Learning From My Dying Brother

In Memory of Colin James Rickard

Today, July 31, is my brother Colin’s birthday, but he is not here to celebrate. He died in 2012. Ever since he died I have gone dry in July to raise money for cancer research and the Andrew Love Cancer Centre here in Geelong. My fund-raising page is still open until August 15 so if you haven’t already made a donation to cancer research this year, please consider supporting my cause at https://www.mycause.com.au/page/207577/maree-harris-in-memory-of-colin-rickard

In the new year after Colin’s death, in February 2013, I wrote the following blog post for my Colleagues and clients. I am sharing it with you all here because I learned so much from sharing his journey with him and you might learn something also from reading my reflections.

Insights from My Brother’s Final Journey – February 2013.

My brother, Colin, died on December 2, 2012, just 21 months after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was far too young. That’s not supposed to be. People are not supposed to die young. His family and friends who walked the road with him over those 21 months were confronted by that and the reality of our own mortality.

I made him my priority, especially during 2012, which is why only those I have worked face to face with have had my attention. Those of you who have subscribed to my mailing list have missed out – but I’m about to remedy that.

There are times in our life when we just have to decide what’s most important and let go of everything else. I knew I could pick up my work later. I knew my time with him was limited.

I miss him deeply, but I’m not the kind of person to focus on loss. I’m a positive and pro-active person and I want to remember and focus on what was valuable about what he left me. Some of that I want to share here because at the beginning of a new year it is important to rethink our lives, to ask what is most important and what we are going to do with our time as we move through this year. We need to die to the old year and give birth to a new.

Let People Know How Much We Value and Appreciate Them.

Only weeks before he died, Col said to me: “I never knew how many people loved me.” Immediate and extended family spent much time with him. In the early days after diagnosis, there were many parties and get-togethers. Old university friends whom he’d only seen sporadically travelled from around Australia to visit him. He wondered aloud whether people would go back to the way they were after he died until someone else was dying or whether they would continue to reach out to others as they had to him. These people could have been an integral part of his life for the last 30 years, but Col wasn’t good at keeping in touch.

Will we in 2013 stay in touch with the people who love us? Will we let the people we love know how much we value them?

This is also important at a professional level, that we make sure that the people who have helped our careers know how much we appreciate their help. We need to value and support the people in our professional networks, developing reciprocal relationships of support. We need to do this while they are alive, rather than travel a great distance to attend their funeral when they have died.

No matter how long we live, there will always be things we want to do but don’t get done. It is very important that we do what is most important now.

 There was a period in Col’s illness when he became very depressed about what he hadn’t done in his life. He came to realise what was really important but he no longer had time to make it happen. He said to me just the week before he died: “It’s tragic that something like this has to happen before we realise what’s important.”

When we live through 2013, we need to ask ourselves whether what we are doing is life enhancing or life destroying. Would we still take this action, make this decision, stay in this job, work as much as we do, if we knew that we had only this year to live?

Make each day count.

Now is all we have. Yesterday is passed and tomorrow may never come. Never did Col contemplate he would die young. He had great plans for his future. It did not occur to him that he wouldn’t have a future.

When we look back on each day during 2013, we can ask ourselves: How did I make a difference today? What impact did I have on my workplace, my family, my community today? What impression did I leave? What was my legacy today? Did I make today count?

Focus on what is eternal, not what is temporary.

Most of us spend our lives putting great importance on all the “things” that death causes us to leave behind. Col couldn’t take money or possessions with him. We can’t take the high powered, prestigious job, the imported car or the beautiful town house. These are all temporary, given to us to hold for a short time.

What he leaves behind, however, is eternal – memories, connections, relationships, love, care, support for friends, and so much more.

This is all the stuff which never dies. It is the Energy that gives purpose to our lives. It is the Spirit that creates meaning.

In 2013, we will be happier and more successful if we ensure there is a balance between the eternal and the temporary in our lives.

Be Grateful for What We Have And Who We Are.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with what isn’t happening in our lives, for the “famine”, the losses, the missed opportunities, the injustice and the unfairness. This was so for Col as he moved through his illness. But he seemed to work it through eventually.

I spent the last 2½ days and nights of his life with him. Just hours before he lapsed into unconsciousness, he looked at his wife and I each side of his bed and said: “I am just so lucky”. I knew then that he had finally found peace.

In 2013, we can all live our lives saying: ”I am just so lucky”. We can focus on what we have, rather than what we haven’t. I have a Gratitude Book that I write in every day. To begin each day writing down what I am grateful for in my life, sets a very positive focus for my day. When done consistently over a long period, it creates a sense of abundance and richness in our lives. So write in your Gratitude Book also in 2013 and change your life.

Col, doesn’t have a 2013, but you and I do so let’s make it special, meaningful and purposeful.

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