James seemed to be a fit and health young man. He lived at home, was a music student, and was twenty one years of age when in November 2001 he suddenly dropped dead outside the house.
What made his death so baffling was that earlier that year on a family holiday to the Lake District he had seemed so well. One morning he had cycled around Grizdale Woods on a mountain bike, and in the same afternoon rowed the length of Grasmere Lake.
On the day of his death things had started normally. He had been to college, had dinner, and in the evening was at home working on his computer. He had a car that was due to be serviced, and the garage we used was about 400 yards from the house. He had arranged to drop the car off that evening, and post the keys through the letterbox.He set off at about 11 pm, and shouted out that he would be back in about 15 minutes.
That was the last time we saw or heard from him alive.
At about 12 midnight I was getting ready to go to bed. I looked around the house for James to say goodnight but could not find him. I thought this a little odd that he had not returned home. He was a thoughtful young man, and would have normally phoned to say if he had met one of his friends and was going off somewhere else. I thought he may have had problems with the car, and set off on foot towards the garage.
As I walked from the house, I could see James lying partly on the pavement, and partly in the road. I rushed to him initially thinking he had been hit by a car. I shouted for help and a doctor living in the street came out to assist. Within minutes an ambulance was also on the scene. Between us we did everything conceivable but were unable to revive him. He was taken to our local hospital, and about half an hour later we were told he had died.
We were interviewed by the police several times, and there were house to house inquires. After a couple of days the police seemed to think there were no suspicious circumstances and were no longer involved.
When thinking things through we know James did drop the car off, and was probably running home. His keys were found just behind his body, and there were some minor abrasions on his arms. He probably passed out when running, and would have been dead within minutes. On reflection, when I found him he was unnaturally cold, and had probably been dead for about half an hour.
The post-mortem showed no cause of death, and his death certificate was issued with “Death by unascertained natural causes”. We were never happy with these findings, or the certificate. We believe that fit and health young people do not drop dead naturally, or without reason.
In the ensuing weeks I was very lucky to come across CRY. Alison introduced us to Dr Sanjay Sharma, and after visits to his clinic he thought James may have died from “Long QT” He told us that our daughter Abi may have the same condition, but that to find out more we would need to have genetic testing. Unfortunately that was not available within the NHS in England at the time, and our samples were sent off to Denmark.
It took a further two years to find out that no other family members carried the same gene that was thought to be responsible for James’ death. In our understanding, James had a “rogue gene” that he did not directly inherit from either my wife Sandra or me. Investigations failed to find any history of sudden death in our families.
We tried to have James death certificate changed to show the true cause of death, but were advised that to do so would have been very expensive. On reflection we thought James would not have wanted that, and have left it. However, we believe that in the light of the evidence it should be possible to change it. We may return to this in later life.
We have found some comfort in James’ music. He used a spare bedroom at home as a music studio, and had a drum kit, guitars and a mixing desk set up. What we did not know was the amount of material he had written and recorded. I spent last winter (2008) working through his material, mainly stored on old audio tape, and transferred it onto DVD. We plan to give copies to family members.
About a year ago Claire, one of his closest college friends, told us she and James had been working on a new song at the time of his death. James had written the music and Claire had been working on the lyrics. After James’ death she initially felt she could not finish the song, but has subsequently finished it. The song has been released on a CD, and we are pleased to see his name on the sleeve. We had a great night out when we invited guests to the launch and listened to a live performance of the song.
This winter I intend to work through some video tape we have of James playing with his band at college, and will transfer that to DVD. It is some comfort that although James is not here, we do have his music and these recordings.
James’ premature death has touched many family members. One of James’ cousins ran the London marathon and raised money for CRY, another cousin has just had a tattoo in his memory, and James’ sister Abi wrote a poem that she read out at his funeral. It reads:
A gentle soul walking in the garden of life
Full of hopes and dreams of his future –His music the voice, as words do not always come easy.
I shall always remember his smile and the ways he made me laugh.
May he rest in the clear light of the nature of his mind, open, empty and naked like a cloudless blue sky.
May our happy memories of him shine through the darkness of our sorrow
And teach us all how precious life is.
We feel that although James has not been with us for over eight years his story goes on and we are still finding out things about him. We were listening to some music he had recorded and heard someone playing a mouth organ. We were amazed to find out it was James playing it. My brother-in-law has also given us a DVD with some unseen footage of James as a young child on holiday. Friends have said that these findings keep his memories alive. We hope that continues.
In writing this I find it hard to believe that eight years have past since James died. In some ways I still expect him to walk through the door. I feel fortunate that when I close my eyes I can still clearly see him, and hear his voice.