By coincidence while Jane was helping to launch the Dying Matters BEING THERE campaign in London last month (2nd November 2014) our older son Joe was in Mexico visiting Hollie, one of Josh’s best friends. The Dying Matters event was the focus of their annual Day of the Dead celebrations and guess what, Joe and Hollie were remembering Josh at the real deal in Oaxaca, birthplace of Las Dias de Muertos. Here is his account of their day …
Experiencing Dias de Muertos – Oaxaca, Mexico
We experienced Dias de Muertos here in Mexico in Oaxaca City. Each year Mexicans celebrate the dead leading up to 2nd November (Dias de Muertos) by creating colourful altars for their loved ones that have passed, dressing up in death related costumes and face paints, drinking and eating and holding street parties. Within Mexican tradition, the 2nd of November is kept for the dead to return to this world and share in the offerings given to them.
Having lost a brother and a best friend, Hollie and I wanted to honour our Josh this past weekend and ensure that his presence and soul was celebrated. We created a colourful mobile made of traditional Mexican tin, that carried pictures of Josh on star shaped card and little skeleton figurines and a sacred tin shaped heart. We visited a candle lit vigil for the dead in a cemetery just outside of Oaxaca Centro. The scene was magical. Night had fallen but the cemetery was lit up with candles, bright marigold flowers and the sound of music from people playing instruments and singing beside the graves of their lost ones.
We found a suitable tree that Josh could now call his own and hung his mobile to a branch. We scattered Josh’s ashes at the base of the tree and shared a small bottle of tequilla with Josh whilst sitting with him.
Although in the UK, it is not un-common to see relatives and friends visit a cemetery and to hold time with a lost loved one, this experience felt very different. A more shared experience and less private, where visitors walked in between the dead and were invited to learn more about them. The dead felt more alive due to the decoration of their graves and how families were sitting, eating, drinking or even singing or having a smoke with them.
We shared our love of Joshua with a mother and a wonderful young child who became instantly interested in Joshua’s memorial mobile. He asked questions about who Joshua was to us and it was nice for us to introduce him to Joshua. He was so taken with the mobile that Hollie simply had to give him the sacred tin heart for keeps! He was chuffed to bits.
Here in Mexico, people’s relationship with death seems very honest and open. The dead are not forgotten. They are celebrated and seen as still part of this world.
Josh’s mobile still hangs in the cemetery and now he has two trees in this world he can call his own.
to view more photos from Joe’s trip to Mexico click here
We’ve done it. We’ve been to Vu Quang where you died in the middle of the road. It feels nearly as hard to say that as when we first heard the news of your death. But it is real, just as your death is real so we really have been to see the place where you died and to meet some of the people who were there at the time. In a sense these are the facts, what we make of them, how we remember them, what stories we tell around them and where we put them in the timescale of our own lives is another matter.
Our day began on the morning after the night train from Hoi An to Vinh. Actually this final part of our ‘pilgrimage’ to see where you took your last breath really started as we boarded the train with that sense that here we are at last; after more than two years we will soon be connecting with you in a way that we never wished we’d have to.
The train is cramped, crowded and noisy and we get very little sleep but as the morning light comes up, we now know that we are in Ha Tinh province, up until now only a name on a map, a name in a police report. We are glued to the window as the countryside lumbers past, spellbound by the sheer number of lotus flowers and paddy fields all with peasants in conical hats working the land. Our first opportunity to soak up the atmosphere of rural Vietnam.
Next door to us is a family of 10 happily cramped in to their tiny compartment. Their two youngest boys have spent much of the journey (irritatingly and charmingly) tapping on our window and pressing their noses against the glass and then running off down the corridor chasing a tennis ball. Squeezing past them is the steward and his trolley offering up rice and soup for breakfast which we decline politely. The last timewe were on such a sleeper we were on our way to Italy. You were eight and Rosa was three. We were going to spend a week with Sam and Doone and their Mum Adrienne. Remember the dead snake they were so keen to show us as soon as we arrived. To feel you so close yet to know you couldn’t be further away is so hard. and we wish with all our heart we could hug you one last time.
We are met at Vinh railway station by Uoc, the Vietnamese secondary school teacher who helped your friends after the accident. He is one of very few fluent English speakers in this remote part of Vietnam. Josh, we want you know this about Uoc; he is a complete LEG-END. One of the kindest, most thoughtful people we have ever met. Before our trip, and when first we contacted the British Embassy in Hanoi we asked how we could find the man who was called out from his class to translate and help with the police reports. We received an email almost by return from Uoc himself – it was as if he’d been waiting for us to find him. Now as we step of the train (which is running nearly and hour late) he is there to greet us. He has spotted us immediately (mind you, we are pretty easy to identify as the only white people on the platform) and guides us to a food stall under some trees near the taxi rank. Uoc has the look of a young boy, with wide eyes that are hungry for knowledge and as we sit drinking sweet cold sugar cane juice, he begins to tell us what happened when he arrived at the scene of your accident. But it is all too much too soon. We have only just stepped off the train and we need to adjust a little more to being in the presence of the man who would’ve seen your body lying in the road. The enormity of what lies ahead for us, is, we realize, only now beginning to sink in.
We arrive at Uoc’s home town Huong Son after a two hour dusty car ride through countryside that we imagine you too would have been familiar with. Not that many cars on the road but so many motorbikes, so many trucks and buses, all with horns blaring, weaving through potholes, overtaking, undertaking, this side, which side of the road, all avoiding each other and all surviving, all somehow staying alive to do the same tomorrow. It is midday and Uoc takes us for lunch. Huong Son is not the sort of place for restaurant so you get and you eat what you’re given. Soup, noodles, pigs foot, some spring rolls (as you will know you get spring rolls of varying quality everywhere in Vietnam) and some strange pickled berry things that are common fare for the indigenous peoples from the hills not far from here – (not that nice!)
Huong Son buzzes with life but it is far from the tourist trail and the rooms in the hotel Uoc has booked for us are dark and decrepid; a Turkish jail would have more charm. Very basic really, particularly after the luxury of the house in Hoi An but again the sort of place you would’ve taken it in your stride – (note to selves – must look up that footage you took of deciding who should get the beds by playing paper/rock/scissors – you lost we think). But Uoc has planned everything for us with real sensitivity and he wants us to be fully rested before he takes us to Vu Quang. Jimmy and Joe doze, Jane stays awake. It is late afternoon when Uoc comes back to collect us.
Vu Quang and the moment on Ho Chi Minh highway where you swerved to avoid an old man walking his bike up the hill, is a short half hour journey away. In the car with us are Uoc, his sister and his two year old baby daughter Sami who bounces around between front and back seat. There is something normalising about them being there. For them just another ordinary day out. Rosa points out Vietnam is so spiritual there is room for both life and death here.
We are now traveling down the same road you and your friends were on two years ago and we can all sense the exhilaration and the real fun you would be having on your motorbikes as the countryside, this beautiful countryside sped past. The road rises and falls over a gently undulating landscape of forest and farmland both meeting the roadside as abruptly as past meeting the present. The driver narrowly misses a water buffalo which has decided to resist its owners attempts to prevent it taking a shit in the middle of the highway.
A mile or so later we begin to recognize the landscape from the photos of the area we have seen on Google Maps. The road divides into a dual carriage way and the line of lampposts on the central island stretch into the distance. The driver slows and pulls over to the side as we approach what looks like a roadside police check and our first thought is we have been booked for speeding. But Uoc has arranged for us to meet the cop who attended the scene of your accident. This is amazing. Uoc really has thought of everything to make this journey of ours as meaningful as possible. The policeman looks at Joe and then at Rosa saying they must be your brother and sister as they look so much like you. He then follows on his bike and a couple of miles later we again pull over to the side.
We are here. The heat blasts us as we step out of the car. (All new cars in Vietnam have air-con – but we guess you know that!) It’s like walking into a wall of solid hot air but we also have a very real sense that we are stepping through a curtain of time, to a place where time itself no longer has the power to order our lives. The early evening sun throws long shadows as we clamber out onto the tarmac. We are a now family of five again, together in spirit and bound by love and our completeness spreads out across the hard gritty surface with an unexpected and soothing calm. Here at the place of your death we can feel the chains of mourning beginning to loosen just a little. At first there is nothing to say. Then our wondering becomes wandering and silently we begin to explore the scene, each our own archeologist superimposing previous imaginings onto this very real, this very actual roadside . When did we-five become we-four? How did five become four? Why, oh why did we lose you? In some ways we already know the answers to these questions so what we learn here is confirmation not of the facts of your death but a sort of joining together of our own stories – stories that were ‘then’ becoming much more stories that are ‘now’, and stories we can now perhaps stitch together into the fabric of what has to be – our lives continuing on while yours does not.
A constant stream of dumper trucks labours up the hill from the nearby quarry. Past them and on either side flow motorbikes with a variety of loads, hay bales, water canisters, mattresses. Did you see them like we see them now? A farmer harnesses an ox to his cart and leads it across the road oblivious of the traffic. Did you notice him? Somewhere behind a gateway a dog barks. Did you hear it? And did you see, did you sense, were you aware of the people rushing to the roadside as you fell? Because Josh, just as two years ago when they came to witness something out of the ordinary on this unremarkable stretch of the Ho Chi Minh Highway, so now they are gathering to watch and observe us, a party of Europeans with their cameras and their sunburn and their somber looks. There seems to be something vaguely amusing in this spectacle until Uoc explains our presence. He thinks he has discovered someone who actually saw your accident: someone who then explains at length the events of that day. The crowd assembles while we wait for the translation, but it turns out he is only a friend of the person who saw it. As would happen anywhere, everybody wants a piece of the action, a claim on the tale to be told; especially when death is one of the players. This is of no consequence. It is clear that all the stories of that terrible day do tally and we are content just hear the sound of voices and be in the presence of strangers that have also been marked by your death.
And Josh, they have been marked and they do remember. On 16th January each year since, a small shrine appears by this roadside. Wherever we have gone in Vietnam, people remember their dead by bringing offerings, (you will like this Josh) of sweets, beer, chocolates, fruit and cake! – and of course incense. Uoc says he too comes here on that day bringing as he does today a box of cakes. We begin to prepare our own shrine for you. We have brought a few momentos; some photos, one of your business cards, a Ministry of Sound CD, a card from the Gales, a string of shells that Hollie and Charlie have made. One of the villagers runs over with an old yogurt pot filled with sand. This is to place our incense sticks and at first he wants to put it in the middle of the road, on the actual spot where you lost your life. Others are walking out into the highway to debate the point. Is it here, no more likely it is there, perhaps it was here; we can see them becoming quite troubled in their need to get it right. Would you know, would you care?
In the end we call them back to the verge and the yogurt pot finds what feels like its rightful place under the safety barrier. Uoc leads our little ritual and lights the incense sticks which we take turns to set in the sand. This is our biggest moment and it is not without tears – and a long, long group hug. In the purest and simplest way possible we are honouring you and we are remembering you with a small ceremony that is and will remain as important to us as your funeral. But this time we are borrowing from another culture and another set of beliefs where people are expected to live on, to be reincarnated, where karma is of utmost importance to life and death, and where the spirit of ones ancestors have a sacred place at the heart of every home to be looked after and revered for all time. 80% of Vietnamese are Buddhists and practicing or not there isn’t a house in this country where the first thing you see as you enter is a shrine to the departed.
Uoc, his sister, and 2 year old and the policeman are squatting by the roadside. They are watching Joe as he ties some Tibetan prayer flags onto a lamppost (another gift from the Gales). Below it he scratches your name. Rosa scratches a kiss. Uoc promises that he will continue to come here every year on January 16th – and we believe him – absolutely. ‘This is’ he says ‘your day of the dead’. We are not Buddhists and we don’t believe in life after death, but what we did last Monday was deeply affecting. We will carry this moment and make it part of our goodbye to you… our forever.
With so much love
Mum and Dad
Ps – later that evening Uoc invited us around to his house for dinner. Afterwards some of his students came round eager to practice their English. Joe was more than happy to oblige with an impromptu evening class.
The first Ministry of Sound intern to be selected from the Josh Edmonds Memorial Scheme will start work in July of this year.
Lewis Murphy is currently in his 3rd year of a radio production course at the University of Gloucestershire and is the first person to be chosen for what will be an annual award. The standard of applicants was very high and a difficult choice had to be made from our shortlist. But we all feel that Lewis is the ‘man for the job’ and we’re really really excited to be able to offer him this opportunity.
Lewis is particularily interested in radio production and has hosted and produced a weekly show for students at his university. He has also had a weekly two hour slot on Cheltenham based Drum&Bass radio Undergroundsoundz. His ambition is to have his own podcast up and running with the content being from entirely new or unknown and unsigned producers and DJ’s. For the future he would like to present his own radio show or work for a specialist music show or station.
Lewis is a very talented and enthusiastic young man, his passion for music (particularly drum & bass) and his independence of spirit is very similar to Josh’s and we hope he will get as much out of working at MoS as Josh did.
Lewis told us he was both honoured and overjoyed to be the first to receive the award. “The prospect of the internship feels like a reward at the end of my degree and is a big step in the right direction for me, allowing me to develop as a person as well as within my career. The combination of my passion along with my creative drive motivates me to use this incredible opportunity to its full potential, making sure I do it justice. I look forward to meeting and working with everyone at the Ministry of Sound.”
MoS chief Lohan Presencer said “We are extremely pleased to have secured a quality intern for MoS who will reflect the attributes we saw from Josh during his tenure with our organisation. We wish Lewis the best of luck and we will provide him with support and development during his placement”
So good luck Lewis and we hope that you’ll keep us updated with your time at MoS.
6.30 am, its still dark and the day does not look promising. Leaden skies hang low over the sea front and Joe and I have got lost in Brighton’s oneway systems. The marina, venue for this years triathlon, is further out of town than we thought. With just minutes to go before the off, we’re hustling through another 130 wet suit clad athletes in a rain soaked Asda car park, just in time for a briefing by the guy who claims to be in charge.
Despite the weather, the crowd is good natured and responds heartily to the head honcho’s attempts to liven them up with a few jokes about the Olympic spirit still dripping over us, a bit like the rain. I didn’t get it but then I didn’t yet understand what drives people to get up so early and dive in the sea. Neither did I quite understand the level of organization needed to put on an event like this. Nor it seems did the folk supposed to be doing the organizing. Start time, the starting line and the starting signal had clearly been predetermined – like ‘ go jump off that there harbour wall’, but nobody seems to sure of where the finish might be.
So off they go, 200 flailing arms churning up the less than appealing waters of the marina (I notice more than one dead sea bird bobbing about on its oily surface). By the time the field returns to the pontoons, Joe has forged through the pack and is in the lead bunch. I’m gobsmacked – I knew he was fit but really, that fit? We have some seriously sporty alpha males here and Joe’s up with the best of them. This event was turning out to be more of a heart thumper than I’d expected. Instead of sloping off for coffees at Macdonalds while the lads head out over the downs (downs in Sussex are really ups) on their bikes, John (a friend of Joe’s who has also braved the weather to support the goodness of this cause) and I jump into his car and follow the riders as they start the climb on the first of two laps of a 20 km circuit.
We are now TEAM JOE/TCF! Leaning out of the side window I take a few photos and scream encouragement. John as driver does a good job in helping to pace our boy. Not that he needs our help; Joe has found two other riders to ‘draft’ with and they are slowly making their way through the field. The conditions are far from ideal, the rain continues to slant in from the English Channel, the roads are greasy and on the way down Wilson Avenue (40 mph) we notice blue lights flashing at the bottom of the hill ahead. It looks bad, one crumpled bike and a gurney being lifted into the ambulance. We decide to stay with Joe as he gets up on the pedals for the start of lap two – this is a safety concern now, as much as support and encouragement. Joe manages to stay upright but, as he told me later, he had some serious wheel spin on the steeper gradients and his only worry was that having only the ‘team car’ with him might have given him a slight advantage … shiiiiiiiiit … we were having fun. John and I take a short cut and we’re back at ‘transition’ in time to see the first of the riders enter the car park.
Way out in front is an obvious pro – all sinew and muscle and the skimpiest of shorts. It’s a long agonizing wait and eight more riders before Joe slides into the transition area. However good you are as a swimmer or cyclist you have to get your transition right and that’s a skill in itself. And Joe is fumbling and fumbling and … fumbling with his shoe laces. In changing from his bike shoes to his track shoes, he’s losing precious moments in what has been an incredible performance so far – we hadn’t counted for how cold and numb his fingers would be. Please please don’t blow it now. There’s no-one looking and I’m about to duck under the wire and give him a hand. Luckily, any moral scruples I might have about assisting a competitor, are not put to the test. At last he’s away and charging along the ‘undercliff’ (it actually is under the cliff, not over it ) he disappears into the mist. This is the really tough bit – only 8 k’s but its lonely out there and by now the field is well spread out. It’ll be over half an hour before he returns so John and I take it upon ourselves to check exactly where that finish line is. There are a few yellow jackets about none seem to be too sure … over there? Nah over there. We follow a guy with a some kind of electronic clipboard and it turns we’ve made the right call. There’s this high wire fence and a gate that leads to a small construction site with lots of Danger Keep Out signs … this the finish line and few moments later Mr Tight Shorts whizzes past to thunderous ….. well not quite applause, more like a quiet ripple of appreciation from those in the know, which I assure you is not many. Again a long, long wait. No 2 comes in, number 3, 4 & 5. And there he is – our Joe has made up two more places and he strides in with a personal best of 1 hour 48 minutes.
We both had a brilliant day. Why? For me, I was well proud of Joe. He’d trained hard, committed to the cause, and raised over £1000 for The Compassionate Friends, a charity we’d never have got involved with had it not been for our Josh. For Joe though it’s as much about honouring his brother as anything else. Since staring at Fight for Peace, Joe has learnt more about what it means not to give up. You can always put in a little bit more effort, go better than your best. And Josh is always with him as a reminder that there are still great rewards to be had in life, even though we miss him so.
If you haven’t already done so, there’s still time to make a donation to the TCF – its easy peasy – click on Joe’s JUST GIVING page and hit the donate button. But so many thanks to all those who have given so generously – the total to date is a massive £1131.00
And for the complete photo story of Joe’s Tri, feast your eyes on our GALLERY PAGE
Beyond Goodbye, this website and the film, have won the award for “best internet resource” at the Good Funeral Guide Annual Awards held in Bournemouth last weekend. Josh’s brother Joe was on hand to receive the trophy – nothing fancy, (a small coffin made from MDF) but an honour none the less.
As Charles Cowling who runs the GFG and put the show on, says in his blog “We were conscious of three things above all when we devised this project. First, that it would celebrate the work of a lot of incredibly nice, deserving people who are wholly overlooked. Second, that it was likely to attract the sort of publicity that would redress some of the reputational damage the industry has suffered in the last year. Third, that it risked dashing hopes and creating unhappiness.”
Parts 1 and 2 it seems were achieved but there will always be winners and losers and some went home empty handed … but there is always next year and hope these awards are the start of a new tradition for the funeral industry.
Congratulations to the organisers; and of course to all the winners
Ok, a ‘tri’ is a Triathlon and ‘TCF’ is The Compassionate Friends… and on 23rd September Josh’s brother Joe is competing in the Brighton Tri and hoping to raise £500 for TCF.
This is actually big news because Joe is a truly sporty fellow, loves a challenge, loves to compete, and loves to raise money for charity. But much of this endeavour has been sadly lacking in his life over the past year and a half, and his plunge into Brighton Marina will be the first such sporty/fundy thingy he will have taken part in since Josh died.
So in memory of his brother, we wish Joe every success in his day out to the south coast. We hope the weather is fine, the sea is calm (and warm) and that the hills around Brighton flatten out a bit. But most of all we hope Joe reaches his stated goal of finishing in the top ten.
And you too can share in his glory by cheering him on his way and supporting him in his (actually far more difficult task) of collecting that 500 quid. Please go the Just Giving page by clicking here and donating whatever you can. Thank you so much. As that well known east end grocer once said “every little helps.”
The Compassionate Friends is primarily a support group for bereaved parents but the money Joe raises will go towards developing its work with siblings who have lost a brother or sister. This is a new development for TCF and is very much needed. For more info about TCF click here.
In the 15 months that my brother has since passed I have experienced a wave of different emotions and a sense of huge loss. A loss of my brother as a person, a soul and a presence in my life. I have also sensed so much loss within my own perspectives and feelings in life as it has continued. What is deemed important or worth concentration has skewered from the path it once was on and feelings of real joy, happiness and love, suffocated and laid aside to a point where at times forgotton. Forgotten to the point where it has been hard to believe that they can ever exist again?
I was travelling to work this afternoon listening to my Ipod as I walked across the concourse at Stratford listening to the playlist I have of 10 tracks that I now associate most deeply with my brother Joshua. I was in deep thought thinking of Josh and my loss. This playlist supports me in my way to be with my brother and often brings emotion with it…..sadness, pride and most importantly of all, a feeling of closeness that I can only now hold onto as best I can that re-connects me with Josh.
As I approached the stairs I had to stop in my tracks as for what certainly felt like the first time, I felt an acute sense of love for the world and with it, a realisation that I have an ability to love the world. To love the world whilst still being able to grieve for my brother.
For a moment…..I felt a clarity that I had not felt before between my sadness of my loss and my ability to love and see opportunity ahead for what life has.
I wanted to share this experience as it seemed at the time a very new sensation and one that I feel was and hopefully will be important for me in days, weeks, months ahead. To be able to re-visit and also move forward with where possible.
Here’s a great review from our friend Jack Nathan about Jane and Joes talk at the festival of death for the living …………………………………………….
Attending the ‘Everything you always wanted to know about funerals (but were afraid to ask)’ session was always going to be painful. I went in dread and ‘excited’ anticipation as I knew I was going to hear from two panel members, Jane (mother) and Joe (brother), talking about surviving the profound and still raw grief of losing Josh: a young man lost to an arbitrary event, euphemistically labelled, ‘a road traffic accident’, thousands of miles from home, whilst on a ‘trip of his lifetime’ in Vietnam. Continue reading →