Sunday 15th November 2015, a day I was really looking forward to. I’d been telling my colleagues just two days before all about the converted prison hotel in Oxford that my boyfriend Neil and I were due to stay in before travelling to Watford to the Harry Potter Studios Tour for my birthday the following day. It had become our tradition over the last four years to go away for my birthday.
Instead the day started with a sickening phone call from his brother that I could barely understand; ‘Neil’s dead’. The words and his voice ring through my mind still, some days louder than others. Neil had died peacefully in his sleep that night, unaware of what was happening. At least I can take comfort from that.
The next few days and weeks were a blur, I remember saying ‘I don’t understand’ over and over again. I still say it now but I’ve come to realise I will never understand why, it’s just something I have to learn to accept.
Two inconclusive autopsies later, we were told to expect at least a six week wait for toxicology reports but Neil could be returned to us to be laid to rest.
The funeral was held on the 3rd December and was overwhelming. Over three hundred people turned out to pay their respects. One friend organised flags for the cars, another sold car stickers, someone else ordered personalised ties, the local pub where he was well known hosted the wake and set up a cash bottle bar in a marquee outside knowing that the bar and lounge wouldn’t be big enough to hold the expected crowd. Having worked in the bar industry for a number of years there were doormen stood either side of the church doors. We even had traffic police control the road alongside the church.
Colleagues he hadn’t worked with for around ten years travelled over from Ireland and one close family friend even flew back from Australia! But that was Neil; a friend to everyone, the first to offer help, the life and soul of a party and children were naturally drawn to our real life BFG. I was so proud of him having touched the lives of so many people – I’ll never see another funeral like it. He raised almost £2,000 in donations for Make A Wish and St Johns Ambulance that day.
Eight weeks after his passing the Coroner confirmed Sudden Cardiac Death as the cause but to me this couldn’t be a real reason, how does the heart of a 35 year old just suddenly stop?!
I needed to understand and as we all do now, I turned to the internet for answers. I came across CRY and it changed my perspective. Here was a network of people working towards understanding and preventing the very issue that had just torn my world apart. They could help me and in turn I could help them. What’s more, I could continue Neils legacy of helping others.
Eighteen weeks on, I’ve set up a Facebook group and a Just Giving page called RememberingNeil to detail all our fundraising efforts and raise awareness – we are close to hitting £3,000 already which is amazing. I want to ring fence the funds for a screening event in our local community in his name. I’ve found new comrades in the wider community that share my passion having lost family members to SCD too; it’s good to talk to people that understand what you are going through. I’m also talking with Shelagh, a bereavement supporter for partners and I’m booked onto the Partners Bereavement Day in May. Maybe one day I will be in a position where I can talk others through their grief. Some days all this makes me feel positive and with purpose, others I just want to sit and cry and imagine it’s all a bad dream but I know that’s OK. It’s a new ‘normal’.
Nothing I ever do will bring Neil back but I hope that I can make a real difference to the lives of others. Neil will always be in my heart, I will never forget him. I will eternally be his Miss Windle.
Amy Windle (partner)