My nephew rang me to tell me my brother, his dad, died this morning. I was getting ready for work. I hadn’t even had breakfast.
… at this point, I need to make it clear, I’m not writing this to get lots of online hugs. Today was a day of valuable, positive lessons, and I feel compelled to share them. But you have to hang in there ’til the end … then maybe you can tell me what it all means…
How do I describe how sad I was to hear my brother is dead? I cried this morning, with my loving wife and two amazing daughters cuddling me, feeling the warmth and affection of my family, at the same time as feeling the deep pain of losing a part of that family.
The scary part is I didn’t even know my brother was sick until about a month ago. He broke his arm and when the doctors tried to figure out why his bones were so brittle, they discovered secondary bone cancer. His wonderful wife asked for some privacy and space, which I respected. I thought I’d get a chance to see him before he died. I was wrong. He went into hospital and never came out.
So the first lesson of the day was very simple and direct: none of us really know how long we have on this planet. We can make all the plans we want, but make sure we’re living the life we want right now, because it might be all we have.
My second whack of news came shortly after, when one of my work colleagues told me an amazing woman we knew had committed suicide around Christmas time. They told me she had been very lonely. I found myself reviewing my last few meetings with this lady and realising she’d been reaching out to connect. Could I have given her more? Could her death have been avoided if I’d just understood what she needed?
Then I caught up with someone I hadn’t seen for 20 years. Last time we met, we were both living on the East Coast. The circumstances which brought us back together, 20 years and 4,000kms later, were also a bit weird.
… usually the universe works on cycles of time and scale which are just so enormous, we can’t possibly even begin to comprehend them. But do you ever get the feeling, every now and then, a little ripple comes through and maybe we can just feel the edge of some sort of pattern lining up? Even though we have no idea what it means, we can feel it’s there? Do you ever have that feeling? I certainly had that feeling today…
My friend from NSW 20 years ago told me the third very sad story of the day. I won’t share the details, because it’s not my story to share. Let’s just say she’s been having a really rough time. She described the last few years as ‘chaos’. As I listened to her story I found myself wondering: what could I do to help? Every day I’m privileged to work with organisations serving people in severe need – homelessness, drugs, disability, domestic violence, mental health, refugees, trauma, sexual abuse, aged care, dementia, you name it. So I figure I should at least be able to connect her with the support she needs.
But what about our personal connection? Especially after hearing about the recent suicide, I found myself wondering – how much can I give? I know I don’t have any answers. I can’t fix anyone’s life for them. I know we all have to choose our own path. So how much is enough? What can I actually do to make a difference?
All this is overlayed by another layer of weirdness, because I’ve been here before. The whole reason I came back to Perth, from NSW, 20 years ago, was to help a close friend in very similar circumstances. Have I slipped into some sort of timewarp? Have I learned anything? Can I do a better job this time around?
Suffice to say, I didn’t get tonnes of work done today. At least not that sort of work. I tried.
My wonderful wife, Kim, checked in to see how I was going, and suggested we head out for dinner with the girls. And that’s when a whole other level of learning kicked in. As we strolled down Beaufort Street, into Mount Lawley, the girls went running into Planet Books, which they love, and we bumped into some fantastic friends near the entrance.
Then we went somewhere we’d never tried before for dinner. We danced to jazz in the toilets (you kinda had to be there to appreciate it, but it was really fun) and I finished off dinner by sharing Nutella fondue with my two daughters.
On the way back, as the girls barrelled back into Planet Books, we bumped into another old friend at the entrance (forget Tinder, to meet cool people, just hang out in book shops). I found myself thinking, ‘Our girls must think we know a lot of people’.
By now the youngest kid was getting very tired, so Kim carried her, while I carried our eldest daughter upside-down, through the middle of Mount Lawley.
There were other little moments today, too. Like coming back to the office to find someone had sent me flowers after hearing about my brother. And heading into the gym at 10.30pm, to take it out on some weights.
And you know what…? Today should have been a disaster but, in the end, it was a bloody good day. I’m still really, really sad about my brother. Every time I think about it I have to hold back the tears. I don’t how long that will last, but it’s going to be a while. And, at the same time, I’m so incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such an amazing family, and to have so many really, really cool friends. I’m blessed to live this life. I don’t know how long it’ll last. I hope it’s a long time, and I hope I see a lot more of all of you. Let’s catch up soon, while we can.