I have wanted to write something here for the last few months. What put me off was not wanting to intrude upon the grieving process of Chris’ beautiful family. Of course Chris was a public figure but, first and foremost, he was a father, husband, son (in law) and brother. However much his loss has impacted the world, the greatest loss of course is with his family and close friends. However, sitting here today on New Year’s Eve and reflecting as I do each year on memories good and bad from the year gone by, I feel compelled to write something.
On September 18 some years ago I woke up at 6 a.m. on a bright sunny morning to be told my dad had died. No warning, no preparation, no signs. I was ten years old and it blew my world to pieces. I felt like someone had put on a giant steel-capped boot and kicked me as hard as you could ever be kicked – right in the gut. My dad was my world and my life changed irrevocably from that point. Much as I respected my mother my dad was my soulmate – we thought the same, liked the same things and he inspired and motivated me. The lights went out for me after he died.
Back then there was little thought given to the impact of such things on a child and I just tried to pull myself up and get on with it. I think because I didn’t talk about it or process it I managed it especially badly. There were also a lot of financial challenges and as an only child I felt I had to look after my mother. School work suffered and I withdrew. A couple of years later I found that alcohol fixed my pain nicely and set off down the slippery slope of addiction.
The other thing I found at that time was music. Before the days of Spotify or even iTunes, I was somehow led to a band called Soundgarden and fell in love with Ultramega OK. By 1990/91 I was working in the music business and found myself at a show at the Underworld in London when Soundgarden came to play. I will never ever forget that show and how amazing Chris Cornell and the band were. I was fortunate enough to see the band a few times after that but will never ever forget that first time.
Things started to go wrong for me shortly after that. With the benefit of hindsight of course it was inevitable that using substances would not work for long and I slid down into a very dark place that lasted several years. Suicide was a daily thought – not because I wanted to die but because I did not envisage ever being able to find peace. However, on May 18 1999 I got sober and have not had a drink or drug since that day. For me, drinking and music were too interconnected and I had to move away from music. I never stopped loving it but I had to leave the industry and do something else.
When I heard the news about Chris this year my heart snapped in two. I looked at the love of my life lying next to me and wondered how I would feel if he died and thought about how Vicky must feel. But, mostly, I thought of his kids and especially Toni. I guess that was because she was close to my age when I lost my dad. That Chris died on my 18 year sobriety birthday and that my dad died on Toni’s birthday, although a different year, brought an additional chill to it for me.
I have spent the last 15 years working in mental health and addiction because I wanted to do any small thing I could to prevent the loss of life of even one person from these issues. I have no idea what was going through Chris’ mind before he died and it is, quite frankly, none of my business. That is the private affair of his family and loved ones. All I would like to say to them is that whatever happened, EVEN if he did take his own life (and maybe he did not) that does not mean he did not love them. I know from my own experience that both depression and/or medication will alter the mind to the point where IN THAT MOMENT the most crazy things seem right. I don’t believe anyone who dies in this kind of way wants to die or leave their loved ones. Whatever happened, I know they know he loved them and that’s all that matters.
My hope on this New Year’s Eve is that Chris’ family are on the cusp of a better year. That day will never ever leave their minds and hearts as long as they are on this planet. I will not lie – all his kids will always feel his absence – at their first prom, graduation, birthday, marriage, birth of their own kids. They will wonder, as I do every day, what their dad would make of what they are doing or how the world is. That will never go but it will change. The questions also will always be there but I have come to realise that life is not fair and sometimes there are no explanations. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to the best people all the time. That is one of the mysteries of the randomness of life.
What will be different for Toni and her siblings is that they are surrounded by love. It won’t bring their dad or the love of Vicky’s life back but the love from their family and Chris’s friends will enable them to do something positive with something awful. What they also have is a catalogue of his work and a host of people who are able to share memories of their dad with them. I hope and pray that all who can support his kids please do so. They will want to hear stories about their dad and to know people who knew him. Please don’t forget them when all the dust has settled. This is a lifetime thing for them. Please don’t ever underestimate how shattering something like this is – especially for a child.
Chris was a beautiful, sensitive, exceptional soul who can never be replaced. I know I have never had such a strong reaction to the loss of someone I did not even know. But his legacy is powerful and his memory eternal.
I pray that all of you – Vicky, Lily, Toni and Chris as well as all extended family and friends have a blessed 2018.