In September I attended the Service of Thanksgiving for my brother Adrian John Rickard. Ade was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer over twelve months ago. He had chemotherapy treatment but the cancer spread to his stomach. His final weeks were particularly difficult. He experienced worsening discomfort and weakness. When I asked him about his terminal illness he said he imagined a longer life. It has been said, “Good men die before their time.”
My brother was a good man. He loved his family, he looked for practical ways to support them, he welcomed hard physical work, he was keen on sport and enjoyed watching his children and grandchildren playing cricket and soccer, he sought to acknowledge God in all things and lived a life of unwavering faith and humble service. My father was heard to say, “We are promised three score and ten. Anything else is a bonus.” Using that formula my brother had three bonus years.
As is quite common now, the Service of Thanksgiving included a visual sequence of photos taken throughout Ade’s life. Some of the photos brought back memories of happier times. There was one photo that caused in me a deep emotional response. It was a photo of my brother and me standing outside our home in Oakleigh. I would have been perhaps eight years old and my brother fifteen. The photo captured the genuineness of our friendship. As I saw the photo I was struck by how much my son Adam looked like me at that age. The photo became a portrayal of two people I loved who had gone before. My tears came suddenly. I tried to conceal them but they were noticed by other family members. I imagine there was some concern as to how I would process the loss of my brother over and above the grief I still experience in relation to Adam’s death. I tend to think of it as layered grief. The grief is different. I wonder at the suddenness of my brother’s illness but I am perplexed by Adam’s decision to take his life. Perhaps it is the nature of a death that determines the way we grieve.
I have also thought about the tears and what they meant. I was reminded of something my brother said after Adam’s memorial service. He related, “I found myself crying but I don’t know why.” At the time I was quite dismissive of his comment as I was thinking “Isn’t it obvious. You have lost a nephew to suicide. Cry for him. Cry for his family who are shattered by this tragedy. Cry because others are crying or not crying.” More recently I have come to appreciate that it’s not quite so simple to understand what our tears signify.
My wife and I watch the Antiques Roadshow on the ABC. The producers devoted one program to artefacts of the First World War. As I listened to some of the letters the soldiers on the front line had written to their loved ones I cried uncontrollably. My response seemed disproportionate. Was it a reaction to the suffering war inflicts, the senseless loss of life, the families mercilessly torn apart, the pain of remembering, or the pervading sense of resignation that what is will last forever?
You never need to apologise for your tears. As author Ken Gire says,
“Tears are the language of the soul…Tears not only reveal our true self, they renew our soul, they restore us to one another, and sometimes in a watershed moment they even redirect the course of our life. Such is the power of tears.”