Death comes calling when you least expect it

trish's smile disappeared when the doctor said she would have to be admitted.
Trish’s smile disappeared when the doctor said she would have to be admitted.

That was a hell of a week. Firstly, Trish is finally home after six days in hospital. Thankfully it was just a double ear infection affecting her balance and nothing more sinister. It’s good to have her home again and I’m sure she’ll be moaning about me in a few days.

Fortunately her sister Margaret stayed with me during the week, sharing visiting duties, providing a welcome listening ear – turns out I talk too much! – and also cooked me meals or I would have had to rely on takeaways or the generosity of neighbours, family and friends. Not that any of you lot offered, but I’ll ignore that. Since I wrote the above I have been reminded that Clodagh, the daughter of my friends Brendan and Anne, suggested they should give me dinner, so that’s happily corrected.

As I dashed around I was able to meet up with the gorgeous Denise Lehane to talk about our shared experiences growing up with facial disfigurement and wrote a blog about a wonderful new friend.

I also attended a funeral on Monday for my friend Donal Sheehy’s mum. Just weeks earlier Donal, who lives in Australia, and I had met up after 40 years for afternoon tea. His mother suffered a stroke just after he arrived in Cork and he was hardly back in Australia sorting out his affairs when his mum died. Desperately sad.

In the middle of it all an ex-colleague texted to say that seeing as Trish was in hospital I would hardly have time to meet her for coffee. Which is when it dawned on me that I was supposed to ‘sign on’ at the job centre that day! Just as well she prodded my memory. As I dashed off I had half an eye on my mobile phone as Trish was due to be released that day, but she held off long enough for me to do my business.

There was a price to pay when I brought Trish back in the shape of a speeding summons. Ah yes, that pesky van I spotted after 2am when I drove home minutes after leaving Trish in A&E just after the doctor told us she would have to be admitted. As I passed the van I realised I was over the limit – speedwise that is – so now it’s an €80 fine and three penalty points on my licence. Lovely.

I was checking out Facebook the other morning when I noticed an update on Mathis Ellerbe’s page saying he was dead. Stunned hardly does my reaction justice. It was after 1am and I stared at the message which was clearly written by his wife saying he had lost his battle with depression, mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder. I never knew. I found it hard to take in and held off reacting until one of his friends responded, then I left a message. I searched through Messenger for my exchanges with Mathis to find the email address of his mother Gina, who is my pen pal, and whom I met in 1979. I was about to write an email when it suddenly dawned on me I had her phone number, so rather than call her I sent a text and she confirmed his death. Just 30 years old. Good God but that’s so young. He was just a year older than my son.

Death by suicide is not easy for any family to accept. Mathis was married for three years to Lindsey, and my heart goes out to her, his parents John and Gina, and his brother Landon. It seems Mathis never got over his experiences serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and losing some of his buddies in those conflicts.

I thought I’d write a post on my relationship with Mathis. I had never actually met him, but via Facebook and Messenger we got to know a little about each other. And there was that bond too with his mum that we had in common. So I shared it on his Facebook page, expecting some of his friends and family might read it. What happened next shows the power of Facebook and the love and esteem Mathis was clearly held in.

Thousands upon thousands of people viewed the blog – over 12,000 to date – some liking and sharing it, others sending me messages. Friends who grew up with him in the U.S., met him when he was stationed in Germany, got in touch. As one of his commanding officers in the army wrote to me: “He was one of the smartest soldiers I ever had the privilege to have under me. He was not only a great soldier but a great man as well. This is a loss that will affect so many, including myself.”

RIP Mathis Ellerbe.

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2 thoughts on “Death comes calling when you least expect it

  1. Tom – you write in such a heart-warming human way. Nothing but poignant words paying tribute to your friend. What a lovely example you offer to others. Thank you

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