The songs that keep my son's spirit alive
Michael Molloy's death at 18 left his family bereft. His mother tells Nick Harding how she preserves his memory through online letters – and the music he left behind
Tuesday 30 April 2013
Frances Molloy couldn't help but admire her son's single-minded determination to make a living in the music industry. Like any caring parent she wanted him to be happy and fulfilled, but his choice of career also gave her some concerns. "As a typical mum, when he left college I said to him, 'what about university, what is your plan B?'" Talented musician Michael didn't have a back-up plan.
"I can still see him now," says Frances. "He stood in front of me, all 6ft 6in of him; tall and handsome with his beautiful blue eyes, and he said, 'Mum, this is my life, there is no other plan.'"
At 18, Michael was already known as a talented songwriter and musician in his native Liverpool. One of his tracks, "Rise and Fall", recorded with his friend Alex Evans, had attracted the interest of an agent from London.
Last September, as he headed off to the Bestival music festival in the Isle of Wight, he was on the brink of realising his dream. Even at the festival he chose to write music alone in his tent while others partied. The scraps of paper he jotted lyrics on were later recovered from his possessions strewn in the wreckage of the crash that killed him that weekend.
Michael was on a coach that veered off the A3 in Surrey and smashed into a tree as it drove festival-goers back to the North-west in the early hours of 10 September. He was one of three people who lost their lives. Frances watched as footage of the wreckage was played out on the rolling news coverage of the disaster.
"Rise and Fall", the track that was supposed to launch him to a wider audience, has become his public epitaph. It was played at his funeral and is released this week as a tribute.
Frances, 49, and Michael's older brother Joe, 22, have released the single to honour Michael. "Hopefully, people will now know Michael Molloy the musician as opposed to Michael Molloy who died in a coach crash; we don't want him to be remembered like that," explains Frances. "Releasing his music comes with such pain because he is not here to see his dream become reality. All he ever wanted was to have his music heard."
Frances was preparing for a work presentation on the morning of the accident. Friends who had been with Michael on the coach phoned to tell the family – Frances and Michael's father and two brothers – that Michael had been injured. However, through an appalling series of communication blunders, the family were continually told by Surrey Police that Michael was not on the passenger list. They waited in limbo, fearing the worst but hoping the officials were right, for an agonising 18 hours watching live reports of bodies being recovered from the wreckage.
"It was horrific, we hadn't heard from Michael. We knew the friend he was sitting next to had been paralysed and later in the day we were told by other people that Michael had died. We called the casualty bureau continuously throughout the day and we rang the seven hospitals where the injured had been taken. No one called us back. Throughout, the police kept telling us he wasn't on the list of people on the coach. I assumed they wouldn't make such a terrible mistake.
"I was watching Sky News and at one point they said they had just removed the body of a young man of around 20 from the wreckage. I said it wouldn't be him because the authorities would never let a family watch it on the news without telling them. In the end we drove from Liverpool to Surrey, just to try and find out where he was."
It was only after Frances enlisted the help of the Liverpool Mayor, Joe Anderson, that Surrey Police finally contacted her to tell her that a family liaison officer would meet her at St Peter's Hospital in Chertsey, near the crash site. It was there officers finally confirmed that Michael had died. The family have since received an apology from the police force.
"I went there believing we were going to find him. I knew he would be badly injured but I didn't care as long as he was alive. I never expected to hear that he had died because we had been told that he wasn't on the coach."
For the family, life fell apart. The pain of losing her son is still too raw for Frances to deal with. The family receives regular counselling, which Frances attends twice a week.
"You don't cope, you just exist," she says. "You take each day as it comes and if it is a particularly difficult day you take it hour by hour. You never have a good day; you just have days which are worse than others. It is a physical pain like I have never encountered. Different things set me off. It can be a photograph or a song. When the clocks went forward I got upset because I realised he'll never see the light nights coming in again or the seasons change. We are rebuilding our lives and trying to adapt to someone as big as Michael not being in them."
As Michael was such a popular figure, tribute Facebook pages were set up in his memory. Frances had little interaction with the social networking site before, but was drawn to the pages. One day she posted a message, written to Michael.
"I had an unbearable need to speak to him," she explains. "I was new to Facebook and I started writing messages. I told him how I felt and what was going on and it felt like the messages were going somewhere. It was my way of keeping him alive and connecting to him."
She now writes regularly and tells her son how the family is coping, keeping him up to date with family news. The messages have become part of her coping mechanism. She never considered her words would be read by a wider audience.
She explains: "It never entered my head that I would be writing to the public, but the page now has a following and I have had parents who lost children write to me to say thank you, they have helped them. A woman delivered a bouquet of flowers and a letter a couple of weeks ago. She lost her sister 12 years ago and she and her mum had never been able to talk about the death. But they had been reading the letters and for the first time as a family they discussed their loss openly. I was overwhelmed by this. I am a private person but Michael's death was so public."
Frances has also found some support through the messages. She was contacted by two bereaved mothers from Liverpool who connected with the sentiments she expressed in her letters. "One is four years on from where I am now and one is two years on. They reached out with a message saying if I needed to speak they were there," explains Frances. "I didn't do anything for a while but they would send messages of support.
"One day I felt so bad I just needed to speak to someone who might have experience of what I was going through so I called them. They were so glad I got in contact. We now meet regularly. They have to relive their own pain to support me because they have to remember being in the place I am in now but we support each other."
Frances knows she will never get over losing her son but through his music, she has found a way to fight back against grief. At a recent concert to raise money for victims of the accident "Rise and Fall" was played. "I stood there as the song was played and felt so proud to be Michael Molloy's mother. It was the first time since the accident that I felt something that was a positive response. And that is my bit of fightback to whoever or whatever decided to take him so young. I will always be Michael Molloy's mother and no one can ever take that away from me."
"Rise and Fall" and "Hope You Know" by Michael Molloy is available to download on iTunes from today
A Letter to Michael
Another one of those days again, they seem to be coming more frequently now. I've tried many things today but this pain is here with a vengeance and I honestly believe that one day my heart will just stop it's so broken. I've listened to your song over again and each time I hear the guitar I picture you so happy playing along.
So many lives have been turned upside down because of a split second. It's just too much to even think about. Why you? Why us? Over and over I go in my head but there are no answers to the questions.
I have some of the most beautiful memories but I don't want to live like that, just having your memories. Maybe the lack of sleep and so many other things have caught up with me just now. I'm sorry, you must be sick of hearing it now.
I just need a sign. Even if it's a tiny one. I just want to know you can see these letters or hear my thoughts.
All my love, Mum xxx
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