When Death comes Knocking

As I pounded hard on his chest yesterday morning, head filled with utter terror, it felt as if our 16 years acquaintanceship flashed through my head in seconds.

We first met one cold winter’s morning.  I was emptying the bin, wearing only pyjamas, when suddenly the wind slams my front door shut, leaving me shivering on the doorstep.

In my experience, the vast majority of London people are amongst some of the unfriendliness creatures I have ever come across.  One neighbour allowed me to call a locksmith from the warmth of their house, before ushering me back out into the cold, still in pyjamas, to wait my fate.

Joseph was the neighbour who invited me indoors to wait for a locksmith.  There was something about him that seemed odd from the start, experience with PTSD put me on high alert.  As we awkwardly chatted, he openly told me about living with schizophrenia.

I wasn’t familiar with mental health at that time, only the bad press about “murdering schizophrenics”.  But, despite initial concerns, there appeared to be a genuine kind heart shinning from joseph, reaching out, seeking understanding.

Joseph was always a loner.  No one came to visit.  He always claimed not to have any family.  “They’re frightened of my craziness” he used to say, “Besides, Dad lives back in Barbados.  We’re not in touch”.

Throughout the course of 16 years, I’ve had to seek help for Joseph on at least four occasions.  It can feel frightening when someone completely loses their mind to a point of not recognising familiar faces.  While other neighbours moaned and berated, I could only feel compassion.  In those sixteen years since we first met, not one person reached out.  That’s disturbing.

The last time I had to seek help for Joseph was 2-3 years ago.  At last, the Mental Health Team found medication that worked.  The change in his behaviour was unrecognisable.  For the first time, he looked happy and content.

When I found him collapsed yesterday morning, he had only just returned from the shop, his bread and milk lay at his feet.  I only had to carry out CPR for less than two minutes.  Thankfully, rapid response was nearby.

Paramedics worked on Joseph for almost an hour.  At only 58 years old, they eventually pronounced him dead on scene.  What a way to go!

This sudden tragedy highlights how we never know the minute when death comes knocking.  In all our lives, there is so much time wasted, fretting over a troubled past or worrying about our uncertain future.  We seldom live and fully absorb the moment

I couldn’t help feel sad about Joseph’s family not being able to deal with his “strange behaviour”, because it wasn’t all bad.  Some people simply cannot grasp the reality of mental illness.

The other day, I heard about a well-known TV personality, Trisha Goddard, who has suffered both cancer and depression.  During her battle with cancer, she was inundated with cards and had more support than she could ever have expected.

When Tricia was suffering depression, not one person sent a card and fewer were so readily available to support her through the darkness.  In Tricia Goddard’s opinion, depression was much more difficult to live with than having cancer.

In my opinion, many people hide behind their clichéd fear of mental illness.  Yes, of course, it is very difficult to understand and even terrifying to witness.  However, there are those who don’t want to understand or to see ‘it’ as an illness, somehow it’s easier for them to hide behind their stereotyped fears and stigmatisation.

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49 thoughts on “When Death comes Knocking

  1. Mandy

    Wow Cat–thankfully you were there to help your friend. I wonder if this had not happened, if you would never have shared this story about your neighbor? As it turns out, this is one good thing that came from it. . . funny, I was touched yesterday by death, too, and wrote about it today–that again, all-important message that needs to get out there about mental illness. Thank you so much for this post.

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    1. Mandy

      I just reread your post and realize I was so caught up in your telling if your friends story I missed the line that he did die- I’m so sorry- that had yo be terribly hard. But what a very special person you were in his life…

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  2. Susan Irene Fox

    So sad, and good to know you were a neighbor and friend to Joseph. Those of us who carry mental illness with us do so quietly in the hopes that no one notices, or, if someone does, they will look beyond it, around the edges, to who we truly are. You did. Thanks, Cat, for understand we are more than a diagnosis.

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      1. Susan Irene Fox

        Cat, there’s a song by 10th Avenue North called You Are More. In it, lyrics of the chorus are:

        “You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
        You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
        You are more than the problems you create,
        You’ve been remade.”

        The same goes for a diagnosis. 🙂
        We are so much more than the sum of our parts.

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  3. manyofus1980

    Wow this touched us. It really gave us something to think about, as at the moment we are extremely suicidal. Thank you for such an inspiring post. It is true, families can be so cruel when it comes to mental health difficulties. I know for us ours is seen as an attention seeking ploy, or just strangeness and oddness. Something we can grow out of, except, we cant. Did and PTSD suck. Depression and chronic anxiety do too. Carol anne of many of us, ps, if you’d like to read our blog, its private but you can just request access, if you want it I mean. http://manyofus1980.com/

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thank you, Carol Anne. I’m sorry you are not feeling good at the moment, but I’m pleased my post has maybe helped in some way.
      Thank you for inviting me to your blog

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  4. halfasoul

    What a beautiful post. I believe that the compassionate energy contained in this retelling of your friend’s story will make its way to him, wherever he is. I would imagine your understanding meant more to him than you know, especially in the context of so much misunderstanding/fear from others. xxxx

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thank you for bringing that thought to my attention. Maybe the little contact we did have, meant something to Joseph. It was fortunate that I was around for his final moments, that does feel a small blessing

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  5. releasing lunacy

    (((((HUGS))))) Cat, I’m so sorry for your loss. Please be sure to take extra gentle care of yourself, while you process all that happened and mourn the loss of your neighbor. Sounds as if Joseph was a kind person. I’m glad he showed you hospitality that cold day and you were able to return the favor a number of times -beautiful example of what community should be. It likely made Joseph feel a bit safer in this world, and happier, knowing he had a friend looking out for him even during his final moments. What a blessing you were there. Again, many hugs! Rest in peace, Joseph! rl

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thank you, Rl. It was only today when I realised the small blessing of being around in his final moments…
      Appreciate you commenting, thanks

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  6. RisingSong

    I’m sorry for your loss, Cat, and thank you for such a touching post. You were a beautiful and compassionate friend to Joseph, and although there are so many people in the world who turn theirs heads away, it is encouraging to know that people like you exist too.

    Kudos to you for remembering your CPR! I take a renewal course every two years and still am not sure if I would be able to recall the technique if I were faced with an emergency.

    I hope you will be especially gentle with yourself while you process this new pain.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Oddly, I had just watched a telly emergency programme a couple of nights before and remembered the timing of pumping the chest. Thank god it was only for less than 2 minutes, I felt totally inadequate.
      Thank you for commenting with such lovely supportive words

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  7. littlevoicetalks

    So true. And sometimes in my own experience, it has also been used as a weapon to beat me with in times of anger after taking a big step and letting someone in. Depression and other mental illnesses are injuries of the mind; just we don’t get to wear a plaster on ours so people just assume that because we look present and correct, therefore we must be. Or that we should ‘snap out of it’ as though there is a finite length of time in healing. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg who’s had their leg in plaster for two days to ‘get a grip’ or ‘take that plaster off, surely you’re better by now.’

    Love your blog; as ever massive awareness brought out to the world, big questions to consider. xx

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  8. brokenbutbeingrepaired

    I’m sorry to read that you’ve lost Joseph, Cat. Hope you can give yourself time to do whatever you need to do in processing yesterdays events. To witness the death of a friend is such a traumatic experience for you.

    Can only imagine that for Joseph, having someone who knows and cares for him be there in those final moments would have been such a comforting experience.

    What Tricia Goddard has said is spot on. The stigma and ignorance of MH problems doesn’t seem to have reduced, despite all the “awareness raising”. I think it`s only when it`s experienced personally that people recognise the prejudices that they’ve held.

    Thinking of you, Cat.
    Take good care of yourself.

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  9. awkwardsocialcaterpillar

    I am so sorry you lost your friend. This post was very touching and so true. It seems that since “normal” people can’t understand those with mental health struggles, they simply *don’t* want to understand anymore. It’s sad. But there is hope when we come together in community to help and support each other.

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        1. Cat Post author

          Okay, not bad, but not brilliant either! I feel shattered today, which is never a good sign. I try not to make too much of an issue of the down days, thankfully, I trust they pass in their own good time. Thank you for asking.
          How are you?

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          1. myspokenheart

            Some days are just harder than others. I’m sorry you’re having one of those days today (and that those days tend to last longer than a day).

            I’m doing pretty good at the moment.

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  10. audreynolds

    I’m sorry for your loss. It’s comforting to know he had someone who attempted to understand, not many people with mental illness can say that. I’m sure he was thankful for the relationship the two of your shared.

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  11. Borderlion

    I’m so sorry for your loss. It must have been very upsetting finding him that way. How lovely to hear about your friendship and mutual neighbourliness though.

    I’m a very morbid person, very preoccupied with death. I find I am too aware that death could ‘come knocking’ at any time. It sounds counterintuitive, but it is this that often leads me to feel very hopeless and sometimes suicidal. It feels like there’s no time and I can feel panicked and desperate about that. I feel like I have wasted so much time.

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    1. Cat Post author

      You’ve just said exactly how I feel right now. I’ve been on a bad downer, thinking about all the time wasted and can’t seem to get my head around being able to make the future any different. Hopelessness and despair can make us feel suicidal,
      Thanks for commenting

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      1. Borderlion

        I’m so sorry you feel that way at the moment. It can be hard to see the future when we’re feeling low and to have that trust that things can get better. But they can x

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  12. Pingback: happy/sad/happy | Simon is officially not normal!

  13. Mélanie

    Hi Cat! interesting post, as usually…
    @”In Tricia Goddard’s opinion, Depression was much more difficult than having cancer.” – I am inclined to agree with her as cancer patients are sometimes really brave, optimistic, ready to face and to fight the deadly “crab”… depression is a tricky f*cking disease(pardon!) from all points of view and any sides, hard to detect, to diagnose, to treat…
    * * *
    take care, my very best, bon courage and friendly hugs, Mélanie

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  14. Cheryl-Lynn

    I am late in catching up and see you are faced with much darkness and challenges…sending you some hugs. So sorry for the loss of your friend…I am glad he was not alone and you were there however. Blessings, cl

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