Yesterday I shed tears for a man I did not know.
I shed tears hearing Michael Clarke talking about Phillip Hughes’ passion for cricket, cattle and country.
I shed tears as I watched footage of Phillip Hughes, ruing a young life cut way too short.
But most of all, I shed tears for Phillip Hughes’ father, Greg. I watched the agony on his face as he carried his own son’s coffin on his shoulder. In that moment, as a mother, I could almost feel his pain.
The phrase ‘parent’s worst nightmare’ is often used flippantly – just today, I’ve seen a story about an app called Kick On (which allows users to find their nearest party) being described as ‘a parent’s worst nightmare’.
And yet, here, etched on Phillip Hughes’ father’s face, was the definitive proof that burying your own child is your worst nightmare. It was possibly the most heart-wrenching image of despair that I have ever seen.
I suspected the press would use this image on their front pages today. In the Courier Mail’s case, at least, I was right (I haven’t seen the other newspapers).
I’ve seen comments online criticising the outpouring of grief for Phillip Hughes – it reads along the lines of ‘yes, it’s sad, but you don’t know him. How can you cry about it?’ And this has got me thinking – why did I shed tears over the death of a young man I never knew?
I think it is a straightforward answer.
In part, it is because Phillip Hughes’ death was particularly shocking. Not just for the sheer incredulity that an object as innocuous as a cricket ball could instantly wipe out the life of a healthy young athlete. But because it was a death that happened on a cricket pitch, in a game that was caught on camera. We watched it happen. Yes, he was resuscitated on the pitch, but the reality is that he died on that pitch.
We don’t witness people dying very often – we may be witness to the final hours of a terminally ill relative, perhaps, but we rarely witness a death that happens so suddenly.
In the past I have heard from people who witnessed the comedian Tommy Cooper’s heart attack on stage in 1984. They say that they have never forgotten it. Social media now means that Phillip Hughes’ death has been widely viewed, and as such, will never be forgotten. It will serve as a constant reminder of the fragility of life.
Despite its absolute certainty, we don’t like to talk about death in our society. Its trauma goes unspoken, because it is a painful subject to broach. With Phillip Hughes’ death, we have not been able to look the other way. We have had to confront the trauma head on, which I think in part explains why we, as a nation, have been so affected by it.
The other reason I shed tears watching the funeral is pretty simple. Empathy. It’s human nature to be empathetic to others when you witness their suffering.
We know that the lives of Phillip Hughes’ family has been shattered in to a thousand pieces, and it will never feel whole again. To bear witness to his parents going through the one thing you dread the most is understandably upsetting to see.
I always remember a colleague telling me that his mother still set a place at the Christmas table for his brother, who had died a few years previously from an aggressive form of cancer. She set the place and always wept. When questioned as to why she did this when it continued to make her so upset, she replied that she wanted to do it. She wanted to feel the pain of her son no longer being there, because, if she could still feel the pain of missing him, it meant that he wasn’t gone completely.
As a mother of two boys, I know that losing one of them would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me. So it is for this reason that I shed tears for Phillip Hughes’ family, and all the other families where there is a child missing at the Christmas dinner table this year.