Updated: Jul 3, 2022
I love this picture of Hec. It captures him perfectly. One of my main objectives of this month, the first of Where Art & Grief Meet, the one that's dedicated to him because it's his birthday on the 3rd, will be to make a decent sketch of him.
When he died his daughters were just seven and nine. Now they are 18 and 20. I remember, afterwards, finding an email he'd sent to Laila Ali asking what guidance her father, the great Muhammad Ali, had given to help her in her life. It wasn't really like Hec to reach out to a stranger for ideas, so strong was his sense of self and how to be in the world, but then again, if there was anything he could do to help the girls grow into strong, independent women he wanted to know what it might be.
He and I had a complex relationship. We were very different sorts of people. He was all ease and charm, while I was awkward and frightened. He did all his processing internally, transmitting to the world a well considered, yet wholly authentic version of himself. I, in contrast, needed to talk about what was happening to work things out. I was highly emotional and sensitive to criticism or distrust, often sobbing when we talked,
"Ignore the tears and just hear my words".
But he found my temperament a hindrance to understanding, and characterised my emotion as hyperbole. This is something which will forever sadden me as we never had time to bridge the chasm in communication styles.
He was my big brother, my barometer for everything. Losing him changed me for ever.
I grew much stronger. Now unable to defer to his opinions and approval, I came to accept and not judge myself as I felt he did. I was also left as sole carer for our parents who were both irrevocably altered by his sudden death. Both Mum and Dad became awfully ill in the year following and not having him at the other end of the phone, to talk about what steps to take or how best to manage, meant I had to trust my own abilities and logic to make the best choices for everyone.
I also couldn't watch the football. It was something that, throughout every AFL season, had given us a mutual yet essential connection. We loved our Bluebaggers, and I in Melbourne would talk him through the play while he drove from one gig to another in Greece, and then we would spend vast tracts of time dissecting the highs and lowlights of the team's performance. I actually gave Hec and his wife Evie HIS and HERS football guernseys as part of their wedding present. Carlton was a great love and became difficult for me to engage with when he was gone.
Music was also hard. I had always shared with him my high rotation finds. I remember telling him about Jason Faulkner Presents Author Unknown and I think our last musical conversation was about James Taylor's classic album Sweet Baby James. We were bonded forever with our love for the Beatles music and the Beatles themselves. I remember him ringing to say George Harrison died. How had I not heard? We agreed a year later that The Concert for George, is one of the most magical musical events of all time. (And if you haven't yet heard it, you MUST.)
One time around 1994, when I was living in a unit in Hawthorn, Hec phoned and asked if I'd looked in the garage yet. I always parked my little car in the driveway, so the answer was no. He told me he'd wait on the line while I went to see what he'd put there. HE WAS SO EXCITED. It was before mobile or cordless phones so I put the receiver down and went to see. When I lifted the door I was greeted by a set of Beatles dolls on the bonnet of the vintage Volvo my housemate stored in there. BEATLES DOLLS! It wasn't my birthday or anything. He'd just seen them in a shop and couldn't resist. He'd driven across town and knocked on my door to surprise me, but of course I was at work. So he hunted about and eventually left them as they were to be eventually discovered. He'd then driven home and began ringing my house every few minutes until I got home and answered.
This sort of gesture was utterly endearing and not uncommon. It was how he demonstrated his love.
He shared his enthusiasm and knowledge in a most warm and generous way. He was a musical mentor and most compassionate to his friends, old and new. In fact he made connections with people everywhere he went.
Sometimes though, he would have an opinion about something he didn't really know about and lacked trust that I might know better. A most vexed topic was mental illness. He thought the solution to depression was simply a shift in attitude. Having experienced clinical depression myself, I knew that it wasn't necessarily that simple, that therapy and medication are sometimes necessary tools. Not "just", as he put it "having the discipline to frame what's bothering you differently in your mind". My lived experience unvalidated by him absolutely slayed me. My response of frustrated tears, in turn, confused and shut him down. As I said, I wish we'd had more time.
Isn't that always the way?
He was such a good man. An incredibly bright light and the hole he has left is impossible. But we all go onward, with our memories, learning more from the thoughts and insights that derive from our reflections. And so the relationship continues.