My world turned upside down on 26th November 2018, this was when I was given the truly awful news from the police officer stood in front of me, telling me that my brother, Paul, had been killed earlier that afternoon. Paul had been hit by a heavy goods vehicle while on his mountain bike and had been killed instantly.
This news alone is enough to destroy the lives of those left behind, but, then add into this the impact of being told the driver of the lorry had tested positive for drugs, a professional driver of a 32-tonne lorry, having 3 times the limit of cocaine in his system at 2.30pm on a Monday afternoon, this news, this, turned my grief to anger in an instant.
Over the coming weeks and months dealing with all that comes of the death of a loved one in these circumstances – Paul’s funeral, dealing with his estate and awaiting news from the CPS over his case, just exaggerated the anger inside me, to the point it completely took over daily life. I became a shell at home, I was there in body but certainly not in mind nor spirit, I’d answer my wife and sons with grunts or shrugs of my shoulders, and they would barely get a full sentence from me as I just couldn’t or wouldn’t answer them.
This is how life had become, waiting on news from my FLOs, if the CPS had finally made a decision, thinking of Paul and breaking down in tears – then the tears turned to anger at what the driver had done to us all and then more tears. I truly do not know how Kaz, my wife, coped with me but she did every single day and I’ll never be able to repay that. I saw no way from this and I went deeper and deeper into the darkness I now know to be depression. When we finally got to court I thought and hoped this was the beginning of the end of all this anger, but then I heard the words “Not guilty” come from the driver. With the realisation there would be a full trial, then my anger disappeared; unfortunately, it was replaced with pure unadulterated hatred towards the driver, how dare he kill Paul in the manner he did, with the evidence against him and then plead not guilty. I was crushed from this point on for months afterwards, there was a six-month period between the first court appearance and the trial and I had no idea or plan for how to cope and reach that time.
Now I do believe certain things happen for a reason – as I approached the trial I thought I’d hit as low as I could but after several unexpected conversations I began to see some hope, some light that made me realise I had to turn these feelings around and only I could do this. I sat and thought about what this meant and how do you stop hating the person that killed your loved one? The one repeating answer that kept coming into my head was forgiveness, forgiveness, but how do you forgive in this instance? I realised this is what I had to do to save myself and save my family and I set a little saying I stick to, to this day, “that day the driver destroyed part of my family but I will not allow him to destroy any more” and from that day with some amazing support I learnt how to forgive, with each counselling session behind me I built what I called my suit of armour, this was to protect me for the trial and what I’d see and hear. When the day of the trial came I felt as though I could walk through walls…
The trial came, the guilty verdict gained and sentencing passed and yes, following this, I stupidly thought all would be well from this point onwards but something inside me stopped this, and this was my ‘flame’ was gone. I always described that the 26th November 2018, as the day my flame was blown out. I recall speaking to RoadPeace when I first attended their West Midlands group meeting and I asked would my flame ever be re-lit? Of course, no-one can answer this because we are all dealing differently with our grief and loss; but one thing was nagging at me since the trial and somewhere in my mind I believed I could possibly help my flame to light again by speaking directly with the driver. I sat and spoke with Kaz about this, and, as always, she said she would support whatever decision I made. I thought it was a crazy concept, forgiving the driver – but could I actually sit with him, sit so close that I could touch him, and talk to him. I ran through this for days trying to convince myself it was a stupid idea, but each time I thought of this it just made more and more sense – so, I took the plunge and approached the fantastic team at Remedy, to set up a meeting through the Restorative Justice Programme.
Amanda, Kim and the team at Remedy picked up my case and made the approach to the driver, and after a short time and with advice from his family, he made the decision to sit with me, this was music to my ears. Things progressed quite quickly with Amanda and Kim liaising between myself and the driver, that was until Covid came into all our lives and put a halt on everything. Thankfully though, that time eventually passed and although the driver was approaching the end of his sentence, he was still willing to sit and speak with me. I had a final meeting with Amanda, where we ran through everything I wanted to ask and what I hoped to gain from the meeting. Then I got a phone call to tell me the meeting could go ahead and the date was confirmed.
All the way through setting up the meeting, to this point, I never once had a doubt in my mind that I was doing the correct thing, that this would be beneficial to me and my family – but on that drive to the prison, which was a crisp morning – this is what was going through my mind, I don’t know about butterflies in my stomach, it felt as though I had a flock of seagulls in there. However, as I turned into the prison and waited for Amanda and Kim to arrive, my nerves melted away in the sunshine. I felt more nervous talking to the prison guard at the reception gate when we booked in than I felt about talking to the driver. We were ushered through and shown where the meeting would take place. I stood outside with Amanda, as Kim went inside to make sure all was ready, it was then that I saw him, I saw Joe, the driver. I was then met by the prison guard that looked after Joe and she informed me he was very nervous but wanted to go ahead, so I approached the building and walked through the entrance doors along a short corridor and could see through the windows of the double doors in front of me. I could see that that Joe was sat there, his forearms were on his knees and his head bowed, I could see his legs shaking, bouncing on his feet with nerves. In ten seconds, I would be in front of the man that killed my brother, how do I react? Handshakes? Hugs? High fives? I was stumped but as I walked to the seats Joe looked up and we instinctively shook hands, why would I not? It would undermine all the work I’d done to get to this point, my forgiveness would seem a lie. I could feel through Joe’s hand how he was shaking and I thought as we sat that I needed him calm and as relaxed as possible to get the most from this one-off meeting. So, when we’d sat I took his hand again and looked him in the eye and told him to relax, I wasn’t there to judge him, to shout and scream at him, I just wanted to talk to him. I think this worked because we then started to talk; Joe kept apologising to me for what he’d done, we spoke in depth about why he made the decisions he did that day, that led to Paul’s death and then I spoke to him about forgiveness…
My forgiveness to him for killing my brother, why I forgave him and why it was so important to me to believe in forgiveness. We discussed about the things we both had to see, for Joe at the scene that day and for me identifying Paul’s body at the morgue – how these images were burned in our heads and would be there forever. Joe had the image of Paul in the road and he told me that it never went away, now some may find this strange but I told Joe that he needed to forgive himself for what he had done, so that he could move on in his life, so that when that image comes to him he can deal with it and not let it destroy his day, this would be hard, fighting every day, because forgiveness is not an easy path to take, it is fulfilling, but hard work. I explained to Joe that I saw Paul in the morgue on that trolley every time I closed my eyes for almost 12 months following his death, how it broke me each time, but I had learnt to accept this and got to the point that when that image popped into my head, as it still does, I was able to carry on with my day. I got to the point that I just spoke to Paul when he appeared, I’d have a quick chat with him, a bit of banter and then I told him I’d see him again. That was how I dealt with it and Joe would have to find his own way too.
A couple of hours talking passed as if it was 10 minutes, we had come to a natural end and as we stood to say our goodbyes we hugged, again where did that come from? If you’d have asked me before all this if I could forgive someone for killing a loved one, let alone sit and speak with him and embrace at the end, well I think I’d have been laughing, but that’s what happened.
One of the main things that Amanda asked of me at our first meeting to set this up was what did I actually want from the Restorative Justice meeting and I probably gave some answers around apologies etc. but it dawned at that moment that what I wanted was to let Joe know I forgave him, that he could move on in life without thinking that there was someone out on the street that hated him so much and that if that hate was there, how would or could he move on. I wanted Joe to realise and accept what he’d done but understand that the one person that could hold malice against him, didn’t. I didn’t want Joe to do anything daft in his life because he thought that hate was there directed at him, I couldn’t live with that.
I walked out of that room feeling so light that I could float home – I spoke with Amanda a few days later and she told me that Joe felt the same. So, I think taking the plunge in talking to him paid off for both of us.
It did actually take quite some time for it all to sink in – what I had been through in speaking to Joe, but the one thing I noticed but I initially kept very quiet about because I wanted to see if it remained, was that I felt a flicker inside me, only a little flicker but it was there and week after week, month after month, it grew. Now I can say my flame is back, not fully, but I’ll take what I can and go on from there because with the help of Amanda, Kim and Remedy, from the truly amazing group of friends at RoadPeace, and their constant support and advice, but mainly from the love and support from Kaz and my boys, for the first time in almost four years, I feel as though I am in touching distance of my full flame burning bright once more.
We are all here because of tragedy and heartbreak and we deal with our loss in our own way, but I truly believe there is light for us all to head to at some point, it may take some of us a lot longer than others and we have to be open to all possibilities no matter how hard, difficult or sometimes stupid they may seem. We don’t know if we don’t try, and the thing we turn our back on may be the key to opening the door for some peace.
Updated on: 25 July 2022