As I woke this morning the first thought that drifted into my head was that today is my brother Peter’s birthday. And then it hit me that it was a year ago today that I last spoke to him. Pete was in a psychiatric hospital. On his 31st birthday. In Sydney. I must have tried about five times to get through to his ward. I am so glad I persisted. It was the last time I ever spoke to him.
Next month will be a year since Peter took his life after a long a tortuous struggle with schizophrenia. And despite the fact that I’ve had nearly a year to get my head around the fact that my brother is no longer in this world, some days it still hits me like a Mac truck that Pete is dead. That I will never see him again and that he will never get to grow old. Like I intend to. And while there are days when I can talk about my loss and the lessons I’ve learned, there are other days, and moments, when I find myself drowing in my tears and wondering how life could have been so cruel to him.
As I wrote about soon after his funeral last year, en route back to the States from Australia, death can be incredibly confronting to the mind and wrenching to the heart. I guess you could say I’m lucky that I’ve never had to really get my head around death until my forties. I guess that is ‘luck’. But I’m not sure it matters what age you are, loss is loss and losing someone you love, whether suddenly and unexpectedly or after a long protracted illness, is still brutal.
Years ago at a coaching conference a very wise man called Julio Ollalo said that it is through sadness that we come to know what matters most to us. I was struck by that thought then as I am now. That it is through loss, and through the tears that it gives birth to, that we connect to the very core of what we hold most sacred in life. Peter’s death certainly did that. It connected me to the gift of family, to the beauty of community, and to the bonds of love that tie both together. Never in my life had I felt the presence of love so profoundly or intensely as I did the day that I buried my brother Peter with my dear mum and dad, two other brothers and three sisters, and friends who had travelled from near and far to give witness to our love for Peter on that April day.
I do not know what saddens you. Nor what losses have wreaked havoc with your heart. But I do know this. The only way out of sorrow is right through the raw heart of it. And that when you emerge from the other side you have a choice about whether to dive into the sacredness of life more deeply, or to barricade yourself away from it. The reality is that the only way to experience the greatest joy that life holds in store for us is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the deep sense of sadness and sorrow that comes from losing that which we hold dear.
You’ve heard the saying that life is what happens when you are making other plans. It sure is. And so we are all inevitably left with is how we will choose to respond to all that life unfolds before us - the great opportunities along with the setbacks and sorrows. Some choose anger. Some choose blame. Some choose bitterness and some choose despair. Today I choose to sit in the questions, to take time to reflect on the deeper lessons hidden in my adversity, and to hold on to faith that profound goodness can come even from the saddest and most tragic of circumstances.
I hope you will choose that to.
Happy Birthday Pete.