The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Colleen Dim­itri­je­vic Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

To­day I came across a photo I had for­got­ten. It was a fam­ily snap taken on the Gold Coast about five years ago.

My hus­band, 21-year-old daugh­ter and 24year-old son stared back at me. Bright, beau­ti­ful, strong, happy, alive. We had flown in for Christ­mas and went to all the theme parks and had loads of fun. It hit me. The photo. The ex­pec­ta­tion of what would be­come of those adult chil­dren with so much po­ten­tial.

Each day I wake with a slightly sick feel­ing in my stom­ach. Some­thing is wrong. There is some­thing wrong with my lit­tle uni­verse. Con­ve­niently, my think­ing brain kicks in to re­mind me that my son is dead.

My emo­tional brain screams: “No! Not my son! Not my beau­ti­ful son!” Once again my think­ing brain help­fully steps in and shares the mem­ory of see­ing him ly­ing in his cof­fin. So hand­some, but dead. For a long time af­ter he died I had this con­stant war go­ing on in my head: “He can’t be dead. He is.”

He was so alive. When he lived, he lived well. He ran at life and caught ev­ery­one up in this jour­ney. At his funeral, peo­ple did not talk about what job he had, what grades he got, what money he had or any­thing re­motely at­tached to his sta­tus. They talked about how many peo­ple he made laugh. His friend stood in front of the chapel and mim­icked his star­jumps. A story was shared about how he made a com­plete stranger on the Ed­in­burgh streets laugh so much that he cried. His sis­ter talked about the times they laughed to­gether. This was his suc­cess.

I won­der how it would be if we mea­sured our suc­cess not by what we ac­cu­mu­late but by how many peo­ple we make laugh or even smile. Imag­ine get­ting home from work and an­nounc­ing to your part­ner: “I had a fan­tas­tic day. I made 10 peo­ple smile.” In my son’s world, peo­ple would not be ad­mired for the clothes they wore, they would be sought out for the jokes they shared. (Although he did like to wear nice suits and looked pretty good in them.)

When my son was 16, he had a bike ac­ci­dent at school and broke his arm, got abra­sions on his face and re­quired seven su­tures near his eye. While sit­ting in hos­pi­tal, I looked at him bat­tered and bruised and sug­gested that he was lucky that he had a high pain thresh­old. He just shrugged his shoul­ders and said: “It’s not that you don’t feel the pain, you just don’t pay at­ten­tion to it.”

Each day I try very hard to pay at­ten­tion to find­ing joy; to make peo­ple smile or let them make me smile. I pay at­ten­tion to the world around me and seek out beauty. The river, the parks, the sun, the ducks, the peo­ple who make me laugh. And ev­ery day I man­age to find joy.

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