There is nothing in this post that represents words sufficient to describe such a remarkable human being as he. I’m too emotional, a bit numb and still a somewhat in denial. The person who accidentally became my catalyst for positive change, my Saviour, my hero. The giant man who had a heart bigger than a thousand of his peers, is gone now. His heart has stopped beating but his spirit is most certainly alive. Well, it will be when the crying stops. It is sad to lose anyone. Sad to watch parents live on after their child. Heart wrenching to see a wife stand by her husband as he battles a formidable, deadly cancer and holds him as he takes his last breath. Beyond comprehension to imagine how two primary school age children experience all of this under the public eye, then contemplate life after he is gone. So. Very. Sad.
Seems some people have used the chance to comment using social media that cancer affects many more people than this one man. I appreciate that these people have probably been left bereft watching the same cruel disease take a loved one. But if they knew anything about this man, they wouldn’t feel the need to make those comments on tribute pages. He did not think he was special. He did not for one second feel sorry for himself. He in fact referred to having cancer as, would you believe it, a privilege, as it “gave him a chance to experience some of the hardship that young people face”. Any number of emotions about being diagnosed with an aggressive cancer would be reasonable. I’m not judging that. I imagine I’d be really angry. Probably feel sorry for myself, to be honest. Worry about those around me. But not him. He wasn’t a martyr. But certainly an exceptional individual.
For eight months I said little to anyone about what my boss was doing to make my life a living Hell. The first person I told, the person who let me breathe for the first time in a year, has just passed away.
Many people will know of him. Not nearly enough. If you didn’t know of him, it is a shame. He was perhaps no one special, just a man. I don’t know if it was his upbringing, influences in his life or an amazing gift. But that man had courage and determination in spades. He could’ve been called stubborn. When I met him I actually got really mad at him. He was so sure about what he was saying. It rubbed me the wrong way (clash of egos). He said, “What happened? I thought we really clicked before?”. We are both jokers. Cheeky. Like an audience. The disharmony felt wrong.
When he sat down to join my group I thought I would die of happiness. I love football and all I could think was “He’s a Brownlow Medallist!”. As soon as you are in his space, that is surpassed by so many more important things.
He is so freaking tall. Enormous. It’s imposing and masculine, fatherly and comforting. A true gentle giant. When I was talking I must have looked awkward about getting emotional. He said that sharing was like peeling back the layers of an onion, we all have those layers. He listened to me talk and he smiled at the right times and his eyes twinkled. In my head he took on an otherworldly quality.
In equal measure, he revealed his human flaws and his spiritual strength. He was truly inspired and enchanted by life. He saw the best there was in every individual. And when he had normal, human reactions to things like we had about each other that time-he tackled it head on and demonstrated like a true teacher and leader how to face the hard stuff and work through it to reach better outcomes. Understand. Show compassion. Come together.
I still can’t believe I was allowed in his presence over this time in my life. He could see that something was swirling inside me, something dark. He challenged me but I knew he’d be there to catch me if I fell. Like a father, the father you could only dream about. But he was also no pushover. Much of what he talked about was personal responsibility and actions.
I didn’t want to let it out though. I admired him but also didn’t know him that well. Can you tell a stranger these things?
As we tackled the stages of the program at Reach, it became more and more impossible to hold it in. Slaying Your Dragons? How can I get through this? I fought the urge to scream, to whimper ‘Help me’. I cried in the foetal position until I felt like the words were going to spew forth from my mouth. It felt dangerous. Scary. I had to find him. I had to tell.
I ran to find him and I asked if I could talk to him. I stared at the wall and was suddenly struck dumb. He helped me talk. He let me find the words. And I told him that someone had been hurting me. And he said, “I will do anything I can to help you in the battle that comes next”. And I believed him. I don’t remember much after that. How do you end that conversation? I don’t recall. But my life was changed forever from that moment. I knew by disclosing (to someone outside the bosses involved who were pressuring me to shut up) I had to deal with things head on. I needed to take that first step. Can you believe I was lucky enough to have a man like that hear my cry and offer to support me? I can’t. We worked through some more program areas over the next days and I stood next to a roaring bonfire with an amazing group of people, opened up in the same way, and swore that I would honour my own truth, have conviction in my own conviction. Believe in me. Because he believed in me.
The storm that came afterwards was extremely difficult. The joke it has turned into continues today. I have made it this far because of HIM. A glance at a photo of us together. My Reach necklace. A printout of an email he sent me complimenting me on my class and integrity. When I have felt like stopping the fight, doing something stupid or ignoring the legal stuff and screaming what happened though the media, I stopped and thought What would Jim want me to do? And the answer was the same. Keep going, Little Lion. You are stronger than you feel right now. Your potential is infinite.
All this and he didn’t even know it.
I emailed and updated him. It humiliated me that he might be included in the criminal case. But I knew he knew himself, what was the right thing to do. I trusted him implicitly.
We met up and he checked on me. Put a giant arm around me. Encouraged me. I was in an audience one time when he spoke and he was talking about how challenging Reach can be, how it pushes you to be real. So that you can be real with others. Be a role model. And practice what you preach. He locked eyes with me and said, “That’s right, isn’t it…?”. He referred to me by name. He acknowledged my presence and gave a secret nod to what we had shared. I was high off that for months.
When he announced he was unwell I screamed. He had become my talisman. My rock. Represented goodness and truth. His words are like having a personal trainer for your spirit. Be real. Tackle life. Fight. Run outside your comfort zone and celebrate your bravery. Make your mark. Live your life with a capital L.
I wasn’t surprised when he outlived his own diagnoses. He was almost superhuman. A giant. Determination and guts in human form. I knew what he would be fighting for. His family, Reach, his babies. He loved life. He wanted more of it.
I pounced on any media which gave me a glimpse of Jim. Let me know he was ok, smiling, still fighting. I talked about his extraordinary passion to anyone who would listen. It’s why I first got on twitter. Which led me to blogs. Which led to writing here. Which has helped me immeasurably. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. He led me here. His memory will lead me again to the the witness box, maybe in front of a jury. I will cry and want very much to disappear. I will wish I was not exposed it this way. But I will do it. I will ask myself what he would say to me, or to any of the other many thousands of people who he has inspired and encouraged.
I have thanked him before, but I want to thank him again. I will be there to say goodbye in Melbourne next week.
I am never usually lost for words but to try to sum up the gift you gave me seems an insurmountable task. But of course, because of what you showed me, I know there is no such thing. Anything can be overcome. You can make the best and create better with enough inspiration, drive and passion. I believe this with all my heart, despite evidence from this experience that others can crush you with all the power they exploit. Your influence has encouraged me to seek a new view of this winning and losing. They did crush my power. They silenced and punished me. But I could still claim the high road. I could sleep (ha!) knowing I was honest, strong and fighting the bullies. I had to work on this but you made this possible.
You let me disclose to you the saddest secret my heart has ever held. You made no judgement. You simply offered support. And YOU HEARD ME. Priceless, empowering, freeing. From that moment I was no longer a victim. You let me open the door. You proved to be someone I could trust. You practiced what you preached. A rare, wondrous thing. And we were but strangers a week before.
When we parted the first time, I thanked you profusely. You hugged me with your giant arms and said, “I’ll never forget you”. I thought, Is he crazy? He’ll never forget ME?”
You did not. And I will most certainly, from the bottom of my heart, never forget you, Sir. You were all of the things they are saying about you in the media and so much more. Selfishly, I will keep you in my head and heart for ever. I will remember your words and strive to behave in such a way that my child will see the legacy you left in this world, through me. If I can do that in one-hundredth of the way I want to, I will have made a success of this life. And I will share your words, Reach philosophy and ethos as long as there is breath in my body. You have helped me to become a better version myself. That is such an amazing gift.
If there is any comfort for your family at this time, it is that there would be thousands more letters like this from all of the others you inspired, encouraged and believed in. We all thank you for letting us share a little of the husband, father and son who was so special to you. He made this world a better place. Being your husband/son/father helped him to do this at a deeper level. I hope that you may find some comfort in the days ahead as you surely grieve the loss of his very special presence. Though no one is in doubt his spirit will not leave your side. It lives in you also.
To my hero, my saviour and my inspiration; until they come up with better words, I thank you for YOU. I will never forget you. I will try to live as you would hope, with integrity, openness and courage. I will shed more tears but I am sure the day will come again where I look at our photo or read your books and smile. You lived life to the fullest and therefore changed the course of thousands of others. I hope you are finally resting with some peace after your battle. I hope you can feel the love from so many of us. I hope that we make you proud.
With all of my love and gratitude,