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Today we farewelled a family friend. He passed away extremely suddenly, without any warning; a completely random, freak accident at home. He left behind a beautiful daughter, two wonderful sons and three gorgeous little granddaughters. And, of course, his incredible wife. His children spoke the most touching words of his passion for life, his heart, the lessons he taught them – I can’t imagine their pain. This is a family separated too soon.

When we moved house for the first time I was in primary school, and we ended up in a little abode down a no-exit street within walking distance of my school. Our home happened to be next-door to that of a boy my sister’s age and his family. Our parents became fast friends, as did us kids. His siblings were a little bit older than us, so it was us three (him, my sister and I) who spent time together the most. I have the best memories of us running around our backyards, hiding in trees, having tea parties outdoors, swordfights, sleepovers and storybooks, trampoline competitions, playing derby in his wooden cart, nonsensical games of children’s pool in the dark downstairs room by their garage, fireworks with the other neighbourhood kids, water fights, Sonic the Hedgehog and other video games, terrifying ourselves on that infamous skateboard, giant New Year gatherings, tyre swings, splashing around their pool after they transformed one of their gardens into a relaxing summery retreat. That’s how childhood should be; playful, fun, and carefree with friends.

And our parents were often together. Our mums especially. They both had a fondness for chatter and wine. I didn’t even think of them as my second family, just an extension of my own, and I assumed they would always be there in my life. I remember the time they got that pool. It had been a bit of an ordeal with sorting out underground pipes that were already there, and they also needed to upgrade their fence. Once there had been a gate between our two houses for the kids to run through mercilessly, but now we had to be a little more civilised and use the front door. I remember thinking at that point things were changing out of my control. We were all growing up and making plans for the future.

My parents renovated our house into this beautiful homely thing that now had a small second storey on the top with a distant view of the ocean. I would drag a mattress out of one of the top windows (with difficulty) at night and watch the moon over the water, and listen to the familiar quiet of our street. Us kids were much older, and spent far less time together, but we were still there within reach of each other.

When things with my parents fell apart, so did life in the house. I knew we couldn’t stay; it was too painful. And I also found it too painful to see my treasured neighbours – that extension of our family – as much. We would have to leave. And it would be hard. A few days ago Margie, the wife of this dear man we said goodbye to today, told my mum that when we left a part of her heart went with us. It was never the same for either of us. This was the first point in my life where I wish things had gone so, so differently.

Now we have, of course, all grown older. Their eldest daughter has three incredibly beautiful children of her own. Their eldest son has been living in the UK for some time now. And their youngest, whom I still consider my brother, has developed into a man to be admired. We have all been living our own lives. Today, a horrible tragedy brought us all together again along with many other people who have shared life-changing memories with them. I can do nothing but sit and think of their strength, and am grateful that they have such a close family and unwavering support system.
Just over a week ago life was normal for them. Margie went to bed having no idea of what she would face the next day. Neither did their children or grandchildren, or siblings. This man was taken from their lives in literally an instant – there was no lead-up or alarm. One moment everything is as it was, and the next it has all changed forever.

How do you deal with something like that?

This year a beautiful young lady in one of my social circles also passed away. She had been fighting against cancer for months. She was only twenty-one. She left behind a beautiful baby girl, a wonderful husband, an incredible family and a grieving community. And it doesn’t matter if there was warning – the loss is still too great to bear for all who loved her. Nothing makes it easy to accept, or to deal with. Life is so fragile. This year I’ve had several friends who have lost people close to them. The giant pain in my heart I feel for them doesn’t change or help their situation at all, and yet it is uncontrollable and will not subside. Why do we grieve? Why do we feel pain, and loss? We love people so fiercely, though they can be taken from us at any moment. This goes well against self-preservation and survival; it does show that there is so much more to us than that. Perhaps, then, a quiet blessing in grief is that it proves we have loved and been loved back – enough for us to feel such sorrow and anguish when someone close is lost.

Tonight I’ll lay awake and think of you and your family, Murray. I will remember the perfect times I had with you all – those are the years I wish had never, ever ended. I will think of your strong, yet heartbroken children, and your simply wonderful wife and how amazing they all are. And how much I miss our lives together, and how grateful I am that you, your wife and my parents created this little safe world for us to grow up in. I think of how much things have changed, and how much pain we have all gone through, and how much pain there is to go through still. My heart is with you, and with your family. And as they said today – I hope you rest not in peace, but in happiness and pride knowing that you have raised an incredible family who are out in the world doing their own remarkable things. They will never completely recover from this loss, but you have filled their hearts with so much love that they will also carry this with them always. You changed my life, too, and helped shape it in a way that I look back on the years we were with you and remember them as my best so far.

“Today we farewell a true gentleman.
A man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.”

In memory of Murray Raymond Brake, 17 November 1949 – 7 December 2014