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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.

If you like it, please share it!

Speak your lovely mind!

  1. Wow, Serena, that was both a sad and incredibly powerful post. What a difficult process it must have been to commit that to print.

    Thank you for sharing.
    Regards, Danielle.

  2. Thanx so much Serena, that is a hard thing to do but therapeutic at the same time.

    Hopefully posting your story will help others understand they are not alone when these things happen.


  3. Thank you for sharing serena. Right now we here are dealing with the very sad situation of siobhan, my good friend, being so sick. she is dying, and she will be gone within a few days. It is so draining, so sad, and yet I am detatched and helpless. Death is a force so powerful that it shatters your life and leaves you broken- challenging you to cope.. time still ticks on by. I wish you strength and I admire your already strong courageous spirit S. Love and light, vanessa xxx

    • Thanks Vanessa, I heard about Siobhan and I am so sorry for your loss. I wish I could say that I don’t know how you feel, but I have a fair idea. My thoughts are with you. Lots of love xx

  4. my thoughts and prayers are with your Serena, may you find strength during this difficult time.

  5. Thanks for your honesty Serena,
    life will never be the same again.
    I don’t know how you’re feeling today, but I wanted to share a little of what I went through five years ago, in the hope that these words may possibly be of some help –
    When I lost someone I was very close to unexpectedly, I found that the grief carved out a whole new aspect of me, like a fast, deep river. My capacity for sorrow proved to be deeper than anything I’d ever thought possible, and just to balance things out I found that with the new levels of sensitivity came the far greater capacity for joy and the gratitude. The deep grief was balanced by the deep pleasure of still being here, of being alive and getting to experience all the little mundane sweet moments of life such as licking an icecream or holding a child. Loosing someone unexpectedly has rendered me continuously (perhaps overly so) grateful for the people in my life who I love, especially my son (he is just the most precious person to me) because that’s the crazy thing about this human experience, it keeps changing and not always in the ways we expect or want.
    As for grief – in my experience grief comes in waves – in the first few years, one moment I felt ‘normal’ again and as if I must have been getting over it, and the next – it was ringing through my heart like a thunderous cathedral bell. I think it still comes now, but I don’t recognise it.
    Serena you are one of the lights of my life – you were put here to shine and you do and I’m so thankful for you. I’m sure your little bro would want you to find your way through this so that you can continue to give out all that amazing love that you seem to automatically generate (like the sun).
    I cannot imagine how your gorgeous mother must be feeling. I’m sending her a huge hug from one mother to another.
    Sending you love from Nelson, New Zealand (and some tears too),

    • Hey Charlotte,

      Yes I have already noticed a new aspect starting to develop. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out! Thanks for the kind words and warm wishes, you are simply gorgeous. xx

  6. Alan McGettigan says:

    Lovely post Serena, thanks.
    It was 6 years ago that my son passed away with leukaemia on 16/11/04, aged 25, and I still miss him. The grief that I felt for him, once again came to the surface with the mining tragedy in Greymouth, and loss of 29 men. I have lived on the West Coast and it is one of my favorite places in N.Z. – so their loss felt personal. My experience with grief, is that it seems to come and go, like any other emotion. I attended some meetings of a support group for grieving parents, some time ago. I eventually found the emotional intensity, and sad stories of loss, more than I wanted to bear, but they were friendly and caring. Coincidentally, I have been reading ‘The Black Swan’ by Taleb, which is all about improbable events that cause massive consequences – and seems there are more black swan events in life than we commonly realise. Anyway, I just wished to comment because I have also been re-experiencing some grief over the last few weeks, and it’s ok. I wish you well. Alan

    • Thanks Alan, I might check that book out. Grief is a funny thing, fortunately for me I have never really had to experience it to this level before. Now I am dealing with it everyday, I guess that is life. You never know what you are going to get.

  7. Thank you, Serena, for sharing your story. Life is a roller coaster of wicked highs and lows. The experiences can be precious and wonderous, or horrifyingly painful. But here’s the rub – knowing life is short, unpromised in its duration, makes each moment with loved ones a miracle. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can take away the hurt you feel. But at the same time, nothing can touch the love, gratitude and appreciation you have for your beloved friend and brother – dead or alive. Your darkness will pass and when those clouds clear your brother’s energy will sparkle in ways you will not miss. He filled his life full on – loving and laughing and sharing his essence in 24 short years. He blessed this world and left it in your hands to continue living large. You will grow from the grief, but now is not the time to talk of anything but sharing what comes up to be shared – honestly, authentically, with raw emotion and wisdom just as you did. You are a beautiful spirit carrying your brother’s light forward into a new day…you will find your way…with love.

  8. Trevor Sampson says:

    Serena , you and I know that each person must make their own journey. It is like every human is given a life canoe. The canoe has one seat and one paddle. In order to get anything out of life we must be in the canoe and we must paddle down the
    river of life. Now, I can share with you how my journey has been, but I
    cannot paddle your canoe. You must paddle your own. I will paddle near you at times. Your brother has ended his journey on the blue planet, his spirit lives on in the memories of those lives he touched, allow yourself to grieve, pause in the stream a while and when your will returns, take up your paddle again, life goes on for all of us that remain, I wish you peace and Good luck! “

  9. Oh Serena. I don’t know you and have somehow followed you on twitter and then then followed a link. Thank you for your story.

    What gets me is the way in which a story like this unfolds. It’s never like it is in the movies. They cut out all the frantic calls to loved ones, the inability to do anything when you just want to do everything you can and they cut out the realness.

    What a gift for telling a story you have. I am so very sorry for your loss Serena. Take care of your heart. Bern x

  10. Anjie Connon says:

    thanks Serena, I really wanted to hear that.xxxx

  11. I am Serena’s Mum, and we have shared a very intense journey in the last 2 weeks. From the time that Serena called me to tell me that Ethan was dying, and the horror of travelling to Melbourne from New Zealand in the middle of the night, and arriving at the hospital I became more and more aware of how the path had been prepared for us to get there.

    What has been so touching for our family has been the outpouring of support and grief from so many of Ethan’s friends and family which enabled us to farewell him in a way that he would have loved.

    Charlotte you are so right about the depths that we find in ourselves, and for me also, an absolute determination to honour Ethan’s love of life and his friends and family in a way that his passion for life will continue to inspire others.

    Ethan’s Face Book page has been such a comfort for us as everyone has shared their grief, stories and favourite music. Time has stood still for us as we come to terms with the fact that Ethan had 24 years, and not the 70+ we tend to take for granted, and I have certainly had to look at what is important as we each live our lives.

    Thank you Serena for sharing the story,as it reminds us to work out what is really important and precious in our lives.

    Love you heaps.

  12. Dearest Serena,
    Thank you.
    Your brother deservedly had it all The greatness of human beings is alive and well in you and your family.
    Thank you.
    Humbly yours,

  13. Serena, I’m Mel’s friend, Andrea – we spoke on the phone a few weeks ago actually. I know the feeling you described (numbness, a clone of yourself) very well. My mother was killed suddenly in a car crash when I was living in San Francisco in 2003. I heard about it from a message my grandmother left on my voicemail and I literally fell on the floor. I was alone and had to go to Florida right away. Reading your story reminded me very much of that exact time and feeling. It is shock…I’m so sorry this happened to you.

    I actually heard about your brother from Mel. Just want to send my condolences to you and your family. I have no words to console you, but just want to let you know that you’re in my thoughts.

    • Thanks Andrea, I am really sorry to hear about your mother and the way that you heard must have been awful. Mind you everything about it is awful it is just the hearing for the first time that is so gut wrenching. xx

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  15. Oh Serena, my heart goes out to you. I lost my father recently and know the shock and horror of it all. My dad was 87 and had lived a long life. So sad to hear of your brother’s death SO young. Sending lots of love. Jennifer Bernensen

  16. I’m so sorry for the loss to your family, Serena. What a powerful post . . .

  17. Hi Serena,

    I just wanted to say I’m so sorry for your loss. Nick and I are thinking of you and your family. xx


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  20. stunning and sad and beautiful………..sorry for your loss.

  21. That’s just so heartbreaking Serena. I have tears for your brother, for your loss, for your grief. Hugs to you xx

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  24. Needed to read that. I note that this comment is technically 4 years since you posted that but it has helped, I lost 3 family members in 1 year (December 2012 to August 2013), one was taken by a callous murderer and so to know that the feelings of ‘floating’ watching the situation when you find out, the indescribable feelings of loss, hopelessness … too come through it all later and be amazed that I made it/we made it … definately agree: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and that life is short, be grateul for it no matter what.
    Thanks for the blog, I may only just be reading it but well, for me the timing is right :-)

    • Hey Kricket, I am so sorry to hear about your family members. 3 in a year is so intense I can’t imagine what you must be going through, especially with a murder too.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story, there are so many people in the “I have lost someone I love” club that I feel a deep sense of connection inside of the grief.

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