When is an ordinary life an extraordinary life?

On Thursday morning ten days ago, my sister’s world changed forever. She went to wake her 20-year-old son and found him unresponsive, kneeling on the floor by his bed.

Any death is a terrible thing, but an unexplained death is even worse. The death of a child or a young person, even more so. Parents are not supposed to bury their children.

Photo by Andrey Zvyagintsev on Unsplash

Human nature is to want to understand why things happen. How can an otherwise healthy 20-year-old die without any warning? It’s natural to look for signs missed but sometimes there are none and if there are, as in Matt’s case, was there anything anyone could have done? Are we really in control of our fate?

Last week Matt had chest pains. He did the right thing and went to the doctor who gave him a full work-up including an ECG. Nothing was untoward.

His mother is rehashing in her mind everything he said in his last weeks. His friends who were online with him that night feel bad because he said he felt sick and left the chat room they were in. He didn’t come back which was odd and one young man thought about coming to the house to check on him, but it was late and what were the chances that anything was wrong? And besides, he was living at home with this Mum and Dad and little brother.

It’s Sunday morning as I write this, and I am on a fight back to Auckland where I live. It was a beautiful day yesterday in Wellington where my family lives and ordinarily Matt would have been off with his friends and playing soccer in the afternoon.

His best friend’s father came by in the afternoon on the way to the game. There is really something heartbreaking about seeing a man who has lost his son consoling another man who is in tears because his son’s best friend is gone.

And so, in the early days of my sister’s worst nightmare, we find out that her son was even more extraordinary than we knew. And each day we are finding out that the number of people whose lives he touched is greater than we thought. So many people have stories of his kindness, his humour and how he made everyone feel happy.

An ordinary but extraordinary life.

Back in Wellington 3 days prior to Matt’s service. We were lucky to get one brother back on the last green flight from Australia where the bubble between the ANZAC nations is now definitely broken. The other brother, being in the US, was unable to get a spot in MIQ so could not come.

Family funerals are bittersweet things; a time to get together in the most sad and poignant of circumstances.

My memories of the day come back to me like patches on a quilt; separate but together as part of the whole.

A bright, cold winter’s day after a terrible winter storm during which the hail lashed the house for 3 days. Tall, young men dressed smartly in dark suits and white shirts walking together in groups of four and six, heads down. The sounds of tears and laughter. The local Baptist church where Matt went to youth group, full of young people, many still unbelieving and in shock. Matt’s pine casket covered in the written messages of his friends: ‘I love you mate.’ ‘I will miss you brother.’ ‘What will we do without you?’

Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

The sharing of memories at the open mic. Friends from playcenter, friends from primary, from college, from Youth Group, football. Male voices breaking down, sobs caught in throats, the wiping of tears away with sleeves and arms around each other’s shoulders. Teachers with prepared eulogies. Principals, deans and class teachers. Youth Group leaders. Parents.

Every parent’s worst nightmare.’ ‘This is so uncool’. ‘My son was stuck in Amsterdam. He was inconsolable’.

All recounting beautiful memories of our ordinary boy leading an extraordinary life.

A private interment at a beautiful old chapel of stained glass and kauri. A single bird singing alone in the late afternoon sun. A reading. A prayer. The tears and anguish of his mother. Of a beautiful life cut short in its prime. A life unfinished.

Photo by Rainhard Wiesinger on Unsplash

We cannot judge a biography by its length. Nor by the number of pages in it. We must judge it by the richness of its contents. Sometimes those unfinished are among the most poignant. We cannot judge a song by its duration. Nor by the number of its notes. We must judge it by the way it touches and lifts our souls. Sometimes those unfinished are among the most beautiful. And when something has enriched your life. And when its melody lingers on in your heart. Is it unfinished? Or is it endless?

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