health

"People said that one day my brother 'would end up dead'. I just never expected it to happen".

Taryn with Jason

TRIGGER WARNING: This article deals with drug use, addiction and death. It may be triggering for some readers.

I touched his face and it was cold, so cold. Cold and still as depicted in the movies, but colder and it was real. When I put my hand on his chest I felt and heard paper, kind of like crêpe paper.

My 28 year-old brother was lying in a coffin and he was dead. Even though he was obviously dead, I was too scared to reach in and give him a kiss because I thought he might jump out and scare me. Is that weird?

I found out later that the paper I felt under his clothes was some bandaging from the autopsy. Because Jason died on a park bench in Sydney’s Belmore Park, an autopsy was necessary to determine his cause of death. I assumed the needle on the ground or hanging out of his arm would have been a good indicator of the reason for his death.

I’m still so annoyed that I never found out whether the needle was in his arm or whether he had pulled it out before he died. Was his body slumped over when he died? Did he inject, feel the bliss of the heroin running into his veins and lay down or did he realise the minute he injected that it was bad stuff? What were his last moments on this earth like for him; what was the last thing he thought? Did he know he was dying? Who found him?

It’s been 11 years and I have still have unanswered questions. It feels like only yesterday I received the phone call from my sister to say that Jason had died. I was living in Christchurch at the time and I had it all going on – great apartment, great job, money in the bank, a killer karaoke machine and the best Chinese takeaway restaurant less than 5 minutes’ walk away. One might say I was living the dream… until that day.

Taryn, today.

The phone rang and one of my staff answered the call in my office. She was on the phone for only a minute before she turned to me and asked for some privacy. I walked out into the sales office and watched inquisitively through the glass window at her expressions. Something was very wrong. A few minutes later she asked me to come back in to the office and take the call.

I asked her, “Who is it?’ and she said, “Just take the call.” I asked her again but she just shook her head. “Hello?” When I heard my sister’s voice on the other end of the phone, my world immediately started spinning (again, just like in the movies) and I thought, “Oh my God, my Mum and Dad, what’s happened?” My sister explained that something very bad had happened and then she said, “Jason’s dead”.

Now you would think as the sister of a man who had been a heroin addict for a number of years that this phone call wouldn’t have been surprising. But there was nothing more surprising, or shocking than those words “Jason’s dead”. “He’ll end up dead”, “You’ll end up dead if you don’t get clean”. I’ve heard these words so many times and I’ve said them myself but you actually never expect it will become a reality. My brother was a heroin addict for most of his 20s and I truly never believed that he would die. My brother wasn’t going to die.

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I saw him living on the streets; I saw him looking like a homeless person. I saw him broken, beaten, and lower than I’ve ever seen another human being but I never believed he was going to die from a heroin overdose. That must sound weird, but it’s the truth. I felt the pain of his death but I think what broke me the most was watching my Mum and Dad standing over his coffin, hugging him, touching him, burying their head into his hard, cold chest asking him not to be gone. That was the hardest part of Jason’s death.

Jason with Sean Penn while filming as his stunt double in Thin Red Line.

I wasn’t a parent back then when he died, but I am now and sometimes the pain feels worse these days when I let the thought of losing one of my children enter my mind. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that my kind, caring and generous parents feel on a daily basis. If you knew my parents you’d agree too that they are the last people on earth to deserve such heartache. No parent should have to bury their child.

On a brighter note, there was one positive outcome from all the sadness. At Jason’s funeral I was reconnected with one of Jason’s best mates, Mathew. I had known Mat all of my life; I always thought he was bit cute, but of course I was his mate’s younger sister, so I never really got a look in!

But standing there in that moment of sadness, I was now a woman and he was a man, and there was no longer a Garfield nightie in sight. (As a young girl I used to put this on when he came around to our house in the hope he’d be impressed!)

We got talking, we connected and before I headed back to Christchurch I wrote him a letter telling him that in light of recent tragedies, I was going to live with no reservations and basically that I’d had a crush on him my entire life!

Fast forward 11 years, we are married, have 3 children and the rest is history! Did Jason play a part in our coming together? Absolutely. Jason is everywhere, his death has shaped the person that I am and the way I live my life, I feel his strength and I see him every day in my middle child’s eyes.

There is magic in life and heartache in death. I’ve experienced it all, but the greatest teaching from my greatest tragedy, is to love the ones you love and love them hard, because you never know what’s around the corner.

If you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, you can call the National AA hotline on 1300 22 22 22. If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, and need to speak to someone you can all the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement on 1300 664 786.