In the terrible aftermath of my brother’s recent death, since those emotionally intense first days and weeks, and now into the no-man’s land of emptiness and sadness, my Dad, my sisters and I have recognised that his most important legacy was his profound kindness.
Beyond this regular man with a regular job and a regular life was truly kind person, that didn’t broadcast himself to the world. He saw the agony of other living things, and sought to help in small ways. He didn’t judge or turn away, or allow busyness to give him an excuse, as I so conveniently do. Homeless people, wildlife, the planet – all were close to his heart.
Searching for some kind of meaning in this tragedy, I discovered stories of his kindness from friends and family, and pieced together a picture of a man who endeavoured to ease the suffering of others, whilst privately suffering himself.
Some years ago Greg connected with a homeless man living on the streets near his flat in east London. I first knew of this when I saw his arresting portrait of Joshua. Apparently a self confessed alcoholic and schizophrenic, I’m certain he was not easy to befriend. Greg would give him a few coins when he passed by, as most would. In time a human relationship formed between them and Greg would sometimes buy food for Joshua, doing his best to persuade him that fruit and veggies were a better choice, but also understanding, without judgment, his need for booze and cigarettes. Eventually he would accompany Joshua to the kebab shop to stand with him with whilst he bought a meal, so that the shop owner wouldn’t throw him out. The real gift was dignity.
My Aunty Penny told me of how they had met up for a picnic in Hyde Park with Greg and my sisters and their children, when her daughter and young grandsons were visiting from overseas last year. They’d had a wonderful time on a beautiful sunny day, and had loads of food left over. Greg had taken the kids to give the left over food to some homeless people in the park nearby. A simple, human gesture – teaching by example. I hope they will always remember that day.
Greg was a keen and talented amateur wildlife photographer, who despite having travelled the world, was most passionate about local haunts. He had photographed bears in Alaska and tigers in India, but it was a family of foxes at Walthamstow reservoir near his home that were his most favourite. During his ongoing relationship with the family, he shared the surprisingly intimate, tender shots of his foxes with his Facebook friends, and we all marvelled at how relaxed they were around him. Less widely known was that he ordered homeopathic treatment for sarcoptic mange, a horrendous and sometimes fatal skin condition common in wild fox populations, and treated these foxes over the time he spent with them. I discovered this strange medicine when opening mail at his flat in the days after his death, and his girlfriend filled in the details. His empathy with his wild subjects is clear when you see his stunning images.
In life, we would gently tease him about his pedantic, everyday choices. Shampoo in a bar (like soap) to save on plastic packaging; sustainably sourced fish and timber furniture; ethically sourced coffee and tea; overseas flights no more than every two years to reduce air miles; humanely raised meat and eggs; eco-friendly and recycled everything – the list was endless. I’m pleased to say I passed his stringent targets on quite a few things, but he was horrified that I used bleach in the kitchen. The thing is, he wasn’t just jumping on the green bandwagon. He really did care deeply about all of this. You can see just how seriously he took this if you read his comments on my post from last year. They seem quite hilarious, but they are absolutely serious. He despaired at what he saw as human greed, stupidity and arrogance, and the careless destruction of our own planet. We are all complicit and ultimately he wanted no part in it.
In the last year since I started this blog, Greg has commented on nearly every post. Just a little encouragement, just to show his support. He realised that, although unimportant in the big scheme of things, this was important to me, and he treated it as such. I will always be grateful to him for showing me this kindness when I was faltering and without confidence. The comments section will be eerily empty without him, and I will miss him every time I post.
I’m starting this year resolved to go that extra mile; to be kinder, to care more, to do more, to slow down and see more. I need to make some sense of this, and to honour my brother by trying to be a kinder person. Kindness is something we could all aim to give more of, and in turn we should all receive more.
I’m also determined to live my life to the full. I don’t mean in dramatic ways, but to recognise happiness, to notice simple things, to take responsibility for myself and my own well-being; to coin a cliché – ‘to live in the moment’. We only get one life.