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On my honeymoon with Guy, a phone call tragically changed our lives

I felt a sense of liberation walking the streets of Rome on my own. Although it was only a five-minute walk, I had never travelled this far before by myself in a foreign country, and that moment of oneness with the planet was overwhelming.

I picked up the laundry, paid the owner in euros and walked slowly back to the hotel, soaking up the sounds and sights as I strolled. It’s funny what everyday activities can be recalled when reminiscing about the past. When I returned to the room, Guy was happily relaxing. I reached for my phone to check my messages just as my dad was calling me, which wasn’t unusual. I was sure he was just checking to see if we had arrived safely.

Jules and Guy with her parents Margaret and Pat. Just days after her 2008 wedding, tragedy would strike.

Jules and Guy with her parents Margaret and Pat. Just days after her 2008 wedding, tragedy would strike.Credit:GM Photographics

My dad is a beautiful, gentle man. He is very soft spoken, with hints of his Irish accent hanging on to every word. We are very similar in a lot of ways and are very close. On that particular call, he seemed the same steady man as always, until he delivered the most devastating news of my life: my big brother, Andrew Egan, a husband and father of two little girls, had died.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember much after hearing those words. I must have asked questions that my dad answered very calmly and soberly. I don’t remember what I was wearing or the name of the hotel we were staying at. I don’t remember what day it was or what I ate for breakfast that morning. I don’t remember how I ended up standing in the bathroom staring out of the tiny window at the cloudy-blue sky above.

But at the end of the conversation, I knew that he had died that day in Australia and, more confusingly, that he had taken his own life. Taken his own life. Those were the words that tangled and tore me open the most. He had decided for himself that his life was over.

My brother? The one who busted out the caterpillar just five days ago? My brother – my childhood hero – the one I wanted to be just like when I grew up? The one who was a soccer star, smart, funny, good-looking, kind and popular with everyone? The one who would drive me around when I wasn’t old enough for my license and who let me hang out with him and his buddies, even though I knew I annoyed him on a very deep level. The one who took me under his wing and protected me from the evils of this world.

My brother? The one who let me wear his Scottish soccer team jerseys, even though they were his favourites, and far too big for me. The one I used to spy on from my bedroom window when he was sneaking people into his transportable bedroom in the backyard. My big brother, who took the blame for me when I put my foot through my bedroom wall and smashed it to pieces. My brother, who was a loving father to his two beautiful babies and wife. He was gone. I was far away. How did this happen? Why did it happen? How do I get home?

I managed to relay the horrific news to my new husband while on the phone. I remember him sliding down the wall to the floor, his head in his hands

I held tightly to the bathroom wall to try to steady my body and brain as new rushes of information kept entering my thoughts. I couldn’t breathe. I managed to relay the horrific news to my new husband while I was still on the phone to my dad. I remember him sliding down the wall to the floor with his head in his hands.

The questions swirling around in my head … the shock of this unexpected situation was almost too much to bear. After saying all the words I could muster to my dad, I promised him we would get home as fast as we could.

Guy sprang into action. He made phone calls, arranged cars, packed suitcases and organised for us to leave this place of bad news right away. My head was already fuzzy with questions, grief, confusion and panic. Being so far away from my family was the hardest part.

I closed my eyes, balled myself up in the back of the taxi and tried to distract myself with happier thoughts. I told myself that none of this was real and that we were still in the middle of our wonderful honeymoon, travelling to the next destination. Nothing could stop the bad thoughts. Or crying. Nothing could stop my brother being dead. He was gone. I knew it, but I couldn’t believe it. I sometimes still can’t.

I was standing there, amid a life that was moving on around us, yet I was completely still.  It would be hard to describe how quickly the descent was from sheer joy to utter grief.

We left that evening and arrived in Adelaide 48 hours later. Looking back, one of the strangest feelings to reconcile was that only five days earlier I was sharing the best day of my life with my brother by my side: my wedding. Every person I loved was in the room, celebrating our love.

We had a magazine come and photograph the day, so when we eventually arrived back in Australia, we came face to face with our big, happy grins right there on the front cover of most newsstands.

We were beaming. Me in my white dress, Guy in his suit. We were a picture of joy, at the start of a new life together, painted brightly in our demeanour. When we shuffled through the airport, people were stopping us to wish us congratulations. Some had even bought the magazine and were excitedly showing us our pictures. I was standing there, amid a life that was moving on around us, yet I was completely still.

It would be hard to describe how quickly the descent was from sheer joy to utter grief. My internal questions as I stood with the sweet well-wishers were: Don’t you know what has just happened? My brother is dead! How are you just walking around like nothing is wrong? Why are you smiling? Don’t you know that the world has just swallowed me whole? Don’t you know that the world, as I know it, no longer exists?

Of course, they didn’t. How were they to know? We were the happy, smiling married people on the cover of a magazine! We managed to say our thank yous and moved along in our sad walk to the giant exit doors.

To this day, that would have to be one of the most surreal moments of my life. The feeling of the world moving on, like nothing tragic had happened. People were just getting on with their lives, not understanding that we were back home to bury my childhood best friend – my big brother, Andrew.

Lifeline: 13 11 14.

Edited extract from Tea & Honesty (Murdoch Books) by Jules Sebastian, on sale March 30.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale March 28. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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