I’m writing to you today with somewhat of a heavy heart following the sudden passing of my sister Cathy, who died after a fall at her new home.
Cathy was 59, a wonderful and accomplished midwife who heroically delivered babies for an impoverished community and led with an infectious and enthusiastic spirit. She was mum to three sons and a daughter, Heather, who tragically passed on her ward, the day after she gave birth. The latter I believe was the catalyst for the rest of her life which became very challenging and at times almost unbearable. Cathy was incredibly bright and managed to collect academic awards like some collect clothing. I bring this up, having asked permission of her sons, as a way to highlight the importance of mental health. To the outside world, Cathy had it all. But look a little closer and it’s clear that she, like many of us, put up an impressive facade whilst privately battling with her own demons.
Thankfully, support and organizations are now much more accessible for such silent anguish, and grief counseling and therapy are far more accepted in western society. When our father passed prematurely from asthma in July 1976, we didn’t have the support, the pragmatic instruction to help us understand and guide our way. This is in no way meant as a criticism, rather just to highlight the importance of such services and how the support now available has thankfully evolved. For instance, I was told by a male family friend, who did his best, to drop a handful of dirt on my father’s coffin and tell his pristine pine box that, “I’ve got this now, don’t worry Dad, I’ll be the man of the house and provide.” There was no understanding of the shock, the seismic shift from the moment our mum gave us the news, nor any roadmap to help us come to peace with such loss at an age when we three children could really have benefitted.
I can’t speak for my remaining elder sister Debby, but I can say from my perspective that in the years and life that followed, there was always present a very palpable void, an ever-wondering litany of what ifs? I was quietly envious of my other friends and their relationships with their Dads. I longed, and at times ached for a sign from the heavens. I committed from the age of 11 to have a successful, adventurous, brilliant life and my priority has always been that of becoming the father I wished I’d had. Within my friend group I sought out the various character traits that I admired in their fathers — in effect aiming to create the perfect hybrid Dad, an example of what a man ought to be. Bernard was humor, maintaining that twinkle, Ray was an ability to build and deconstruct things, Uncle Barry was the power of storytelling, style and silliness, Gordon was to work hard, to study and to always improve one’s mind. The list goes on and on.
I became ‘successful’ early on in my life and believe I delivered on my promise to take care of the three remaining women in my immediate family. We cared for each other and often would speak about how we coped and what we felt and thought, bonding in our collective sadness but always endeavoring to find the light. But now in hindsight, if we had been exposed to a more mindful and educated curriculum on grief, we perhaps would have navigated the road of life with more ease at certain important junctures.
Of course I hold no grievances on this — I am 57 years young and now at peace with what happened on our fate line. Of course I miss my father and sometimes wonder, but grief is truly the price we pay for love and it has taken consistent, and at times trying, work to get to this point. I’m grateful that through our experiences, we are more equipped to help Cathy’s sons and others who suffer great loss in their lives. Death is part of the natural cycle of life and we must consider it daily and without fear. It is a stark reminder that this life is fleeting and thus the importance of going after one’s dreams and loving those we love, daring to be brave, and being gentle with ourselves, our feelings, no matter how they appear is vital. Meeting those feelings with self compassion and love is of paramount importance.
When I heard the news of Cathy’s passing, my first instinct, my very first thought, was a sort of strange gratitude — Instantly I knew that she was finally at peace, safe. My next thought, and of course I have no scientific proof whatsoever, and I am not a religious man, was that Cathy was met by my father and her beloved daughter Heather – who would now be nearing 30 – and guided into the light, into the grace that I believe ultimately we all return to.
So really this is a way to pause, to share my news and hope that we all can see and exercise the value in kindness, in unity, in laughter and love. That we never begin to take this precious life for granted. To all those I know personally, and to all our Mr Feelgood community and beyond, give your loved ones a longer squeeze. Be at peace and in gratitude for our most beautiful planet; for music, art, culture and the scientific explorations that perpetually underscore that our capabilities as humans are limitless, especially when we acknowledge our shared and natural humility. And laugh, make space to laugh deeply, and enjoy such whenever you can.
So rest in perfect peace Cathy, free as the gentle breeze now. Thank you for your kindness and for lighting up a thousand hearts. Don’t worry about your boys, they’re becoming very good men and we’ll forever have their backs.
I’ll see you on the other side, Cass.