Gareth’s Story by Sian Regan

<divid=”storiestoparea”> Sian Regan

Gareth died in his sleep when he was 21 and it all seems like a horrible blur that I’ve spent most of the last five years trying to put out of my mind.I was 23 and life was just starting out in a new direction. Andy and I had just moved into a flat in Cardiff and I was due to start training in London for a new job. I remember feeling life was turning a corner for me. And it was, but not in the way I was expecting.

When I got back to the flat after a night out, there was a Post-it note on the door asking me to ring home which I knew could only mean bad news, but I wasn’t prepared for Mum telling me Gareth had died and they were coming to pick me up.

I went into total shock, pacing aimlessly around the flat before trying to pack. I couldn’t sleep so spent that night reading the whole of The Communist Manifesto, which is more than I’d ever managed during the whole of my Politics degree.

I felt numb. I had only seen Gareth a few days before when he seemed so fit and well. His death made no sense.

Two policemen had come to tell my parents that Gareth’s friends had found him dead in bed. Mum has described being told that Gareth had died as ‘every parent’s worst nightmare’ and the impact on my parents has been immeasurable.

They were allowed to see Gareth in the hospital mortuary, but not to touch him whilst the police continued their investigations.

The following days were very painful. It was really difficult to visit both grandmothers to tell them in person that Gareth had died. Until the post-mortem, a policeman had to stay stationed outside Gareth’s room but, when we were able to get his phone, I rang some of his university friends to tell them what had happened, and cancelled his job interviews. It made me feel useful, but was horrible as it began to sink in.

I postponed the start date for my job and spent a lot of time in the nearby coffee shop just to get out of the house.

I helped pick the music for the funeral with Gareth’s friends, which I found really emotional. The funeral is a blur but I was really touched by former teachers who came and that the church really was packed. Everyone spoke so movingly at the service.

Afterwards I felt empty as life had to start getting back to normal – but it was a ‘new normal.’ I had my job and worked on making our flat into a home. I’ve never been as fit as I was in those few months after the funeral as I found the gym to be a good escape.

We were tested which was a strange process to go through as we didn’t want to find that any of us had heart conditions, but at the same time we did want to find answers about what had happened to Gareth.

I underwent a number of tests and was found to have Long QT Syndrome, although, like
Gareth, I have never had any symptoms. I was prescribed beta-blockers.

I struggled to adjust to things, and often found myself becoming argumentative. Andy had to put up with a lot at this time but his support, and that of family and friends, helped me through.

The Inquest was just another dreadful day to be got through but like the funeral, it feels like a blur now. I remember funny details: the Coroner’s Court feeling like a concrete bunker; the carpet like Astroturf; the Coroner’s Officer wearing a large ‘Elvis’ belt and a cape, with his hair in a quiff. My mind latched onto these details in order to blank out the statements which had to be heard and I found those from his friends were particularly difficult to listen to.

I just remember being glad when it was over, even if it didn’t really provide any answers that made sense of why Gareth was no longer with us.

The loss has had such a big impact on my life. Part of me feels that I should be putting more effort into living each day as my last, now that I know just how fragile life can be. However, sometimes just getting up in the morning and facing the day has felt like an effort. This contradiction is something I’ve been coming to terms with over the last few years.

One thing we have all done as a family is to try and turn our grief into something positive by supporting CRY. Shortly after losing Gareth we did the CRY Bridges Walk. It was really nice to all get together and do something.

In September 2009 I got the chance to take part in the One and Other ‘Fourth Plinth’ project in Trafalgar Square and had one hour to do anything I wanted on the empty plinth. I chose to raise awareness of sudden cardiac death and CRY’s ‘test my heart’ screening campaign. The sign I held up said: ‘12 fit and healthy young people die every week of undiagnosed cardiac conditions. My 21 year old brother was one of them . . . Think about it’.

It was a surreal experience being up there for all the world to see, but I hoped it would make at least some passers-by stop and think. I took the chance to propose to Andy and we were married four months later! I was keen to bring everyone together for a happier occasion but it was just so sad Gareth couldn’t be there.

Training to become a Bereavement Supporter for CRY has really helped. It was good to talk things over with others who have gone through similar experiences and I really believe that talking can help deal with things.

The loss has had a big impact on my relationships. It’s made me a lot more appreciative of my parents and grateful for everything they do for me. Some friends were brilliant. Others drifted away. I remember someone who I’d not seen for a while asking me, on Facebook, how I was. I told them, and never heard from them again.

At 21, it still makes no sense that Gareth’s not with us any more. He was a really sweet guy with a wicked sense of humour.

We had our arguments growing up, but were getting to know each other better and I’m so sad that this was cut short.

I will always miss him.

Gareth Thomas Memorial Fund