My 21-year-old son died in an unfathomably random accident – and that was the end of my old life. However, he’s still with me every day… writes KATHRYN FLETT

On Tuesday 19 September 2023, I wrote a Substack piece about that week’s big story, Russell Brand, and (according to my texts), I messaged my eldest son, Jackson, at 17.38: I posted my Substack.

He knew I’d been writing most of the afternoon and the message quickly bounced back with a heart emoji attached. Lazy of both of us, really, as he was only on the other side of the wall that separates my home office from the living room where he was sitting, typically multitasking: watching the big TV on the wall, with his laptop on his knees and phone in his hand. A few minutes later, while tidying my digital desktop, I heard a muffled ‘Mum!’, so I got up and went in.

‘Yup?’

‘I think this is probably a very good piece but what are you saying exactly, about Brand? I mean, I’ve skimmed it! ‘I should probably read it properly, right?’

‘Up to you, always interested to hear your thoughts but maybe read one thing at a time?!’

‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll read it again. Look I’m going out in a bit, meeting the lads. I’m going to make a burger first, though.’

‘There’s a stubby beer in the garage fridge if you want one. I’m going to do some more work. Don’t forget I’m going to Cornwall tomorrow, leaving early.’

‘Ah, so do you want me to come back from the flat first and say goodbye?’

Jackson at his Cardiff University graduation last summer

I’d given Jackson the keys to a nearby empty rental I owned that was between tenants, on the grounds that I didn’t want to be woken up by my famously heavy-footed son and a couple of his mates coming back late. ‘Don’t be silly. You probably won’t be awake when we leave, much less back here.’

I laughed. ‘Better say goodbye now.’

We hugged.

‘Have fun,’ I said, although it was just a Tuesday night – local pub, game of pool. Not biggie.

‘I will!’ Jackson said.

‘Love you,’ I said.

‘Love you, too,’ said Jackson.

He went downstairs, made a burger, drank a stubby beer and chatted with my partner, Julian. It was maybe 20 minutes later when, from my first-floor office window, I saw Jackson leaving the house. He put in his Airpods as he crunched over our short gravel drive then turned left out of the gate, on to the main road, heading down the hill to the flat.

He didn’t turn around and wave at his mum. Why would he? This wasn’t a movie. He was just a 21-year-old man at the tail end of what he’d described as ‘the perfect summer’, going out for a few hours with two of his best mates before he woke up on Wednesday morning and cracked on with the rest of his life. He had a lot of plans.

Except there wasn’t a Wednesday morning for Jackson. Because at approximately 12.50am, after an unfathomably random accidental fall into a void hospitality space on Hastings seafront – the Courtyard, where the bars and cafes were all closed – my eldest son died instantly.

Jackson with his mother, Kathryn, on his 18th birthday in 2020.

Jackson with his mother, Kathryn, on his 18th birthday in 2020.

Jackson with his mother, Kathryn, on his 18th birthday in 2020.

According to the toxicology report, he was neither excessively drunk – he’d had about three pints – nor under the influence of drugs. It had rained and he’d bounced up on his toes, leaning too far forward over a lethally low retaining wall and… he kept going.

That he was about to fall headfirst on to concrete, much less die as a result, he would barely have registered. It was a freak accident made more freakish by the fact that Jackson was a First Dan black belt in karate, with the balance of a mountain goat. Nevertheless, the interim death certificate stated that the ‘precise cause of death was 1a) Comminuted depressed skull fractures with brain lacerations. 1b) Massive head injury. 1c) Fall from height (witnessed)’.

As well as being witnessed by his friends, it was all captured on CCTV.

So those are the facts, for the record.

And as well as being the end of Jackson’s life, that was the end of my old life, too. Everything since 1.45am on Wednesday 20 September 2023 – which is when the lone policeman turned up at my door to break the news that my vividly alive 21-year-old son, the recent physics graduate who had just landed a well-paid modeling job and who had the whole of the rest of a shining life ahead of him, was dead – belongs to an entirely different other life, now consigned to the past.

He is an insect captured in amber. I never saw 2024

My new life, a mere six months old, is however a place in which I still have two sons, only one of whom is physically alive. The other is alive inside me (where, according to an academic study from 2012, some of my sons’ cells almost certainly remain).

As I tentatively negotiate this liminal space, Jackson accompanies me, all day, every day. He may not text me emojis, however I feel his energy from him – always very powerful in life – driving me, helping me navigate a tragedy that is dreaded by all parents. His energy helps me cope with the way this cruel and brutal loss will continue to impact the rest of my life. Which, even in these early days, I can confirm it does in every conceivable way – and many inconceivable ways, too.

I am only halfway through my own Year of Magical Thinking and Jackson is already an insect captured in amber; he never saw 2024, or war between Israel and Palestine. When he died, AI imagery still couldn’t render convincing fingers, Spurs were on a winning streak and Oppenheimer – the last film we saw together – hadn’t yet won Oscars and Baftas.

Meanwhile, as Studio Ghibli fans, we were both still looking forward to the release of Hayao Miyazaki’s now Bafta- and Oscar-winning The Boy and the Heron. I’d bought tickets but Jackson didn’t know that.

March 20, 2024 (exactly six months since his death) was a day without him physically yet he is everywhere around me. It is no time since he died… yet it is all the time. I strive to deal with my loss by leaning in to the rolling tsunami of grief, as and when it suddenly hits. Allowing myself to truly feel these emotions is the painful place where I connect – reconnect – with my son. Because that’s the space in which our love still lives; we were very close in life and we’re still very close.

JackoFest is being held in July to celebrate Jackson's life

JackoFest is being held in July to celebrate Jackson's life

JackoFest is being held in July to celebrate Jackson’s life

One of the many ways I am attempting to cope with my loss has been to create a music festival (raising money for charities supporting bereaved parents and siblings) in Jackson’s memory. As a family, we are all about music – my father was a lyricist whose words have been sung by Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Frankie Valli and many more besides – while Jackson was never happier than when he was standing in a field with his mates watching live music.

JackoFest will take place on 27 July at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, the day before what would have been his 22nd birthday. The idea rose phoenix-like out of the ashes of a party we had already planned for 2024, celebrating my 60th and my youngest son’s 18th. With Jackson turning 22, we added up to 100 and had planned a multigenerational ‘centenary’ bash in a local pub where Jackson occasionally worked during uni breaks.

Instead, the Marina Fountain in St Leonards-on-Sea ended up holding my son’s record-breaking (the pub’s biggest ever bar take) wake, on 14 October last year.

We have more artists yet to announce – however, tickets are currently on sale for my festival of maternal love. It’s for Jackson’s brother, Rider, and all their friends, and my friends, and the boys’ wider family, and anyone else who wants to join us – in honor of the extraordinary young man whom it was my privilege to grow up, and then once born, to get to know.

For me, it’s Jackson’s love that lives on.

And it’s that love which will continue to define the shape of the rest of the lives of his family and friends. He was fiercely loyal to us, as we are to him. We miss him and we love him, and he knows it.

He is Stardust, he is Golden.

For more information and JackoFest tickets visit dlwp.com/event/jackofest. Kathryn’s fee for this article will be used to donate tickets to deserving containers, including similarly bereaved families

 
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