Nine years ago today my half-brother, Robert, died of an accidental overdose. Tragic as it was to lose him so young, and on the cusp of all things good in his life, I selfishly feel a deep sense of regret above and beyond my grief, because I never really knew him… and I missed my opportunity to say something when I had the chance.

His funeral was surreal. I remember so clearly how awkward I felt around that side of my family – people I knew by face and name but didn’t really know at all. I didn’t know how to relate to them in their grief, knowing that I honestly had no right to be there, imposing on them when I hadn’t seen him for years and years.

I remember a pause in the service between people getting up to share a story, and feeling a need to get up there and say something too. He was my brother, and I also had some fond memories of him, even though they were so far removed by too many years. But I balked and stayed back, watching with dawning amazement as I realised there was standing room only, and that people were gathered in a sombre crowd outside. Robert was much loved.

What I wanted to share was my first memory of him, when I was probably only eleven or twelve. I’d just arrived for a visit with my biological father and his new family, and I think this was the first time I’d met my three other brothers – David, Robert, and Richard. And what a trio they were! I’d met Rowena, my step-sister before, and had a childish adoration for her as a much older girl who could dye her hair and dress in clothes I couldn’t. I also had a childish crush on my step-brother, Liam, who was so not interested in the chubby, no-relation infidel to his already crazy-busy household.

David was a clever but devious child, with an impish grin and a penchant for trouble.. but always seemed to get away with it. Richard was quieter and more reflective, but no less cheeky in his own way. Robert, however, made the deepest and most lasting impression, as my first glimpse of the hooligan was him jumping up and down on a lounge chair, with coke-bottle glasses, a face full of freckles, a missing tooth, and hair so orange in the lounge room light I thought he was on fire.

That impression didn’t change much through the years, except that I discovered a deeply considerate and compassionate soul the very last time we met. He was on the verge of manhood and excited about his prospects. He was passionate about his health and fitness and charted a career path in the industry that would surely create for himself a fulfilling life. He was interested in people and listened to people, and engaged with them…

I remember meaning to make contact again when I was more settled in my own life, but I didn’t.

Alas, the next time I heard of him, it was to learn he’d just died.

Please remember to contact the people you love in your life, and remind them you love them.

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