All The Pretty Girls

‘Are you sick of talking about this?’

What a great question! I caught up with my old mate Scott V a few days ago and as we were having a coffee together he asked me that. I liked that he was perceptive enough to know that maybe I was repeating myself for the 78th time, and maybe it was emotionally draining, but my answer was ‘no – not yet… I guess I may do in time, but for now I’m still coming to grips with it.’

CS Lewis reckons grief feels like ‘fear’. So he says in A Grief Observed – such a Lewis style title! I don’t think fear has been among the emotions I have experienced. Certainly disorientation, confusion and overwhelm have been among the words I would use. Maybe they consolidate into fear? Hmmm… nah… I don’t know that you can describe grief to another person easily and assume that they will have a similar experience.

To be honest I feel like I’m punching out of my weight division trying to make any sense of grief. I am inclined to ‘think’ my way thru situations (INTJ style) and find solutions, remedies and fixes… whereas grief is really more of a ‘feeling’ zone where no one gets to fix anything. So being immersed in a wash of unusual and unfamiliar emotions is quite disorienting and disconcerting. That said, I do have a fairly well developed ‘don’t panic’, response, so I have been able to ride out, endure, or just cop a beating from the various moments that have transpired over the last 40 or so days since Sam died.

I must admit that this has helped me realise that in moments of deep grief for others I have really not been able to empathise much at all. In some ways we have lived a pretty fortunate life, free of any major personal traumas, so grief has always been a very foreign experience to me. I feel like a bit like a visitor to a new city, hearing the sounds, smelling the smells and encountering the newness for the first time. i remember when I first went to the Philippines, the year after the revolution and we arrived for new years eve…I was in sensory overload. I had no idea quite what I had encountered! And it has felt a bit like that these last few weeks.

When I describe what is going on, its like Sam has taken up residence in one of the back rooms of my mind and just wanders into the forefront any time i am not focused on a specific task. So when I’m at the gym or cycling and I have ‘think time’ he seems to push his way to the forefront – even if I am listening to a podcast and reasonably intent on tuning in closely. And it’s usually just a flash of a memory that pierces the focus, then explodes on impact into a thousand other thoughts and associated feelings. Mostly they culminate in one dominant motif – he’s not coming back… And that evokes some very strong emotions as i wonder why…

Honestly – you know ‘why‘ I think Sam died? I think it was simply because he didn’t come up for air at the right time. That’s spectacularly unimpressive by way of any greater meaning or purpose in his death – but I’m not sure that there is any greater meaning or purpose other than what comes from how we allow the situation to shape and form us. I have no problems believing God can work all things together for good – if we will work with him – but I certainly can’t swallow any theology that calls this ‘God’s will / God’s timing’ or some other form of divinely ordained execution.

And while we feel for ourselves I can’t help but feel for Sam who lost his own life in this tragic event. He lost the joy of living in this world and all that would have brought – marriage, family, travel, vocation… his life was just kicking off and then snap… it was over. If he had his time over again – if we were able to bring him back – I doubt he would ever take a risk like that again. Unfortunately this isn’t a mistake you ‘learn’ from.

A bit of my own sadness comes from realising that i was really looking forward to our adult-male relationship and what it would become. I have enjoyed all stages of our relationship, but this one I was really anticipating, as I knew we would have some great conversations, and he would not be afraid to challenge my thinking with a mind far sharper than my own. I was hoping he would find his way into church life and offer his left field insights to a leadership team who were willing to hear some different ways of thinking. I know he wasn’t a ‘settler’ in the status quo so he would have ruffled some feathers along the way, but in a very likeable way. I’m also sad he won’t be around in 20 years time to take back his blog post critiquing my apparently very boring life – a life where I need to make a steady income so I am committed to a job etc (partly because it costs a lot of money to raise two kids 🙂 ) I remember being utterly disappointed with my own father’s unambitious, stay in the same job your whole life approach – but then i have benefitted greatly from his stability. Stuff you learn… if you are around to do the learning…

At this distance of 40 days most of the raw shock seems to have worn off and we are now just left with daily living minus Sam – which is sometimes uneventful and other times quite difficult. Over the weekend we caught up with some of our closest friends, going right back to the late 90’s during our time at Lesmurdie and then the Upstream venture in 2003. Our kids grew up together and were best of mates (see pic above) for the first 5-10 years of their lives before jobs and circumstances took us all in different directions. The gathering was planned several months back – a grand reunion of oldest of friends (see pic below 15 years later) – and it was a great time being with those guys again for a couple of days. But the absence of that one person was painful to us all. It was beautiful to be with people who just ‘got it’ and were able to roll with wherever we were at, acknowledging Sam’s absence, but at the same time celebrating the kind of friendships that are so valuable in these times.

I have read 3 books in the last month all around this same theme, and the pick of them has been Lament For a Son, a short collection of reflections and literal laments. I read this first, within a few days of Sam dying and it felt like he was reading my mind. It is quite beautiful, poetic and piercing in its simplicity.

On a more amusing note I downloaded a collection of Sam’s playlists to my phone so I could tune into some of what he was listening to. I discovered the song ‘All the Pretty Girls’ by Kaleo at the front of a ‘Going North’ collection of songs. I started listening to this song but had to re-listen to the first line a couple of times to make sure i had heard correctly… And yeah I did hear correctly. It opens with ‘All the pretty girls like Samuel…’ I believe it was one of his favourites 🙂

How Are You Going?

‘How are you going?’

It’s a simple question, right? But the last 5 weeks it has been difficult to answer. Often I say ‘I don’t know…’ because that just feels honest. The last two weeks (apart from my first ever bout of Covid) I have felt quite stable and emotionally ok… I think… so my response has been ‘good’, or ‘fine thanks’.

And maybe that’s where it gets complicated for an INTJ… I think I feel ok. To say that actually feels callous, but if I’m honest I have been getting on with the stuff I have to do and trying not to get ‘bogged’ in grief. So while I’m deeply sad that Sam is no longer with us, I also know i can’t do anything to change that. It’s just a terrible reality of our daily lives. Much of the pain I feel now is from watching Danelle, Ellie and to a lesser extent, Cosi grappling with loss.

So I ‘think‘ that is where i am at… but perhaps I’m kidding myself? I feel like my hurt and pain is very real and raw when i choose to focus on it, or bring it into the foreground, but it also seems to be shielded from me, as if the most painful thoughts and feelings are still there, but ‘insulated’ in some way.

I intentionally chose this photo of Sam as a wallpaper on my phone – but the image I selected is one that only shows his back. There was something too disconcerting still in having a photo of Sam’s bright, energetic face lighting up at me. I simply didn’t want to look at that every time I opened my phone.

Anyway here’s a poem I wrote that speaks to some of the ‘aftershocks’ of an event like this and some of the complexity of working thru grief and pain.


It has been 36 days 

Since the ground quaked beneath us

Life exploded around us

In us…

Leaving debris and destruction

Of every kind

Much that is yet to be uncovered

or discovered

But I know it is there

Lurking and waiting to pounce

Growling and snickering

A constant taunting presence

Like an angry dog, unrestrained

Free to menace at will


And what is it to grieve and mourn?

By what means?

For how long?

And in which ways?

Grief has many faces

There is anger that snarls silently

Tears that invade mercilessly at any moment

The paralysis of anxious thoughts and fear

Raw, sad musings about what might have been

Had there been just one more breath…

(Really? Why not just one?…)

Then sometimes nothing…

Just once joyful memories

Seared with sadness

Leeched of emotion

Like blurred photos of an old friend

Is that kind of grief ok too?


36 days ago

I could still see the reddish stubble on your unshaven face 

Your head lying on its side 

Eyes closed and small bubbles frothing from your already blue lips

We knew it was your body

The body we loved and nurtured from young

The strong, muscular body you trusted to propel you around the ocean

It was you

But not you

Life was no longer

The lights were out

And you had left.


To where?

We can only speculate as to details…


Well yes…

But where is this?

And what is this place we speak of so glibly?

A different dimension?

A ‘good place’?

Where you live now oblivious of us?

A holding bay until the resurrection?

When we will meet again

We will meet again – won’t we?…

(“Mummy & Daddy and Ellie and Sam 

We’re a family aren’t we eh?”)#

My deepest hope is in this reality

Of which I know so little

Because I have not needed to know

This mysterious notion imbued

With centuries of church mythology

But very few hard, undisputed facts

A genuine hope of our faith

That on one hand feels so intangible

And on the other so rich and strong


36 days is all it has been

(Not that anyone is counting)

A wisp of time – yet it has felt like an eternity already

The new normal of our family life

Has not yet been cast

As if we are refusing to accept the constraints of this new reality

We do not form new patterns

We wake and hope the the nightmare will end

But every morning it is the same

Aftershocks pierce deep into our hearts

And out from us

Raw pain transmitted to friends

Who embrace it beautifully

Who love and care

Sincerely and honestly

Genuine friendship is a beautiful gift

In this worst of times.

Even then

Only we can truly know the depth of those aftershocks 


Now when I ponder my own inevitable death

It is with a different tone

I see a hand holding those I love

Here and now

A hand that is saying ‘goodbye’

But the other hand is reaching out 

To those I love who have gone before

And yours is the face I see

The first port of call in the new realm

You’re telling me to ‘jump’ into the new reality

The kingdom of God where one day

All will be made right

All will be restored

Until then we wait and we trust

# This was a little mantra Sam started when he was about 3 years old. It still generated laughs a couple of months ago…

Just Some Reflections

Oh I am sad today.

Just sad that my son, Sam, is gone – I have been pondering permanence and finality and it just seems that the sheer unfixable nature of this one event has re-made our entire world and I feel somewhat adrift in it. None of us really have our bearings at the moment so we are just getting on, the best we can.

I wonder if my heart is possibly more fragile than I can articulate or even feel? But it also feels like there is some kind of protective layer around it preventing me from feeling the full force of Sam’s death. 

I wonder if I haven’t yet felt the full ‘wumph’ of this. Maybe I have… What would that imply?…

I seem to be able to get on with work ok and get jobs done. I can operate at a fairly healthy level (even with Covid), but the ever lurking thought that occupies my mind is ‘gone’…

Gone… for ever…

So many things in life are fixable – and that’s something I am good at – fixing broken stuff – but I can’t do anything with this situation except try to step into it and accept that this is now part of our journey in life and we will find our way… somehow. I know I want to do that well and allow it to form me in whatever ways it may. (Let’s at least get some good out of it.)

A week back in church we sang that song ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’ iand we repeated the lines ‘you give and take away’ many times. I wonder if people really think that God gives and takes away children? I certainly don’t think God took Sam away as part of a bigger plan. I find that idea abhorrent – to think that God would actually take a life to teach a bigger lesson or to create a ‘learning opportunity’?…

Not a God I could devote my life to – that’s for sure. And perhaps I am messing with some people’s perspectives on who God is, his sovereignty and the like, but without doing any theological gymnastics whatsoever it is impossible to reconcile the God I know in Jesus, with a God who orchestrates all kinds of tragedies as part of a greater ‘grand plan’.

Whatever the theological ramifications, the simple daily reality is an acknowledgement that the man who is my son is not coming home again, ever. I feel the poem I wrote a couple of posts back articulates what I am sad about better than I can do here, but we are now a week out from the funeral, family have gone home and we have settled back into a level of normal.

Certainly on the surface my life looks quite un-rattled by everything – I have work to keep me busy, I have an exercise schedule I am trying to stick to, despite covid challenges and I naturally look ahead at what the rest of the year holds. We were going to do some interim pastoral work for Marg River Baptist, but we withdrew from that following Sam’s death. Not knowing exactly how things would play out for us it seemed unwise to take a role that involved some significant responsibility while we see how the dust settles on our life minus Sam. We hope to keep doing some teaching in the country churches as we are able, while trying to keep aware of what is happening in the grief process.

It’s a an unusually warm autumn day outside. I cut thru my work in record time this morning, so I was able to go for a SUP paddle in the most stunning blue water, before coming home for a quiet afternoon of reading or whatever I am able to do with covid. It’s hard not to feel like life is wonderful (on one hand), but then on the other it is in ruins.

That’s kinda where it’s at. We have been supported beyond what I could imagine, which has been beautiful, but we face the challenge of easing back into daily realities and discovering a ‘new normal’ for our family life.

1.00pm Sunday

1.00pm the bell tolls

the final call is made

by your empty lungs

to leave the ocean floor

ascend the 13 metres

to surface

to breathe

to live


you choose 

one more shot

one more chase

one more chance…

and it is this decision

this flash of impulse

that now separates

us from you

that rips the fabric

of our lives

that shatters our hearts

and leaves you utterly unreachable

unknowable any longer

just memories to sometimes comfort

and other times taunt 

memories that will fade

and blur as time smudges the ink

1.00pm Sunday is the time

we will always remember

when your misty head

succumbed to the lure

that maybe you were invincible 

unlike other men

when your 21 year old confidence

pushed that bit too hard

and crossed the line

into that other realm

never to return

one brief moment of 

asserting your strength 

so inconsequential to 

the rest of the world

but for you

for us

the moment that changed everything

And now we wait for 1.00pm

each Sunday as a reminder of

what could have been

what should have been

but no longer is 

or ever can be

one simple breath

the difference between life

and this death we all now endure

I Weep

I left the blinds open last night and woke to a beautiful sunrise – dusky colours over the ocean, but alongside the beauty of the new day was the dread of what this day holds.

We have had 2 weeks now to get used to the idea that Sam is dead, but I feel like it hasn’t really sunk in. And words often feel inadequate to express what is inexpressible. So maybe tears are all we have…

I Weep

I weep for the time we no longer have

For the man I will not see you become

For the world which is poorer for your leaving.

I weep for the people who will not meet you

And know simple love and acceptance in your presence

For those who others ignore, but whom you always saw

I weep for your mother who prayed so earnestly for your arrival

Who gave her life to shaping yours

And now must cope with the loss – the quiet – the family minus crazy

I weep for your sister who loved you like no other

Who is lost and bereft – bravely trying to carry on

But broken and shaken on the inside

I weep for the surfs we will no longer share

For those rich conversations we enjoyed – now no longer

The questions I will no longer ponder with you

And for the woman you left behind who was soon to be your wife

Brave and beautiful – kind and creative 

It would have been a wonderful match

I weep for our family who have already known so much loss

Another one – preventable – unnecessary – so many words…

But it is done and there are no second chances – no fix we can hack for this one

I weep for your friends – so many who loved you

Even when you struggled to see anything of worth in yourself

Those friends knew your care, your loyalty and love

I weep for the grandchildren we will not know

For the shrinking of our already tiny family

And the absence of the one who brought such joy and warmth

I weep for the church who lost a thoughtful, courageous leader

A young man with genuine, practical faith

Whose sharp mind and soft heart would have helped shape the future 

I weep for your clients who now notice your absence

Who will miss your sincere and thoughtful care

Your love for the strugglers, the odd, the outsiders

I weep for the dreams that now are no longer

The infamous troopie trips, the lap of Oz you would surely have done

The adventures you, Cosi and your tribe would have shared

I weep for the neighbourhood you would have lived in

For the people who just need a truly good man in their orbit

For the young men who will not experience your influence

I weep for the challenges and questions that will not get raised without you around

For the unwillingness to settle for trite or weak answers

For your ability to listen and then disagree – but with love

I weep for the laughter we will not share

For the pranks we will no longer hear of

The hot marketplace deals you will no longer send my way

I weep for the battles we will no longer fight with you

For the victories we would hear about

And the hope for a better future and a settled mind

I weep for us – for the men we were going to be together

For the way we were going to shape our families

Jesus at centre – our inherited dysfunctions finally put to bed

I weep for myself because I have lost my son

The curious and kind little boy 

Who became a strong and good man

I weep for the conversations we will not have

For the hugs that are now gone

And for the ever present ‘love you’ at the end of every conversation.

I weep because I have no words 

To describe the pain of touching your face that last time

The rich hope of God’s kingdom coming our only constant as we carry on