The Death podcast: Mark Longley

Death: A podcast about love, grief and hope is available on  Rova, iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, Spreaker,and all major podcast platforms.

 

Mark Longley is Newshub's digital managing editor. His daughter Emily was murdered when she was 17 years old.

"My daughter Emily was born on a snowy February day in London. It was 1994, and I was 26 years old - I couldn't have been less prepared.

In the moments after Emily was born, a nurse passed her to me to hold for the first time. She had her eyes wide open and she was very alert, like she was checking out her new surroundings. I looked at her and she looked back at me, and we just stared at each other for a long time.

I didn't have some big moment of clarity about becoming a father, but I looked at this beautiful baby I had played a part in creating and just thought, this is going to be ok.

On May the 7th, 2011, I woke up at 2am. I saw a missed call from my mother, and a text asking me to call her back. I didn't think much of it. At 17, Emily had decided she wanted to go back to England to study business at a place called Brockenhurst College. She had been living with her grandparents - my parents - in Bournemouth. If she ever broke her curfew, my mother would get in touch to let me know.

I dialled their number and my father answered. And then he put a policeman on the line.

I don't remember exactly what the policeman said, but he told me there was a body, and the body had been identified as Emily. He said they were trying to figure out what had happened and why she had died.   

 

I had seen her only a week earlier. She had come back to New Zealand for the Easter break, and she had been so full of life - we'd walked on Takapuna Beach together and talked about her course, her job at Topshop and her life in the UK.

She seemed happy. We talked about her coming back later that year for a longer trip.

When I arrived in England a day later, I drove straight from the airport, to the morgue.

I was met by the same policeman I had talked to on the phone.

He took me into a room that had a window into another room that was dark. He told me that the light in that room was going to come on slowly. In there would be a bed, and on the bed would be Emily.

As the light came on, I had convinced myself that it wouldn't be her. That I would look through the window and see someone else.

I looked through the window into the room. I could see the bed, neatly made with a white sheet and a purple blanket.

And there was Emily, her blonde hair ruffled against the pillow.  

She looked like she was asleep. Like I had seen her a thousand times before. It was like a school morning where she had overslept and I would go and wake her up. I would open the curtains and shake her, and she would tell me to go away.

I remember thinking that I would walk over to her and shake her and she would sit up and say boo. And we would laugh at this big joke she had played on me.  

I walked over to her, and I touched her face. Her skin felt soft like it always had but it was cold, like no cold I had ever felt.

Emily's death and subsequent murder trial were well played out in the New Zealand and international media - The Guardian, BBC, Daily Mail and all the local Kiwi news outlets were running stories extensively.

The news was everywhere. I lived in Whakatane - it was a small town and lots of people knew what had happened. And yet in day-to-day conversations, sometimes Emily wouldn't even be mentioned.

People might ask me how I was, or what I was up to, and I be left thinking, "Do you know what's happened?"

I understand now why people were afraid to mention Emily's name - it was in case they said the wrong thing, or upset me. After someone dies, it is always hard to know what to say.

I miss the way Emily used to make me laugh. She was warm and loving, bright and beautiful, determined and strong willed. Being her father was fun. She was always up for something, and she was my little mate as well as a daughter.

One thing I have learned through all this is we need to be more open about death.

We need to acknowledge the dead more. We also need to do better as a society at taking care of the grieving. To be present for them, to sit with them, to acknowledge them and their loved ones.

Death is painful, it is heinous... but until we recognise that it's part of life, we will never learn to live with it.

Newshub.