This is my brother Rick. (Please excuse the quality of the image – it was taken 34 years ago and has been transferred from slide, hence the grainy texture.)
You could say he died doing what he loved best…the reality is that his last few seconds before hitting the ground were terrifying. Who knows the thoughts that fled through his mind?
This week I was privileged to meet up with one of Rick’s friends. The friend who was with him when he died, the friend who took this photograph, the friend who filmed his death. This picture wasn’t taken that day.
His friend Chris has a spent the last 34 years beating himself up. Why? Because at the time he was young and unable to deal with the grief and the trauma of the event, unable to face our family.
As I listened to him recounting the events of 14 August 1976 I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming sadness for the then 25 year old Chris, who simply didn’t have the support to deal with the death of his best friend. We’ve come such a long way since then…when my son, some years ago, lost one of his friends in a car accident, the friends gathered for days. They huddled together, they told stories, they remembered their mate, they wept, they drank – they were in total grief immersion. It was so open and so healthy. We were there to hug them long and hard and let them cry.
I recently was reading an article about Helen Brown in Next magazine. Helen’s nine-year-old son Sam was killed tragically 27 years ago. She gives the impression of never having been afraid to express her grief. Nearly every article I read about her mentions Sam, and she has recently published a book, Cleo: how an uppity cat helped heal a family which tells of the profound healing effect of the family cat. I really want to read her book – I like that fact that Sam is still so much a part of the family’s life.
Back in 1976 things were different. Grief was solitary. My friends, my parent’s friends – well, they didn’t mention Rick’s name for fear of upsetting us. I wouldn’t say his death was swept under the carpet – but it wasn’t talked about openly either. And I must confess that within the confines of our family – I probably felt the same anxiety about mentioning his name. Instead we all bottled our grief – we let it consume us. We did the crying in the privacy of our rooms, in the dark of night.
I still remember a friend, three weeks after Rick’s death, telling me that I should have got over it by then! I was shocked at that statement then, I’m even more shocked by it now…I guess that’s why the comment has stayed with me all these years.
I really don’t want to be maudlin – I am just so glad that as a society we’ve acknowledged grief, that our young ones are given the freedom to express their grief and that we are better able to help our friends and loved ones deal with theirs.