Tuesday, 2 April 2013

RIP Matthew Collins (1964-2013)

Matthew dead?

My uncle?

Well, that's not really the nicest April Fools in the world, I expected better from you all... Yet here we are on April 2nd, and the news hasn't been wiped away like all those daft pranks.

When Dad said the police had tried to phone him on Sunday night, we were joking about which of us was in trouble with the law. "If you find out we're suspected in anything, let us know" I joked. It seems like such a pleasant alternative now.

Matthew Collins was my uncle, my dads little brother and my sisters godfather. The police found him about a fortnight ago. We only found out now because they held the body to do an autopsy, and were trying to contact dad in the wrong way. Matthew used to go into solitude for a few weeks every year, to deal with his inner demons, and time had told family that it was best to let him deal with this, and he always came back.

Heart attack, they say. They run in the family. The Toner curse. My dad's mum, uncle and cousin all fell to the same issue. Yet, they are like shadows in my mind, I was never about to experience their existence, if you get what I mean. Matthew was more alive, more visible (despite his times of solitude), more there. It doesn't feel quite right that he's just snuffed out of existence, just like that.

Only 48. What a fucking world.

If you told the tale of Matthew Collins, I suppose you'd half to at least infer in the direction of the alcohol and other vices, and how he disappeared for a decade in the 90s. But... I hate the idea of telling folk about this wonderful man, in such a way that they see him as a tragic statistic, when in reality he was a bloody survivor. Until now.

He was born in 1964, youngest brother of Chris (dad) and Anne, youngest son of my Granda George and Nellie. The cord wrapped around his neck and nearly killed him at birth. He survived, but the result gave him terrible brain issues and a speech issue for the rest of his life. He had terrible asthma. He was sick for a lot of his life.

And then when he was a mere nineteen years old, the mother he absolutely adored died. My gran told Mandy last night that she doesn't think Matthew ever recovered from that loss. I'm not sure you ever can.

This is where I want to tread carefully, by way of anecdote. When I was eight, Matthew was over for dinner, and he started talking to me about choices. I remember the style of the conversation, but not the specifics. What I do remember is his reference to Jekyll and Hyde, and describing himself as understanding how Jekyll felt. I was quite oblivious to all of this, and then later on, after he left, I was watching Top of the Pops with Dad. A new band I wasn't aware of came on, called Oasis, playing their new song. "Like Matthew" I said, as one of the Gallagher brothers reminded me in appearance of my uncle. Dad went ballistic however, about how his brother had been so brave talking to me about issues and I shouldn't mock them.

I hadn't been attempting to, but the song was Cigarettes and Alcohol, and the penny, as they say, dropped.

When he disappeared, it was awful. A good ten years or so where nobody knew where he was. I was resigned to never seeing him again. Every time we saw George, he'd ask if we'd heard anything of Matthew, ever hopeful, the same resigned, sad eyed expression when the "No" was uttered by Dad. If I was writing this in 2003, I'd have seen it coming.

Of course in retrospect I understand that his depression was at its greatest, in terms of his ability to deal with it, at this time.

When we found Matthew again, he was still living in the same place. Dad had been round several times, and never got an answer. This time, circa 2004, someone did.

I'll never forget my first thoughts when I heard someone had seen Matthew, and he was alive! It was like bloody Lazarus coming out of the tomb. When I got to see him again, he was his old, shy, bashful self but it was like time hadn't passed at all.

Which I think is one of the reasons why this hurts so much. We lost Matthew, and then we got him back again! And now we've only gone and lost him again, and this time we can't get him back, no matter how many times we knock on the door.

I'd even happily have an argument over David Icke right this very second with him. Icke, Elvis, Geronimo: he did find people to look up in the strangest spots, but it is a strange world, after all, and whatever gets you past the monster demon... And, after all, when we all conk out, someone else will surely write of us: "Nice chap, but what strange people he looked up to!" as well.

My uncle was always very determined that me and Cat wouldn't fall to the same vices that had snared him and my grandfather. George, rest his soul, was more of a Tommy Trinder cheeky chappy sort of guy. A man who thought he knew his own limits, and expected everyone else to know theirs. Matthew was more forth right on the matter.

"It entices you downwards and you've got to watch out for it." He said. "It gets you before you even know it."

His warnings stuck to me. Early in uni, I felt that downward spiral enticing me, and extensively cut down my drinking accordingly. Now my wife is teetotal, and while I am not, I have had one drink in three years.

Since we've mentioned the booze, let's balance that out. Matthew had vices yes, but anyone can have vices. It takes a far braver soul to face up to them, and try to keep going. By the time of his death, he was driving and seeing family on a weekly basis, except for his small fortnights off. He'd attempted to get help for his health issues, despite some bloody awful doctors that treated appallingly.

I don't need to spell it out. We know how mental health is treated by some doctors in this country. And given how improved it is now, we can recall how terrible it was going back over the last fifty years and beyond.

This left him with a terrible distrust, nay fear, of doctors and people like that. After an incident where a doctor supplied him with pills deliberately knowing the side effects, He'd get Dad to check over forms for the small print for him.

In recent times however, he'd grown confident enough to make formal complaints to a call centre that cold called him and then made funny of his speech impediment. He seemed to take great pride in the fact that he'd taken a stand and they'd been groveling. You can't take the Collins out of the Collins...

He stood up to his vices, and in the end that makes him a greater person in my mind than someone whose never needed the courage to stand up in the first place.

There's memories to last a lifetime of how alive he was.

And now he's not.

And I'm not quite sure how we're going to deal with that finality.

I'll give the last word to Aunt Marion. Surrogate gran to me and Cat, essentially surrogate mum to Dad, Matthew and Anne. Elder sister to my grandfather. Eldest Collins to ever live, now. The boss.

"He's at peace now. That depression can't hurt him anymore."

Farewell, old chap, yet so young. You were the most frustrating and the most loved of family members. I'm not sure things will ever be the same without you.