Guy and William are my sons and they were my life. Guy was the older brother by 15 months so every day of William’s life he had someone to look up to, to play with, to annoy and be annoyed by! I coached their sports, was involved in everything they did and loved them as much as a father could. I even made sure they both had Bolton Wanderers as their second favorite soccer team (first was too much of a stretch and some would suggest is more a burden than act of love!).
Guy was soccer mad, a Man Utd fan, and the most loving and caring 16 year old I have ever known (certainly putting my 16 year old self to shame). On March 7th, 2018, he and I were driving home from a soccer match - his team had lost, but Guy had scored his team’s only goal with a sweet left footed shot from the edge of the box. There was some road construction on the highway which caused the traffic to stop. We all did, but one car did not. He crashed into us. Guy survived for a few hours, but his injuries were fatal. He died just after midnight on March 8th, 2018.
At this point in the story words start to fail since they cannot capture the magnitude of emotion; the profound sense of loss, the emptiness that isn’t empty at all, but filled with shards and poison that hurt and debilitate with every turn. This isn’t unique to my family and I think anyone who’s experienced a cruel loss will relate.
In the weeks after Guy’s death I lost count of the number of times people told me to “Be strong”. I think this is good advice (even if advice isn’t what is needed) - of course we should try to be strong in such circumstances, but the reality is more complex. Sometimes I wanted to be strong, but was so overwhelmed by grief and sadness that I couldn’t be. Sometimes I was able to be strong, but frustrated with the fog in my mind that even the most mundane task seemed to take forever. And sometimes I didn’t want to be strong - I was floored with the devastation of Guy’s death and didn’t care what did or didn’t happen: my son was dead.
Fortunately we were surrounded by loving friends, family and community that helped support us. I often say the only thing I can imagine worse than losing a child would be to lose a child and not have the support, friendship and love of others to help with your grief.
We had already made plans to spend the summer of 2018 in England - my wife and I would stay for a fortnight and the boys would stay on for another few weeks. Guy and William both loved their visits and were looking forward to it immensely. I had planned to hike the “three peaks” (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Snowden) with some old friends - Guy and William were to join us at Scafell Pike in the Lake District for the second peak.
William and I went ahead with the trip and although I hadn’t recovered from the crash sufficiently to complete all three, we did make it to the Lakes. We were joined by my parents, one of my brothers and three of my oldest friends from school. On a glorious summer’s day we set off from Wastwater and yomped up to the rocky peak. I love the Lakes, I have so many happy memories from my youth - family trips, Duke of Edinburgh expeditions - but I hadn’t anticipated the full emotional impact the trip would have. The combination of the scenery, the physical challenge and being with family and friends, who were also grieving, was cathartic and healing. We talked about Guy, how we loved him and how much he would have enjoyed the hike.
At this point in our grief we had resolved to making some good from the tragedy. If William and I were benefiting from this so much surely others in a similar situation would too. It dawned on me that to “Be strong”, you need the support of others. To “Be strong” it helps to get away to somewhere beautiful and push yourself in pursuit of a goal that requires focus and determination. To “Be strong” we need to be with people who care, who don’t minimize our loss, who are patient and who understand.
Although our pain and loss will always be present, the tragedy of his death cannot only be a tragedy. If William and I can help others who are grieving the loss of a loved one, that will ensure that some good has come from the death of our beautiful son and brother.
On the mountain the name StrongGuy came to me - a combination of the oft repeated advice I’d received and recognition that it is our experience of losing a son and brother that makes us want to help others like us.