It has been a rough week for me, along with many of my fellow Australians. Last week a young man in the prime of his life was killed on a cricket field in a freak accident, when he was struck by a ball and suffered a catastrophic brain haemorrhage. The nation watched and waited and prayed while he lay in hospital and on Thursday we heard the news we had feared the most. His life support was turned off and he died, a few days short of his 26th birthday.
His name was Phillip Hughes. I never met him but I have followed his career with interest since he burst on the scene as a huge cricketing talent at 18 years of age. My emotional response to his death has been profound and unexpected. Of course it is immensely sad, he was so young, on the brink of achieving all his dreams, and died doing something that is not supposed to be dangerous. But I am not alone in my grief, by any means. Phillip’s death has been keenly felt all over the nation, and across the globe. The Queen of England sent a personal message. Elton John dedicated a song to Phillip during a concert in Berlin. Sporting teams of all codes have paid emotional tributes before their games. His team-mates have been inconsolable. Flags are flying at half mast all over Australia, and his funeral was televised nationwide and streamed online all over the world. The only thing I can compare it to in scale was the overwhelming reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Perhaps this quote sums it up well (from an online comment) “Worldwide grief for the good guy, the ordinary person (like the one in the mirror) – doing his best and enjoying sport and a family we want to spend some time with, enjoy their natural warmth and good country values.”
One of the most simple yet moving tributes has been a campaign known as “Put out your bats”. A fan posted a photo of a small memorial he had set up in his home, a simple cricket bat to remember Phil. He encouraged others to follow suit with the hashtag #putoutyourbat and it has taken off like wildfire. All over the country and the world people have put their bats out, and shared photos of their personal memorials. The Prime Minister put out his bat at the official residence. Hugh Jackman put out his bat before his Broadway show. Even Google put out a bat on the Google Australia home page.
When we lose someone we care about, one of the first things we do is dig out the photo albums. As a public figure there are many photos of Phillip, with his trademark cheeky grin. Social media is full of photos, posted by friends, team-mates, journalists and fans. Photos trigger happy memories and bring a smile to our faces through the tears. As a scrapbooker, whether it is photos of the time you met Phil Hughes or watched him play, professional photos of his cricket career, or Instagram shots of your #putoutyourbat, the emphasis on photos is a humbling reminder of the importance of what we do. Preserving photos, telling the stories behind the photos, and making sure they don’t get lost in cyberspace is a labour of love, and possibly something we often don’t value highly enough.
A journalist summed up how many of us have felt this week – he used the phrase “ambushed by tears”, which is exactly how it is. The tears well up at the slightest provocation, sometimes when you least expect them. The level of grief personally and nationally is surprising, and on a scale I have never witnessed before. People die every day, often in tragic circumstances, but the outpouring of genuine emotion over Phillip Hughes’ death is hard to explain. One of life’s only absolute certainties is the inevitability of death, and yet it continually catches us by surprise. We live in expectation that we will have more time, that tomorrow will come, and tragedies like this are a stark reminder of not just the reality of death but the unpredictability of its timing.
So hug your families, cherish your loved ones, make that phone call you have been putting off, let go of anger and resentment, live your life. And do something with your photos!!
This page displays photos taken by my son Rob when he met Phil Hughes and his mother Virginia early in his career.
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