When it all comes crashing down

On Sunday 21st of November it all went horribly wrong.

It was 11pm, I was buzzing on a massive high, my manuscript was due in 3 days and I was getting excited about what was next. After all the hard work of the last year things were coming together beautifully!

I settled in for a few hours editing, checked into Facebook and got a message from a friend of my little brother…  Hey Serena, call me on this number. It’s important.

My heart racing, I rang the number and was immediately passed to a doctor in the emergency room in Melbourne.

“Serena, your brother stopped breathing and had a cardiac arrest at a BBQ earlier this evening. He has been resuscitated and you need to get here as soon as possible, I realise you are in Sydney so please be careful travelling.”

“How bad is it? How quickly should I come? Should I tell my parents to come from New Zealand?”

“He is stable right now but it is not good, come as soon as you can, everyone as soon as they can.”

The next few hours passed in a blur of fear and disbelief, I made those calls that make your stomach drop when the phone wakes you in the night.

My husband searched for flights and rental cars… whatever we could take to get to Melbourne in the shortest possible time. We were so occupied with the enormity of the situation that it took us over an hour to recognise that someone outside was trying to get our attention.

When we heard a tap, tap, tap the second time we realised it wasn’t a drip of water outside the window, it was someone knocking on the window! I tiptoed to the hall and turned off the light as John threw open the blinds and revealed the silhouette of a man at our window. He had a head start though and had disappeared by the time John got out there.

Shaken I walked into the bathroom, and saw the window wide open; there were several pairs of women’s undies on the floor. Over an hour before I had heard the bathroom window open and close twice but was so distraught I had ignored it.

The police came straight over, and booked for forensics to collect the “sample” he had left first thing in the morning. Was this all actually happening?

Mum and some of my siblings were driving through the night to catch an early flight from NZ, not long after their flight took off I got another call.

“Serena, are you sitting down?”

What do you mean? Is this a joke? Do people actually say that in real life?


“I am sorry to tell you this but Ethan is not going well; we don’t expect he will last the hour”

Suddenly I was floating above myself, watching as I called my auntie in Melbourne and my brother’s friends. Watching as my frozen clone dialled the numbers, delivered the news and asked people to rush to the hospital so that he wouldn’t be alone.

Please bro, we are coming, wait for us.

Please bro, we love you, be strong, hang in there. Wait for us, wait for us, please wait for us, we will be with you soon.

The boarding announcement caused the shuffle of suits as the business commuters stood en mass to queue for the flight. My phone rang. I noticed it was 6:11am as I answered the call.

“Serena, I am so sorry he just passed away, he had friends and aunties there with him and he went peacefully”.

The rest of the journey was a blur with momentary snapshots: the look on the woman’s face as John handed her our boarding passes; recognising that the deep wail that echoed through the tunnel was mine; how cold and impersonal the international terminal felt as my family arrived and we told them the news; the long drive to the hospital and the pause before entering the room to see my funny, gentle, caring brother, my best friend lying there on a bed, with no breath in his lungs, no beat in his heart and no life in his face.


This wasn’t actually the blog I was intending to write when I sat down today, I was planning to write about how you should appreciate life, not sweat the small stuff and keep things in perspective, but this is what flowed and I hope you don’t mind me sharing the story.

In less than 2 weeks, I went from being on top of the world to being dysfunctional, numb and depressed and still – things go on and life goes on. I am sure that the intensity of the pain of losing my brother will lessen over time and that he will live on in memories and legend but right now, I am just taking each day as it comes.

On the positive side this experience has proven that I have an exceptionally caring extended family. It also showed that Ethan had been a positive, fun and loving force in the lives of hundreds of people who knew him and at 24, he had lived a wild and adventurous life. He was famous for the laughter and fun he brought to every occasion. He was famous for his big bear hugs and his passion for fishing, food and fitness…. I am sure if you asked him he would laugh in his warm beautiful way and say at least he made the most of it.

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