There are some things that make all of life’s little problems pale into insignificance. There are some things that happen without warning and without reason.
At 6.55am yesterday morning, Michelle’s dad Paul Cooke was knocked down by a car and killed near the Stoke crossroads in Guildford.
At 7.45am yesterday morning, I was in a slow-moving queue near Stoke crossroads, cursing Monday mornings and oblivious to the cause.
At 9.15am, I got a call.
Watching bad news move and spread through a family is one of the most moving things you can witness. The fact that it was so unexpected only served to multiply the anguish. When I arrived at Michelle’s mum’s house – a mere 400 metres from the accident scene which had closed a main road for five hours – I prepared for the worst. A police vehicle was parked outside, causing neighbour’s curtains to twitch with curiosity. Entering the house I was first struck by the quietness, followed a few seconds later by an explosion of grief as the events are explained. A police officer waited patiently for the next opportunity to be supportive. As the minutes passed, I began to be aware of every word I said, in case it conjured up unexpected mental images and set grief rolling down people’s faces again.
Throughout the day the family travelled between houses, informing the remaining relatives and reliving the morning’s events. Little things became weighted with huge significance – writing notes to go with the flower tributes became one of the most difficult tasks of the day. Visiting the accident scene to lay those flowers was made even more difficult thanks to its position outside the local newspaper offices, where journalists approached with multiple questions on the day’s events. And all the while Michelle’s three year old niece Sophie, oblivious to what had happened – asking where grandad was and why everyone was crying – did her best to lift everyone’s spirits with giggles, balloons and bubble makers.
I had only known Paul for four years. From what I could see, he was determined to enjoy life and was always well-known and liked wherever he went – a fact confirmed this afternoon when we met some of the many colleagues he worked with. His sense of humour broke through the occasional dreary periods of life, and he always had a cheeky smile ready for you. He was especially keen to learn geeky stuff from me whenever I went over, plying me with enthusiastic questions about computers and websites.
“Get busy living, or get busy dying”, a film once told us. This morning was supposed to have been just another Tuesday morning – I myself was due in Edinburgh on business. Instead, today is the day the family face the reality of autopsy, donor cards and funerals.
The world keeps on turning – today there’ll be another accident and it will be a different family’s turn to grieve. As someone once said, “Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”
(A small photo gallery is available here. If you have any photos to contribute, let me know)