Me saying… something.
March 25th, 2019
On the 12th of February this year, my big brother, Trent, died of brain cancer. He was 25 years old. Over the following days and weeks, my family received an outpouring of love from every corner of the globe.
I find it difficult to talk about Trent because of how great he was. I don’t know if I have the words to ever do his greatness any justice and I’m certainly not in the business of underselling. I wanted though, to write and say something. It has really helped my family and I to know how many people love us, and would drop everything to support us. If I was in your position of ‘the supporter’, I wouldn’t know what to do or say, so I wanted to articulate what of the shows of support we loved and what we loved less. Basically, I’m going to point out and NAME individuals who fucked up massively and just made this time in our lives EVEN WORSE. Just kidding. Impossible. Every person who reached out to us, whether we utterly detested your words or not (we never did), was showing us some form of love, and we received and appreciated it incredibly.
This writing comes from my experience, unfortunately, but I have tried to give explanations in the hope of an objective perspective so that we can all share in this wealth of emotion my family and I have been feeling. Please inhale this food for thought. No chewing allowed, obviously.
No matter what the actual act was, flowers, card, message etc., we loved when we could see a glimmer of extra thought in your act and thereby making it personal to you and your specific relationship with the family. “I’m thinking of you” is always nice and pleasant. The above and beyond love was smothered in our faces when you brought in your own feelings, not in an “IT’S ALL ABOUT ME” way, but in a way that says “This isn’t a generic situation, and we want you to know that we know that and we feel it too, alongside you.”
It’s an extra dollop of thought and when you’re reading a new message every five minutes, the difference shines. If these dollops of thought and love my family have been receiving, were actually dollops of cream, we would not have stopped throwing up over all of you and your white shirt!
Lots of people said to us “Ring if you need anything.” This is, of course, a lovely remark. Selflessly giving us something of our choosing. The thing is, you know how hard it is to make simple decisions on a day to day basis? For example what to eat, when to eat it, which movie to watch, what to wear, when to get out of bed, when to go to bed, what time to have a shower, how long to brush your teeth, if you’re hungry, if you’re thirsty, to drink water or coffee, if it’s too late for another coffee, should I call mum or dad, should I quit my job, should I jump off a cliff etc etc.. Well, now imagine that your brother’s dead and you have to make more decisions!! For this reason, I have not rung a single one of you for a favour and neither has anyone in my family. This line is great if you have something unique to offer. For example, if you are a handy maintenance lady, or a good gardener, or a good grocery shopper, maybe you have some extra vases lying around OR maybe you’re a mastermind in the kitchen. We had six people bring us food and/or groceries! T’was just, the best time of my life. Except, not, obviously.
In this case that you have a special quality, there is still a point to be made about us reaching out to you. It can still be a challenging thing to do on a normal day and as these are not the days of our lives, I encourage you to not even ask, just do (RISKY, I KNOW). Our visitors were able to survey the house for any opportunities to help. If you aren’t quite close enough to the family to visit the house, then send a message. Short, to the point, filled with kindness and generosity and the smallest amount of question asking possible. An example: “Tony. I cannot imagine the overwhelming sadness you must be feeling. I will be thinking of you and your beautiful family constantly. I am making time to come round and do the lawns. A small way I can contribute during this time. How does the 20th sound? I will come in the morning and bring my own equipment, you don’t need to be home. I will see you on Monday for the funeral. Sending you a ton of love.” I think this asks the question but also assumes the answer to be yes. I’m informing you, that I will be helping you.
The ideal situation is one where we have no chance to refuse you. I get that this is more risky. What if you overstep, are intruding? What if we secretly hate you? I have two points to make about this risk.
- When the risk was taken for us, we loved it 100% of the time and totally adored you for it.
- I encourage you, as we all walk through life together, to appreciate any time someone says or does anything that holds the giant subtext of “I love you”.
If we can all be courageous enough to take risks and brave enough to accept the love when it comes our way, we will live in peace.
Not to scare you, but the worst thing that happened from a ‘getting personal’ risk, was that we had three tubs of unopened butter at one point.
My family received about 20 bunches of flowers. My house was an allergy FACTORY. A lovely, divinely scented, goddess of an allergy factory. We all enjoyed each bunch of flowers, big or small. Our favourites were an orchard and a bunch of Australian natives. Just a bit different. Fourteen bunches arrived the day after Trent died. These flowers came with the following line of subtext “We’ve heard, so don’t stress about reaching out to us.” Six more bunches arrived over the next two weeks. We super duper enjoyed receiving flowers the days after the funeral, and also two weeks after his death. It refreshed our house as we threw away the dying flowers and reminded us that you still knew how hard it still was for us. (It’s been a over a month now so we’re basically partying).
Turns out the post isn’t dead, we received countless letters with cards and kind messages. (Probably could’ve counted, but didn’t (obviously)). A handwritten note the size of one side of the card, turned out to be the perfect length (maybe that’s why cards are that size). My favourites were the ones that had a point of reflection in them #personalised. Maybe you have an insight to grief or a good answer to the inevitable and awkward questions you know my family will be asked by the unknowing, including “Do you have any siblings?”, “What are your kids names”, “How was your visit home?” etc.. Maybe you want to make the point that when you think of us, you will always think of the five of us, that his heartbeat doesn’t define his existence.
Obviously, you don’t want to overstep and say definite statements like “THIS is the best way to grieve” or “You must be SO angry.” Always try to keep an open mind and make kind suggestions or explanations. One lovely card which stood out to us spoke about the concept of the promise a life holds. It was subtle and gentle, and it allowed me to analyse some of my thoughts and feelings, without being too pushy.
Turns out, quite a few people have lost someone dear. A line that none of my family appreciated was “I know exactly how you feel.” UGH. First of all, science says two people can look at the exact same event and come away from it with two different stories. If you, at 21, lost your 25 year old brother to aggressive brain cancer you still wouldn’t know exactly how I feel, because we’re different people yo!
At times, some people did share their experiences with us. My mother has had some golf friends approach her to share their sympathies and to share with her, that they too lost a child at a young age. They did not say they knew how she felt, what they did was look her in the eyes and say “we have something terrible in common.” I hugged an old friend at the funeral, it was a quick nothingy hug, but she lost her older brother a few years ago and that hug was a “we have something terrible in common” hug. I will never forget this friends father, hugging my father the day after Trent died. Lemme say – that was heartbreaking to witness.
A colleague of my mums had to miss Trent’s funeral because his 23 year old son was having a brain tumour removed in surgery that day. As it turns out – it’s a stage four glioblastoma, the same as Trent’s cancer. Devastating, right? We don’t want to create walls that separate us and make us ‘in a league of our own’. I don’t wanna say “no one will ever know our pain” because that’s not true. People are experiencing the same things we are all too often and people are going through more complex situations than ours. I do think it’s nice to find a sympathetic common ground where we can send and receive appreciation and bounds of love.
It’s nice when people open up about their own experiences. It isn’t nice, when they make the conversation about themselves. It isn’t nice when they pretend to know what you’re going through. Maybe this is the part of me which thrives off of significance talking but I think my family are allowed to feel the need to be significant in your lives for a while, because we need your support to survive this time.
Hmmmmm… my question with the niche little default expression ‘Stay Strong’ is, what are you really trying to say? I believe it’s an emotionally/mentally focussed comment and not a physical demand. Does it mean “Don’t cry”, “Don’t let your family see you cry”, “Don’t be sad”, “Don’t kill yourself?” If so, how archaic. We noticed this message came mainly from men. So I want to, as a female, give my permission to (whatever that is worth) and encourage every man to not ‘stay strong’ in the traditional sense of that message. Be emotional, be upset, be happy, be grateful, be whatever the fuck you want to be. Share your emotions, share your grief, express yourself, be confident, love fiercely and encourage others because being those things MAKES YOU STRONG. I want my dad to be able to take the time he needs to learn how to emotionally live again. I want him to do it properly and not bottle anything up. I want that for my sister and my mum too. I want them all to be PROUD of their emotions, which are coming up in millions at the moment.
The word ‘stay’ indicates a desire for consistency, so maybe the whole expression stems from a fear of change. I have changed drastically many times and thank myself for it every single day. Trent dying will change me and my family and if you knew Trent, then it will change you too. It’s inevitable. I do believe we have a choice on how it changes us. Imagine that bag Hermione has in Harry Potter. A small shoulder bag in appearance, but it’s actually full of anything and everything. This bag is our brain – within us all right now is already every solution to every question we haven’t even asked ourselves yet. We all have the tools to use this tragic experience to better our lives. Honestly, that’s what Trent would have wanted. That feels weird to say, but he isn’t coming back and if I ‘stay’ the same and pretend that he is still around or that he is coming back, I’m going to miss out on the wealth of emotional experience that I can use to my advantage and the advantage of others.
When discussing this with my family, my sister made the valid point that maybe ‘stay strong’ means to not start sobbing specifically in those moments where you are needed as a support person (and if you do start crying, then everyone will and the situation would become a darn disaster so stay strong damnit!). If this is the case, I reckon we should choose another way to articulate it because crying has got nothing to do with strength, they exist on different planes.
P.S. Writing this section was hard. I found myself making common descriptions like ‘breaking down’, ‘losing it’, ‘a mess’, ‘hold it together’. I deleted them all and chose another way to say it. I’m making the point now to deliberately identify that using harmful language encourages harmful behaviours.
Now not to brag, but my brothers funeral was a bloody HOOT. We even recorded it and are sharing it with the world so you can see how great it was! My mum said afterwards “Is it bad I’ve had a fun day?” Lol. No mum, it’s bloody brilliant!
My family and I were picked up by Trent (he wasn’t driving, obviously) and a limousine to take us to the funeral. We arrived early so we all sat in the Limo which had tinted windows meaning people couldn’t see us, but we got to watch all of you legends arrive at the service. For about a half hour this was all my family said “OMG look THEY’RE here!” It was special, therapeutic, a fantastic way for us to prepare ourselves before standing up in front of you all at one our most personal and intimate moments.
After the service there was a time where we could say hello to some people at the chapel before we went off to the wake. This is a great time for people who cannot attend the wake to give us a squeeze and share their sympathies.
For the two days after my brother died, my house was full of lovely, divine human beings. Our big doors were open and fresh Sydney air filled our house. It was calm. It was a beautiful time that was overflowing with tears and grief. My parents loved every single one of you for being there and thereby I am grateful you were too. There’s nothing quite like seeing your parents sobbing over the dead body of their only son. Whatever they needed was theirs then and will be forever and ever and ever (GOD PLEASE don’t let them read that. I only half mean it.)
For me, the visitors were also a blessing. I can’t imagine the deep dark pits of sadness I would have fallen into if I was alone. After two days of people non-stop, I was fucking DEAD with exhaustion. Let it be known I was a grateful corpse. We’re all different and can respond drastically differently to situations like these, my advice is just to be really actively and constantly reading the room. Who’s tired, give them space. Who’s open, approach them. It was extremely cathartic to watch my mum hug her brothers and cry with them. WOW, that memory is so powerful for me. I feel so grateful and blessed to have witnessed that, and to have been a part of this whole thing. I have learnt and grown so much.
The best thing about these visitors was that I knew them all so well. It was the people I am closest to and have known the longest. Randoms would have been even more exhausting and equally as awkward and not comforting. My house was filled with my uncles and aunties, and my parents’ best and oldest friends, my sister’s partner (*excuse me while I vomit at the sound of that word), Hana, an extremely close family friend, and my two best friends.
If you’re visiting, I think a bit of grocery shopping and errand responsibility falls on you. You can check the fridge and know what to buy, look around the house and see what needs to be done and take the initiative. A few people dropped some cakes and other prezzies on our front door, shot us a text and left. That was nice. A gift with no pressure of having to see you. Sorry but you’re just, like, not important enough for our lives!!! The space was appreciated. The gesture was appreciated. You are being appreciated.
We had one person pop in on us about after a week to drop off a lasagne. It actually worked well – but I think there was some luck involved there. He was a friend of my parents. He stayed for five minutes only. If you want to play that ‘just drop in’ card that’s absolutely fine but play your hand well, yeah?
Seeing you for the first time
Seeing friends for the first time after Trent died, depending on the timing of our emotions was harder on some occasions than others. I believe it’s important to say something straight away. Just acknowledge the situation and don’t drag it on to a massive conversation.
“I’m just so sorry” *big hug* “I’M GONNA KICK YOUR ASS IN GOLF TODAY STEPH HAHA YOU LOSER”.
I think that’s a perfect way to approach my mum. Golf friends take note. General public take note. I also think a sly “It’s so nice to see you” with that sympathetic tone in your voice, can be enough acknowledgment.
A few people said nothing to us, kind of acting like it hasn’t happened. That’s your choice and we understand it because truly this must be a horrifically sad and awkward time for you. We could list to you the people who made that choice because it was awkward for us too.
P.S. If you bring it up, and we cry, embrace the tears yeah? We cry a lot lol and we have a good reason. Don’t feel bad, we had to see you for the first time at some point so here we are. If the tears come just bring us in for a big hug and whisper in our ear to tell us how you dismembered your latest victim.
My fam chose to share information of Trent’s death and funeral on facebook – this therefore, opens up a chance for people to send messages via the internet. Generally, I would say, if bereaved peeps aren’t posting online, then don’t message them online. Maybe a text is okay, but stay off social media and send a card or flowers if you’d like to. Also, messages are always preferred to a call unless a specific conversation has ensued about a planned phone call. Just because you picked up the phone and pressed three buttons when it suited you that doesn’t mean you get to abruptly interrupt my life yo! (You may or may not be able to tell but I have a deep rooted issue with phone calls. I blame mum and dad, they will cut me off mid sentence, mid conversation to answer a phone call from a Nigerian Prince. My face is red just typing this haha I need to calm way down).
A big pressure with our choice to be online is that so many people message us, and whether we like it or not, there is always some kind of obligation or feeling for us to reply. We always liked when someone said “No need to reply” at the end of their message. You could even go more in depth “No need to reply – take your time, take deep breaths in the tough moments. Love always.” This sugar coats the no need to reply and makes that obligation feeling even smaller.
My family are so grateful to you, our love and support. Our thanks to you carries more weight than any thanks has held before.
I hope I’ve covered everything. What a monster I’ve written. I truly appreciate you for reading it. This chapter of my life excites me greatly, I can’t wait to share more content. Feel free to leave a comment. Life is a discussion, always.