Last Saturday was my brother Paul's funeral. Two years older than me. He died from an inoperable brain tumour diagnosed in March, six months ago. I saw him in May when he was already losing short term memory and visual recognition, yet still bright and responsive. Then I was up here a couple of weeks ago and had dinner with Paul and his wife Margaret. He'd had chemo and radiotherapy to slow it down, but it didnt. Paul had deteriorated significantly, but his long term memory was great.
I flew back to Adelaide on the Monday, and he was admitted to hospital on the Tuesday. I returned to Brisbane on Wednesday, two weeks ago. After a week in hospital, Paul died last Tuesday. I was playing Cat Stevens' "How Can I Tell You" on the guitar. Our Mum had walked in the door just at the same time.
I don't personally know anyone who blogs about their deep, inner spiritual and emotional journey. I don't post from my journal. So anything that I write here sounds descriptive, not disclosing. A part of me wants to share that deeper troubled path, at least for the sake of those who might also go through this.
This has been deeply confronting for me, for all of us. I have never seen someone die before, let alone my own brother. There's a deep, undeniable horror in that experience. All my life I've had have a great fear of hospitals and doctors. And I feel that I'm still reeling from the experience of my father's death, even though it was two years ago.
The few days of vigil at my brother's bedside in the Wesley Hospital are deeply etched in my memory for their impatience, tiredness, difficulty, humour and dreadfulness. But also the companionship of my Paul's wife Margaret, my sister, brother, nieces, and Mum. Along with tears there was laughter, makeshift picnics and wine, and sleepless longing. The palliative care staff were exceptional.
I have not lived in my home town of Brisbane for many years, so there is much of being the absent son coming home, with all that brings. And as a family we have experienced several losses in the last few years, along with the death of my sister a decade ago, which still looms large. So it has been a very complex time.
Paul was a wonderful and remarkable person. He was 6 ft 4. Larger than life. In many ways we were alike and also different. We shared together in Scouts, Brisbane Youth Theatre, Gang Show, turning the bathroom into a photo darkroom, church youth group, dance classes, making rockets, theatre projects, swimming and tennis lesssons, and other creative stuff (a miniature theatre stage with lights), choreography.
We both went to the same schools. In primary school they said "So you're Paul Mitchell's brother?" and I knew I had to perform academically! At Brisbane Grammer, when they said the same thing it meant that they thought I'd be a trouble-maker! Paul didn't like to be directed or controlled. He was always an independent thinker and at his best when he was free to pursue his dreams.
Paul was intelligent, creative, and independent. We loved Monty Python, all the same 70's and 80's music (still on his iPhone!), science fiction. He and I also found computers and multimedia immediately intuitive.
He went to Art College, worked in a whole host of jobs, all the while doing art or design or sculpture. He leaves behind a range of remarkable public and private works - furniture, Gnomes (ask me), sculpture, a valve amplifier, a Telecaster guitar, two houses that he built (one from home-made mud bricks) and their retirement home in Moggill.
Paul joined Herbalife a couple of decades ago and that became his business and his wider 'family' in many ways - very much like church is for me. He was an educator, designer, marketer, team-builder, visionary, and quirky entertainer among the Herbalife team. I was deeply moved by how he had touched many lives and built a large network. He could and would learn about whatever was needed to do what he wanted to do.
None of that explains Paul - who he was or what he meant for us. But I won't write of that easily, or even publicly.
My main job for the Service of Thanksgiving for his life was to put together a video clip of Paul's life. So over a couple of days I looked over all of the photo albums. Laughter and tears. The final clip featured a bunch of the 70's and 80's music that we knew - ELO, Bowie, Alice Cooper, Peter Frampton, 10cc, Cat Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, etc... I hope that it told Paul's story well. BTW he was also known for dressing up at the drop of a hat (no doubt going back to our youth theate years) - so there were a bunch of photos of him in costume.
Our younger sister Anne spoke wonderfully about Paul, along with one of his Herbalife colleages, and his wife Margaret's brother-in-law Peter (reading Margaret's words). Margaret, who is a music teacher, wanted a communal hymn or song at the funeral. Once again the church hymn book (in my view) proved next to useless for such a mixed audience. So I suggested "The Water is Wide" as a tune (one of several that had been running in my head all week). Margaret and I adapted and wrote some words and I played them on one of Paul's guitars.
There's an emotional and spiritual journey that I can't easily tell here. This week has brought a sober dose of mortality, and a struggle for my faith, in ways that I perhaps expected but havent experienced.
I've had two weeks away from home and head back tomorrow. The world is spinning around me and I'm trying to remake my sense of it.While you know your own siblings, hearing other people talk of their love, respect and admiration for them helps you see them in a new light. Maybe this sounds odd, but I had never put Paul on a pedestal. He was just my brother, admittedly a talented one. Perhaps its part of sibling rivalry. We certainly traded blows and he always won! So I have been deeply touched by hearing who he was for others, his generosity, encouragement, guidance, humility.
And Paul was much loved by his family. Oh, that we might all leave such a legacy.
Thanks for reading and sharing my journey. I'd like to say some more about this, for my own sake at least. But I need to process it more.
God, this hurts. Vale, Paul. I will miss you deeply and always.