When I was in high school my great uncle passed away. I didn’t go to the funeral but I went to the gathering at his home afterwards where my cousins and family had come together to celebrate his life and mourn his passing.
My great uncle was the husband of my Nanna’s sister who had died of breast cancer when I was 7. They had 4 children and one of them had daughters who were two years older than me and two years younger than me. Growing up, I had no siblings or first cousins until I was 8, so my second cousins were the closest in my age and my playmates. My family is very close knit so when my cousins lost their grandparents I felt their pain quite keenly. I couldn’t imagine the loss of my own grandparents, in fact even now with them in their 70s and 80s I feel like I’m not ready to do life without them. I’m 35. I’m still not ready. So I couldn’t even fathom that at 7 years old. I’m very aware of how blessed I am. I am thankful every day.
Coming home from my great uncles funeral my friends came over. Way more of them than usual actually and we were all going to walk over to another friend’s house and hang over there. My mother made sausages for everyone, the kind you wrap in a piece of bread and slather with sauce. She was in the kitchen. I was wearing this god awful dress reminiscent of 60s furniture and I felt like I was doing okay, I was a bit subdued but otherwise I felt okay. I don’t know why I remember what I was wearing. Memories are funny things. So I wander into the kitchen and I talk to mum a second about my friends and my plans and they’re all chatting in the lounge room and it just hit me.
He was gone. That life was done. His children and his grandchildren were without him. My grandparents had lost their friend. And I began to cry. Just my eyes filling with tears at first, but soon they became big raw sobs of grief. My mother took me in her arms. And I think I remember this so much because my family is close knit but we are not touchy. Emotions are usually kept pretty in check. I can only remember seeing my mother cry once in my life and I’m sure there have been many tears she has shed in private.
So I’m crying and my mother is holding me and I begin to apologise. I say, “I’m sorry. I know I didn’t know him that well…”
And my mother says, and I will never forget, “That doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know someone well for them to touch your life.”
And I’ve never forgotten that. That day when my mother gave me this gift. That while the sausages fried in a pan and my friends in the next room laughed and talked, my mother gave me one of the most valuable pieces of life advice I ever received.
That we all matter.
That sometimes the most fleeting of contact can change someone’s life.
That our grief does not have to be measured for value against how well we knew someone.
That empathy is one of our most important gifts to the world.
Never lose it.