Otago Daily Times

Reconnecti­ng with loved ones best part of being back in NZ

- Jean Balchin, a former English student at the University of Otago, is studying at Oxford University after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarshi­p.

IHAVE had a simply glorious summer in New Zealand, swimming in the crystalcle­ar Taupo waters, blistering under the sun, and wandering around Wellington’s cool green botanic gardens. But the best part about being back in Aotearoa has been reconnecti­ng with loved ones.

It’s been astounding, humbling, and heartening seeing my friends and family members grow and flourish.

My little brother Will is not so little anymore. In fact, he’s six foot tall and strapping, with broad shoulders and a tangle of brown hair. He’s halfway through his builder’s apprentice­ship, and in a few weeks, he will marry Ella, the love of his life. I am so proud of him.

Meanwhile, my other brother Andrew is working as a camp counsellor and activities leader at Finlay Park. One glorious day this summer, he showed me around the park, boating with me up the river, and telling me all about his plans for the future. This, mind you, was the same brother I fought tooth and nail with throughout my childhood.

A particular­ly poignant moment this summer, though, was reconnecti­ng with Angus, my brother John’s best friend. John died in 2014. I hadn’t seen Angus since John’s funeral. And Angus is doing so well. We met at a little cafe in Wellington central and talked about the last six years over several coffees. It did my heart good to see Angus and to hear stories about John. I learned more about what cheeky things my brother had been up to in the years and months before his passing.

All this made me think about what John would be up to these days, what he’d be capable of, whether he’d be similarly flourishin­g and loving life. Whenever something dreadful happens to me, I try to find something small and good in the chaos of it all. I like to think that, like an oyster, I’m capable of creating something rich and beautiful from misery or irritation. Perhaps I’m being too ambitious and optimistic, but this is why I try to work in suicide prevention and mental health advocacy, to speak up for those struggling just as I struggled.

And I have no doubt that had he lived, John would have worked with those who struggle with depression, just as he did. He was endlessly kind and gentle, and it’s horrifical­ly unfair that he was robbed of so many years of life and joy.

It’s bitterswee­t seeing my brother’s contempora­ries live and excel. I try not to view their presents and their futures through rosetinted glasses, but anything in comparison to the emptiness of death is bound to be rosy. But it does make me happy — so happy — to see “my boys” doing so well.

I’ve been musing on my various friendship­s recently, and I realised that in many of my friendship circles, I am one of the few girls. The main character, Amy, in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl launches into a brilliant and witty speech about the quintessen­tial “cool girl” — the “hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer” and so on.

And perhaps part of me does aspire to that ideal, but I think another part of me just loves being around funny, warm, clever and compassion­ate young men who remind me of John, and whom I can love in the manner of an older sister and feel fiercely proud of.

The spectre of my brother’s future, thankfully, does not haunt me constantly, but when I do remember, it still stings. Quite frankly, I am sick of hearing variations on “everything happens for a reason” and “it was God’s will”. Whether it was or wasn’t, it’s horrendous­ly unfair that my sweet younger brother was robbed of so many years, experience­s, and love. I have mused before, in this column, on the possibilit­y of parallel universes, and whether somewhere, in an alternate reality, my brother is a high school geography teacher, a builder, or a stayathome dad. The possibilit­ies are — were — endless.

There is both warmth and sadness in thinking about what might have been. Sometimes I like to get lost in visions of what might have happened, had my brother not drowned in a cold river in late September, 2014. John might have been in my life for only 18 short years, but he, and visions of what might have been, will remain forever in my heart. But for now, I will be happy and grateful for the lives and futures of my other brothers and John’s friends; Will, Andrew, Angus, and many more. I will stand on their sidelines and cheer for them forever.

 ?? PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES ?? Reconnecti­ng with friends and family is a genuine pleasure.
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES Reconnecti­ng with friends and family is a genuine pleasure.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand