'Mum's scream haunts me to this day'
Holding a guitar case in one hand and my brother’s arm in the other, I helped him down the steps. It was 2010 and Hector, who was then 17, had broken his leg. He played guitar in a band and was determined not to miss a gig. “You’re like my roadie,” he joked. He had a heart of gold and a warm smile to match. I’d have carried his guitar to any gig in the world if it would’ve made him happy. We’d shared a bedroom as children. The way he’d thumped his legs in his cot earned him the nickname Thump. Our brother JJ, now 27, had moved out, leaving just Hec and me living at home with our parents Belinda, now 58, and Robert, now 53. Even though I could be quite shy and Hec was a born performer, we were best friends. “See you later, love you,” we said at the end of every conversation. I’ve tried a million times to cast my mind back to the last time we spoke, in April 2011. We’d chatted on the phone, but I can’t remember if he sounded sad or worried. All I know is I told him I loved him. I had no idea it would be the last time. Hector was out with friends that night and I was in bed when he got in. The next morning, I was getting ready for work at the dog rescue business when my mum came into my room. “I can’t find Hec,” she frowned. “He’s probably out for a run,” I shrugged. But Mum kept looking for him. I peered out of Hector’s bedroom window as she went out into the garden. The shed door was slightly ajar. Mum pushed the door open and let out the most heartbreaking shriek. An awful, sick feeling of dread washed over me.
I bolted downstairs barefoot. Before I could reach her, Mum had grabbed a large kitchen knife. My heart hammered as I followed her outside. That’s when I saw Hector lying on the floor of the shed with a belt next to him. Mum had cut him down, but Hector’s lips were blue. There was a gash around his neck. Hector had hanged himself. Adrenaline pumping, I called 999. “You need to do CPR,” they told me. “But he’s dead,” I insisted.
self-harM I tried mouth-to-mouth, but sadly there was no chance to save him. He must’ve ended his life hours earlier. I felt so helpless and the next few hours were a blur. Police and paramedics arrived, followed by my dad, who’d been up the road tending to our horses, and then JJ. The house was full of people, yet I felt empty. I stood in the dining room with a police officer, barefoot and shaking. I couldn’t even cry. I knew Hec had had problems in the past. About a year earlier, I’d seen a bandage on his arm and realised he’d been cutting himself. Mum said he’d been for counselling
and he’d said it had helped. We all thought he was OK. But, little did I know, my charming brother had been suffering inside. Hours later, after the police and paramedics left, my tears finally fell. Over the following days, time seemed to both race by and crawl at a snail’s pace. I couldn’t eat, I just sipped tea. Hector had been so loved and friends wanted to pay their respects. “I think they’ll want to see the shed,” I told Mum. But after seeing Hec there, I was terrified. “I need to make the last place Thump had been into a place filled with love,” I thought. So I grabbed some pens and took them out there. People started coming over and laying flowers by the shed. One by one, they wrote song lyrics or quotes on the walls with my pens. Slowly, I started to find it easier to go out there. At Hector’s funeral two weeks later, I sat numbly in church, listening to the song we’d chosen for him – the band Rusted Root’s Send Me On My Way.
So many people
turned up, some couldn’t even get in. My parents attended the inquest into Hector’s death and learned that even though he hadn’t left a note, it had been ruled as suicide. I had bereavement counselling and although I had moments of feeling panicky, I didn’t want to dwell on what had happened. Instead I concentrated on work. “We need to do something to prevent this from happening to someone else,” Mum said one day. So we started Hector’s House, a charity to direct people feeling suicidal, or people affected by suicide, to organisations that could help. I threw myself into it, not realising I needed help, too. “You’re handling things well,” friends would say. But maybe, like Hector,
I was plastering on a smile. What I didn’t realise was that when you lose someone to suicide, it becomes a part of who you are. I was so scared of feeling that intense pain and shock again, I wouldn’t even go on dates. Hector’s death had put my life on hold. out of control In October 2014 we held a gig in aid of Hector’s House, and I met Jack Dobby, the drummer in the band Polar Valley, who’d agreed to play. He was blonde and cute and knew all about Hec. Sweet, chilled-out Jack, 26, was just what I needed. We started dating and he made me happier than I’d felt in ages. But I was still struggling. We’d be chilling at home or out with friends when suddenly that feeling would hit me – the dread of hearing Mum’s scream. I didn’t cry but inside I felt like I was spinning out of control. The only thing that helped was to phone Dad and check the family was OK. It got to the point where I couldn’t go on a night out without calling him. Last May, Jack and I went to the Lake District. I’d just started to relax, when the horror hit me again like
a punch. I grabbed my mobile and dialled. “We’re all fine,” Dad insisted. That’s when I realised I wasn’t fine. “As soon as I feel happy, I freak out,” I told Mum. She encouraged me to see a counsellor, who said I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – an anxiety disorder that can be triggered by distressing events. Because I wasn’t having typical panic attacks, I didn’t realise I could have PTSD. Thankfully, the diagnosis meant I could be treated effectively. After three months of counselling, things are improving. I’m still with Jack and we’re really happy. I live at home and, as part of my work with Hector’s House, I’m arranging school visits to talk about mental health. I still haven’t written anything on the shed as I find my feelings too personal to share, but sometimes I go there to feel close to Hector. I’d give anything to have him back. I know grief doesn’t end, but I’m finally finding a way to live with it and carry on.
Visit Hectorshouse.org.uk. If you need confidential support, call Samaritans free on 116 123 or visit Samaritans.org