To my dear friends at Duval College.
For many of us, it’s been five years since we first met over a game of breakfast bingo or in the halls of F Block. 2013 was the year of many new friends for me. Despite many of my friends from first year moving on, my decision to stay at college for a second year was undoubtedly the best decision I have ever made.
I wasn’t to know what was to come, but I know my life would have taken a very different path if it wasn’t for my friends down the hall, up the stairs or across the courtyard of Duval College at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales.
Because, when my world came tumbling down that Tuesday night in March 2013, it wasn’t my childhood friends, high school besties or even my family who could be there for me, it was you.
You were the ones who heard the wails of a girl who just lost her sister echo up the stairwell. You were the ones who pulled my limp body from the floor and walked me – step by step – to my room as I cried out her name; the ones who packed my bags with all the things I didn’t know I needed and held me in your arms as I stared blankly into my wardrobe looking for something to wear to my 17-year-old sister’s funeral.
You were the ones who saw me off that sad and foggy night with hugs, adrenaline and teary eyes. The ones I left behind to cry in the hallway, while I went home to the empty space that had been left by my sister, and my devastated parents, who had only just got home from the hospital.
You were the ones who were shocked and shaken right to your very core, simply by association. Many of you had never even met my sister, yet my loss was your loss. Your heart broke with mine that night.
For many of you, it was your first experience with that all-consuming loss, grief, devastation, and despair. Unlike your wrinkled grandparents or elderly neighbours, the death of a young person – not that much younger than you – is shocking and incomprehensible for even the coldest of hearts. There is just so much that could have, would have and should have been. So much promise; so much life left to live.
Listen: Kathy Kelly speaks to Mia Freedman about the loss of her sons, Stuart and Thomas, on No Filter. Post continues below.
For many of you, the loss of my sister was a reality check. A reminder that life is short and unpredictable. A reminder to call home, to reach out, to tell your mother, father, brothers and sisters how much you love them, even if they steal your clothes or use up all the internet.
A reminder that there are bigger things in this world than you and me. Bigger things than pub nights and gossip; breakups and assignment due dates. That night gave us all a cold, hard perspective: nothing can ever be as bad as losing someone you love, without as much as a goodbye.
But I’m so glad I had you, because as I trudged through the toughest, most treacherous time of my life, you were there for me. You were the ones who called me as I drove home, your voices thick with tears, and the ones who organised chocolates and flowers for me and my family.
You were the ones who posted words of love and support on my Facebook wall, no matter how much we had spoken or how close we had previously been. You sent messages to tell me how much you missed me or photos of all the delicious college food I was missing out on.
You weren’t to know that I was sitting on my back deck with my Mum, Dad and the funeral director, picking out a casket and flowers for my sister; wording the funeral notice and deciding whether or not to have a viewing of the body. When nothing in my world felt normal or right, you maintained a sense of normality for mine. You were my constant.
While I was living in a nightmare, you reminded me that my life at college was still the same. Dinner was still served at 5.30pm in the dining hall, Thursday’s were still pub nights at the Kilda, Sunday mornings were for college sport and you were all still there.
You were waiting for me to come back, and without you, I don’t think I would have.
I wouldn’t have gone on to become a senior leader of the college or a scholarship recipient. I wouldn’t have gone on to win awards and become a targeted graduate, offered a permanent job, straight out of university.
I wouldn’t have gone on to study, work, travel or write. I wouldn’t have gone on to become the happy and successful person I am today. I’m not sure I would’ve had the strength to do anything at all.
In the five years that have followed that horrific night, many of us have grown apart; some of us never talk. But I will forever be grateful for your friendship at the toughest time of my life. I will forever be grateful for the support you gave me that night, and in the days, weeks and months that followed.
I know it probably wasn’t easy for you. It wasn’t easy for me either. Yet you were the sunshine on my darkest days; many of you still are.
Those of you who are still in my life have grown to be some of my very best friends. While we may have only known each other for a few short years, our experiences together have only drawn us closer. You have seen me at my snotty, sobbing worst and helped put me back together after I’d shattered into a million pieces.
You are the ones who watched me grow from a broken, fragile girl, into a strong and resilient woman. A woman I know my little sister would have been so very proud of.
So thanks again, for everything you’ve done and continue to do for me. My sister would have loved you for all that you are and all that you’ve done for me. I only wish you could have met.