#BookLoversDay - my thank you to authors

As it's Book Lovers Day I thought about writing about the books I love. Instead I've written this rambling post about when I needed books the most.

On August 13th 2012 my life changed in a way I had never imagined. It had been an ordinary day and when my husband's mobile rang shortly after he arrived home from work I thought nothing of it. It quickly became obvious it was my stepmother, and then I was concerned as she hadn't called the home phone. I immediately assumed it was about my father who has a heart condition but my husband mouthed my brother's name to me. I was angry at first, convinced he'd been arrested in connection with drugs. He'd been addicted to heroin in the past and sentenced to a spell in prison and though he'd got himself clean I'd been concerned in recent months that he was withdrawing from us.
My husband came off the phone and uttered the words that shattered my world,
"They've found a body."
I remember saying no over and over, not able to process the thought that he wasn't in trouble with the police but was dead. I asked my husband to phone back for more information and after that came the second crushing blow - he'd taken his own life. My poor children had to listen to me crying "not my brother, no, no, no" repeatedly. I couldn't take it in.
The rest of that night is a blur, we took the girls to my in-laws and went to Dad's house. My husband spoke to my other brother and broke the news to him. I didn't want to accept it was real, I couldn't allow myself to believe he'd killed himself. He'd been mugged and his car stolen, the body wasn't his. It took all of my strength not to ring his mobile but I think in truth I knew there wouldn't be an answer. The following day we had to go to the hospital to identify his body. That's something I never thought I'd have to do. It happens in films and to other people, doesn't it? We were taken to the mortuary and my dad and I stepped into the room where his body was lying. People say the dead look at peace. Well he didn't. He looked stiff and ashen and so small. He looked like a dead junkie too. The tears came and for a while I didn't know that they would stop, but they did and somehow I was able to speak rationally to the policeman dealing with the case. We discovered that yes, he was using heroin again but also he'd been depressed for years. He was never good at sharing emotions and eventually made the decision that he didn't want to live. His note to us was very clear on that. He knew he was loved and he loved us but life was intolerably hard for him. He just didn't want to live with that pain any more.
I won't go on at great length about the next few days, suffice to say I barely slept and barely ate. My other brother came down from London and we spent a lot of time clinging to each other. We shared the same loss, we felt that seismic shift that meant we'd gone from three to two. The funeral was beyond anything I'd ever experienced, perhaps best summed up by our choice of songs to be played. In his note he'd requested Under the Bridge at his funeral but we needed another song. He'd loved The Doors and in our mixed up state we'd decided Riders on the Storm would be a good choice. It was only as the vicar led the coffin into the crematorium speaking over the lyrics "There's a killer on the road, his brain is squirmin' like a toad" that we realised our choice was a little odd. It felt very surreal as I clung to my brother and we laughed while sobbing. We were dealing with such intense grief and shock but also Simon's friends were drug users living on traveller's sites and it felt like two worlds colliding.The mobile phones ringing during the service was a new experience for me, as was the audience participation with cries of "hear hear!" I was rather touched when, as his body was committed and the coffin sank from view, his friends called out, "Bye Simon, see you mate" and I've certainly never been to a funeral where a can of Special Brew was opened during the Lord's Prayer! I felt uneasy at first but then realised that his friends loved him too and while they mourned differently we shared the loss. I'm proud now that his funeral was an occasion where his family and friends came together, accepted our differences and consoled each other.
After the funeral I still felt like I was living somebody else's life. I got through each day and I even sometimes managed to laugh and smile. We went on holiday and my youngest daughter started school. Still though there was a part of my brain constantly screaming, "he's dead, my brother is dead." Sometimes I was tempted to interrupt a conversation, I needed the world to know how my life had been ripped apart, I  needed to say it out loud to confirm it was real and not a recurrent nightmare.
That was when I needed books most. I read constantly because although nothing could stop the pain I was feeling, I could at least numb it a little. Without books I had no respite from my thoughts, from the guilt, anger and confusion. This was a time when I avoided walking into town because I couldn't be sure I wouldn't start crying and didn't know if I could stop. I read crime, fantasy, historical novels, books for children, prize winning books, self-published novels, non-fiction, old books, new books, hardback, paperback and e-books. At night I couldn't sleep so I listened to audiobooks.
Five years on and I'm much better now, I read for pleasure and when I'm still awake at 2.30am with a book it's because I can't bear to put it down rather than being too scared to close my eyes. In the months after Simon's death though, when my grief was at it's rawest and most visceral, books were my saviour. On this Book Lovers Day, this book lover thanks every author out there. It doesn't matter what genre you write, what format your books are read in or whether they are traditionally or self published. Somewhere there will be somebody needing to read to get them through the next minutes, hours and days. As somebody who has been that person, I thank you all.

With my brothers, Simon is on the left.


  1. What a wonderful piece. I agree with all your sentiments completely x

  2. What a beautiful post, heart rending

  3. What a beautiful piece in both content and style. The shout sentiment I relate to - my son died two years ago and when the pain gets too much I turn to books for respite.

    1. Thank you Cleo. I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your son xxx

  4. Oh my gosh, such a powerful piece and so sorry for your loss.

    Caryl x

  5. Hi Karen, as a mother who lost a son to suicide I totally understand your need to immerse yourself in books. Once I could concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time this was my saviour too (or at least one of them). Thank you for sharing your story and your reviews of books on goodreads.

    1. Hi Pam, I’m so sorry for somehow missing your comment before now. Thank you so much for reading my post and your kind words. I’m sorry to learn you lost your son to suicide too - sadly there are (too) many of us in similar situations. I’m still so grateful I had books to help me through those times and am glad you did too.


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