Grief

Reflections On Sorry Business A Few Weeks On

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IMG_3210In the wake of my brother’s death, my good friend Gloria pressed me in a gentle way as only a good friend can to look towards my own welfare and that of my brother’s legacy by paying attention to ‘Sorry Business‘.

Most Australians have heard of sorry business, but few really have any understanding of what it means. Gloria’s gentle insistence was probably as close as I will ever come to Bruce Chatwin’s fascinating account of ‘walkabout’ in his book ‘The Songlines’.

I knew it was the right thing to do to continue the journey I was on at the time when my brother fell ill. In effect, as a family, we were forced to come to terms with the immediacy of death in circumstances outside of our own control when he was first diagnosed with leukaemia just after New Year’s Day two years ago.

Just over a month ago when my brother privately revealed to close family and friends that his reading of protein levels in his blood which apparently is the measure for recording the severity of leukaemia, I was again alerted to a question of time. He was disappointed in the news, but strong and fighting. A committed resolve which I admired in him, and which seemed so far from his bookish, gentle-nature. I was the warrior in the family, but here was my brother staring down death.

My brother was idiosyncratically stoic and pragmatic. This is more a reflection on how he approached the display of emotions, and so he and I had a funny language with which to express admiration and love between each other. His final words to me when he was admitted to hospital before the rest of us were acutely aware of what was to come were a reflection of that character: his pragmatic appraisal of the situation, he focus on the needs of others above himself, and perhaps mostly a compelling expression of admiration for what I was doing.

It was an admiration in as much as an acknowledgement that the two of us were different. I knew that. He knew that. We respected each others strengths as complementary to where each of us were ‘less gifted’.

And Gloria was right.

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 

I discussed my intuition with my family that I ought to continue this journey which I was embarked, the 10 City Bridge Run, rather than return for his funeral. My decision was not influenced by Gloria’s words, but she did help me to listen more intently to what I ought to do at that time. My family understood readily and agreed, as much as for my sake, as for honouring my brother’s legacy.

My sister read my eulogy at my brother’s funeral, and I still have to spend some time with her talking about that. It is not really a conversation I can do from the other side of the world. It can wait, but not for too long.

I was able to make some recordings on video and send them to my brother for him to hear before he died. I am thankful for that. My brother said he died knowing he was loved.

Just as the flowers in Martin Place have since been cleared away after the pre-Christmas Lindt Cafe siege, with a few photos around the subway entrance as a reminder, my grief has been aided by the opportunity to pursue this journey as a tribute to my brother. I am indebted to many friends for that opportunity. Your kindness is humbling. Thank you.

There is a lot more I could write, but it need not be mentioned here. Except to say that Gloria was right.

As we enter a New Year, read this as a lesson to look after your friends in the same way that Gloria looked after my welfare. Kindness is a currency that costs nothing, but has an unequalled dividend.

Moving On

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IMG_2458I need to say thank you. Thank you to the many friends who have left comments, given their encouragement, and assisted with their support of this project which I began in 2010 calling it the 10 City Bridge Run.

There is a period soon after the death of someone who was close to you which is an awkward period. At least, I find it awkward. Awkward because it is time to get back into ‘business as usual’, begin again to focus and work hard, but you know in yourself that there is still some grieving to be done.

I know that it is far from business as usual. Yesterday, I found myself with a particularly short fuse over an incident which was trivial. That was an indicator that all was not as it should be.

Here, I am talking about my brother. On a personal level, I have dedicated the remainder of this journey to honouring my brother’s legacy and in doing so to live out his last words to me: “stay there and keep doing what you are doing.” I don’t want to labour the point. I am not a victim. Life must go on.

It is somewhat surreal to have a personal experience overtaken by external events. The personal experience I am referring to is reconciling the death of my brother with the interruption that came from the extremely tragic incident of the Lindt siege in Sydney, and to a lesser degree the ever-increasing Christmas-paraphenalia that fills the pages of emails and Facebook posts. It is an observation, not a complaint.

It mirrors to some extent the experience following the destruction of MH17. A sad event by any measure, made more poignant by a personal connection with my uncle and his three grandchildren aboard. Shortly after that event, the media were tracking down relatives to interview, and with a relentless pursuit. Hungry for a story compounded by the time-sensitive nature of a story.

I discussed the approaches I had received from the media with some family members after the MH17 had been reported, and argued that I ought to engage with them so as to protect those family members who were closer to the loss. Give the media what they want and little more. With the family’s permission, I contacted a couple of media leads who had been chasing me.

It is a funny experience to be chased by the media. One minute, you are invisible. Then the world changes, and the resources they will deploy to get their man are remarkable. Quite an industry.

Within 12 hours of agreeing to an interview, I was on CNN. Within 24 hours, I was speaking with an Australian TV channel, SkyNews, and had a direct line to Anderson Cooper where we had a personal chit-chat. Credit where it is due, they were all very sensitive to the loss. but also with a pragmatic focus to get what they needed. An impressive machine.

In that regard, I feel some sympathy for the other hostages in the Lindt Cafe. They will largely go unseen, melt back into the community, except that they won’t. They will forever be affected by that experience, knowing that it could have been them that was killed, or maybe if they had done something differently that somehow no life might have been lost. They are the ones that know the real story. The story from their perspective.

I wonder what they make of the sea of flowers in Martin Place, that today are being collected, and then disposed in such a way as to hold that special tribute that those many bunches together came to represent. I wonder what they make of that selfie a friend of mine took when standing in line to lay his wreath with his steely look of resolve that seemed to make no sense aside from a misplaced sense of patriotism, and I wonder what they will make of my friend’s need to then post the photo on Facebook. We are a society made up of many people, and it is an interesting dynamic.

There were many people working in Sydney last Monday close to Martin Place. Many people who have been in that cafe before. Many people whose lives had previously grazed across the path of those two people killed in somewhat-unknown circumstances in the cafe. All of these people have feelings, and everyone who was laying flowers were joining to share their feelings too.

Meanwhile, today and everyday around 16,000 children will die, and many from preventable causes That is a fact. It is not a contest. It does show that media and corporate communications are awesome forces at work in our lives. We are so affected by these forces that we don’t even register the influence.

In light of the Lindt coverage, I felt somehow less entitled to share my grief about my brother. Self-censorship is the worst outcome from fear of public criticism. Legitimacy is an interesting subject, and an arena for much ethical deliberation.

We don’t just move on. We take the past with us, and it shapes us. I have resolved not to be apologetic about asking for support to honour the legacy of my brother. It is my story, it is a story of hope, and in that regard it is a narrative that we can all share. Please share the link below, even if you can’t make a contribution. Please share it because it is a message of hope, and please share it because your kindness is something I value. Thank you. https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/epic-quest-to-honour-my-brother-s-legacy/x/1194797

Good Grief

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Two Korean deep-fried pancakes I bought on the evening of my brother's death. One for each of us, but I had to eat them both.
Two Korean deep-fried pancakes I bought on the evening of my brother’s death. One for each of us, but I had to eat them both.

What a week for Sydney. Good grief. This is not to quote Lucy from the Charles Shulz cartoon series ‘Peanuts’, but a reflection on what it means to grieve well.

A friend of mine works nearby the Lindt Cafe has provided a commentary to how events have unfolded. Not a commentary like the media have made, and not a commentary about ‘Left v Right’. It was a very welcome series of personal reflections.

Her commentary has been about the human experience, from the time she heard about the incident while she was in her office at work, worrying about what she had left undone after vacating her office to the safety of home, to her own reflections about the concern and then horror that gripped the world united as the brutal final minutes unfolded.

Returning to work, she has described the sea of flowers in words and photos, opening a space for others to speak into as well. As she does that, the commentary turns to what other people are doing all across Martin Place and Sydney as if to observe them, and they all in their own petrie dishes of experience themselves.

This is but a snapshot of the grieving process we are all going through. But why do we grieve? It wasn’t us in the cafe. Why do we lay the floral tributes? They were unknown to us. These are beautiful gestures, and gives us a view of the full palate of human response.

Another friend dropped a lovely note into this conversation to this effect:

Grief, individual and collective, is a singularly unique experience. Some do it with dignity, some don’t know how to do it and some just exploit others.

The irony that this floral tribute is taking place in Martin Place bookending the Cenotaph at the George Street end is not lost on me either.

Understanding grief is probably right up there with understanding death for many Western cultures. Death and grief are no strangers to us. We know it. But it is to use the words of my other friend, they are also ‘a singularly unique experience’.

For me, this all happened in the wake of my brother’s death last week. Reflecting on my own response to his death has taught me a lot, and shown me more than I knew about family.

The night my brother died, I wandered around Seoul going to places where I could have visited with my brother if he ever had the opportunity to come there with me. The picture at the top of this blog is of two Korean deep fried pancakes which I bought: one for me and one for him. I had to finish both.

That sea of flowers. An enduring image that will last long after the flowers fade away.

We should strive to ensure our grief is a good experience. Good grief.