When I was a student, I used to spend my holidays working at the local hospital. Among other things I would ferry patients between the wards and the operating theatres, one of a happy band of lads who’d spend our days dressed in greens and wheeling trolleys around the polished corridors and winking at the nurses.
One of my colleagues was called Sam. Sam was from Northern Ireland, a great big bear of a man with a terrific twinkle in his eye and a laugh like Tommy Cooper’s. He was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life. Sam was an unfailingly happy man. He didn’t have a bad word for anyone, he enjoyed his work and made what was frequently a dull job a fun place to be. Sam was one of the good guys. In 1993 he and his wife had settled in London, he enjoyed his work, and they’d just had their first baby. His smile was broad; the twinkle in his eye extra sparkly.
And then Sam died suddenly. He was apparently bathing the baby at home, when he had a massive and sudden brain haemorrhage and died almost instantly. He was 28 years old, and a bright light went out in the world. Everyone at the hospital was devastated, even the most hardened medical staff who’d seen and experienced terrible tragedy first hand. That this had happened to anyone, let alone a smashing bloke like Sam, well, it was just so tragic and jsut so unfair.
I’ve often thought of Sam in the years since, and the other day his name popped into my head again. I whacked it into google and found a website with a couple of references that suggested it was the Sam I’d known. I e-mailed the website, asking if it was the same guy, and if so, I just wanted them to know that he wasn’t forgotten. I didn’t expect to hear anything; I don’t even really know why I sent the e-mail.
I had a reply in hours saying it was the same Sam, and that his wife and son lived back in Northern Ireland now and they’d passed my message on. Minutes later I had the following e-mail.
” i have got a e mail from you about sam i read it and i think its da same sam i am his son stephen i never really knew him so i would really like 2 talk so give me a mail back .”
I wrote straight back, telling him what a fantastic guy his dad was, how everyone had thought the world of him, and recounting a couple of funny stories about him from my time at the hospital and asking after his mum, Sam’s wife. It was a tricky thing to write; certainly, at the risk of lapsing into hoary old cliche, it put writing travel books full of bad jokes into some kind of perspective.
Again, within minutes, I had a reply.
“I only know him from pics and videos – there is a pic of him standin at da hospital window i think . Me and mum are well, im 15 now i go to his grave often to say a hello and check to see if every thing is ok. Mum keeps talkin to me about him .. mum always says Sam will never be dead when i am about. i will try my best to keep the Sam you knew in my heart and try 2 be like him as the years go by.”
There’s no better person to take after than Sam, that’s for sure. He was one of a kind, someone who made a huge impression on me even in the short time I knew him. Sam had an insatiable appetite for life, almost as if he knew that he wouldn’t be around long. He’d certainly be proud of the son he left behind and never really knew, and I’m proud to have known such a fantastic man.