an arrangement with him that no matter what time of the day or night, if he had signal, he could give us a call or a text so we could call him back, so when my mobile phone rang at 06.45 on that Friday morning in October, we thought “yippee, this will be Andrew” On answering, I immediately realised it was not Andrew’s voice but a man with a foreign accent, speaking English. My initial thought was “who is cold calling me at this time in the morning?”, but when I heard him say the name of Andrew’s shipping company my blood ran cold, as I just knew that whatever he had to say, it was not good news! He then told the story of how Andrew had failed to turn up for duty in the engine room that morning and the subsequent events which led them to entering his cabin with the pass key some short time later, to find him sitting in the armchair, laptop open on the desk in front of him, car magazine open on his lap and iPod earphones in place in his ears, but lifeless! The ship was in port in Hong Kong harbour, with a time difference of plus 7 hours to us in the UK, so it was approx 02.00 our time that he was found. By the time they called us, the various emergency services had been in attendance, but to no avail and Andrew’s body had been removed from the ship by the Hong Kong authorities.
In my state of shock and disbelief, it did not immediately dawn on me that it would be necessary for me to travel to Hong Kong to deal with the various ‘formalities’ involved with repatriation of Andrew’s remains; but we had to face this reality and two days later, we found ourselves there. Dolina decided to travel there with me, which I was nervous about, but appreciated as I didn’t know how I would cope on my own. We were also accompanied by a representative of the shipping company on the trip and he supported us through the arduous duties of the following week, which we could not have managed without him and his colleagues in Hong Kong. We are still in touch with these wonderful people, who supported us through the darkest days of our lives!
It was a full week later we returned to the UK, with repatriation of Andrew’s remains some four days later, due to delays with the required certification.
His funeral was held on the 5th November 2011, fifteen days after his passing, and was reported by many including the local undertaker, to be one of the largest ever seen in the Island – testament to his popularity and the impression he left in his all too short life. We received messages of condolence from all over the world and from people we had never heard off, but who had contact, however fleeting, with Andrew.
It took a further 7 weeks before the findings of the Hong Kong coroner’s report were made available to us, giving the cause of death as ‘dilated cardiomyopathy’ – of which he had exhibited no symptoms whatsoever, despite having gone through regular medicals for his career. The last one was in May 2011, just weeks before joining the ship.
It would not be possible to overstate the effect Andrew’s death has had on us as his parents, and indeed the extended family and close friends. Quite how you are supposed to go on with life after such a devastating loss is something with which we still struggle and will undoubtedly continue to do so. When it first happens, you feel as if you are the only person in the world with this level of pain, but reality is sadly different, as all the other contributors to ‘My Story’ can testify. Reading these contributions, painful as they are, help show you are not alone, and they are uplifting and encouraging, by demonstrating that others are walking the same path, and yet still finding a purpose to go on!
The local car club (of which Andrew was an active member with his beloved modified Skoda Fabia) recently held a ‘drag race’ evening in his memory and donated the proceeds of the event to CRY.
I hope this will enable them to continue their commendable support and awareness work. With their help, perhaps one day, these silent killer heart conditions can be found by early routine screening and timely corrective measures taken. What better legacy could there be, in the memory of so many fine and unique young people, whose true potential we will never know, but who made such an impact on so many others, during their all too short lives?
We remember, not that he died……but that he lived. What a gift was ours!!
Murdo & Dolina Macleod