My brother, Stephen, died last week fairly suddenly following what could best be described as complications associated with leukaemia. Stephen had faced every challenge thrown at him head on with impressive courage.
I was in Seoul when my mother told me he was admitted into hospital at the beginning of last week. I asked him if I should return immediately to see him in Melbourne, and he responded in his typically stoic and pragmatic manner: “No, don’t come back. Stay there and keep doing what you are doing.”
My brother and I shared a mutual admiration, which we showed in ways that other people might not recognise. His words to me were his way of showing not just that he valued what I was doing, but that he was proud of me for having the courage to set out on an uncertain journey.
This uncertain journey has become an epic quest which is called the 10 City Bridge Run, and framed around a stunt where I am running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. The point of the stunt is to open a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”
The question of child survival was always a very personal matter for my brother and I. Together, we carried the small white coffin of his baby son Xander out of the church following his funeral when he had died of medical complications after living a short life of 36 hours.
Similarly, I learnt of the amazing ability of medicine to combat a disease like leukaemia after my brother was first diagnosed two years ago. Conversely, I saw the way disease can take its toll through my brothers death. The human body is remarkably resilient, and remarkably fragile both at the same time.
My good friend Gloria is a wonderful Aboriginal lady who has taught me a lot about Indigenous culture. We have been involved on a number of work tasks together where Aboriginal culture was the central issue driving the project.
She wrote me a lovely note in the wake of my brother’s death, and passed on her regards “as I went about my sorry business with my family” to use her words.
I responded with thanks, acknowledging her comment about sorry business, but still thinking it was more akin to a mourning period rather than something that you actually do. For all of the conversations I have had with many Indigenous friends over the years, the penny hadn’t dropped.
I think she understood, because she wrote back the next day with an unsolicited, lovely comment:
Trust your intuition cause whatever you do to respect his memory will be the right thing to do Matt. You will know what to do for sorry business
It was a remarkable note, because I was wanting to make sense of my brother’s final words to me and it seemed at the time that the journey I was on was an appropriate way to honour my brother’s legacy. I began to see that my eulogy was to be action-orientated.
Gloria’s words didn’t persuade me either way, but they did frame my thoughts in a way that was helpful.
I contacted my family to talk about what I ought to do. This wasn’t a decision I was going to make independently or in isolation. They immediately understood exactly why I was thinking to do this and supported me entirely.
Now, I am writing this post from Seoul ahead of my brother’s funeral on Friday. I will remain in Seoul at that time, and go and sit quietly in the small cafe where I was when he died. It is a friendly place whose owners I know well and has good wifi. Just as I was able to be connected to my brother at the time of his death, I will also be able to be connected to my family at the time of his funeral.
After the funeral, I expect I will go and have a quiet meal somewhere with a few friends, and then set about recommencing my journey first headed towards Glasgow. It would be my intention to gather for a wake in New York after completing this journey, and be back in Melbourne in time to celebrate the New Year with my mother.
I wanted to write this here, both as a way of picking up the journey which was gone a bit silent over the last few weeks as I looked for inspiration for the way ahead, but also to explain why I chose to continue at a time when social expectation might be for me to return to be with my family at the funeral.
I know my brother would approve and admire my determination to persist, so that together we can make a difference to the lives of many.