35-170705-Hartley-Hawaii-ColourI did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel so I tried to touch
I told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah




Today is my big brother’s birthday. His 41st.

It has been awhile since I have been able to write about Strachan.

Last year I spent his birthday driving around the neighbourhood we grew up in and visiting his grave. I was 5 months pregnant and on a 10 day solo sojourn back home where I attended my 20 year high school reunion, spent quality time with old friends, said good bye to my parents’ home of 14 years and then ran among hundreds of friends in the 10th annual charity run in Strachan’s honour that raised $35,000 for some really amazing teens. I cried a lot. Maybe the most ever. I believe that we need to feel feelings wholly. Numbness becomes hollowness. Deep sorrow reflects deep love like a mirror and paves the path to healing. I let in all the feelings and cried so hard and so much that I eventually laughed at myself.

But I did not have the words to articulate anything meaningfully.

On July 5, the 10 -year anniversary of Strachan’s passing, we spent the day playing games on the beach in Maui with most of our extended family. Blythe had arranged for us all to be together in paradise for her wedding the next day. At sunset, we dressed in white and went down to the beach where we attempted to light and release lanterns. None of them worked in the end, so we waved them in the air instead.  Again, I cried with the now-familiar sadness that aches throughout yet feels surreal all at once.

Still, I had not consolidated my thoughts enough to say them out loud.

I still do not have anything remarkable to say. Linking Strachan to something messy and unfinished is practically blasphemy. Most of all, though, any honest reflection on Strachan ten years on has to reflect on the damage his death has caused. That is really hard.

When the doctor sat on his bed and told him they were out of options, Strachan was as stoic as you would expect. He had fear in his eyes but declared, “I may not have had a long life, but I kicked its ass”. When I collapsed onto his chest in a pile of tears, he hugged me and told me he loved me. It was not until we got my Dad on the phone to tell him the news that he broke down. Pushing the phone away he said, “I can handle dying. But I cannot handle seeing my Dad like that”.

At first, the shared loss was so tragic that it unified us. Our family grew in size and in strength. For many of us, you were our first and our biggest loss. It became a calling to do and be better. Not just through the Foundation, which has been an amazing tool to perpetuate your legacy and bring people together for good (for me more than anyone), but well beyond. In some ways the years that followed were some of our best. Upholding your legacy and soothing one another’s’ losses acted as glue that brought and bound people together.

That becomes harder with time. Not because we love you or miss you any less; nor because the need to do and be better has lessened. We don’t and it hasn’t. But the truth about loss is that it also tears us down. The ways in which we are better are in fact not commensurate with the ways in which we are worse. Tragedy is in fact tragic. It breaks us and steals pieces that cannot be replaced.

That is hard to admit under any circumstances but impossible to admit to you. Your best was always the best. Really. We lost you soon after you graduated from one of the top medical schools in the world. You literally spent your whole life among the cream of the crop. Not only were you the best, so was everyone around you. You had not yet been tossed into the throws of mediocrity inherent in the ‘real world’. You did not know laziness or deceit. When something bad happened, you hurt with the purity of a child. You had the privilege, talent and drive to be uncompromising and never deal with average. You threw a book through a window when you got a B in one high school class.

I wonder all the time what 41 year old Strachan would be like. In every sense – what you would look like, how many kids you would have, how our family would be if you were still here. I also wonder how life would have weathered and wizened you.

You would know now what you did not know then – that life is complex. That people can break in ways that cannot be repaired. That sometimes the best someone can do is put one fractured foot in front of the other and limp forward. That we often make the second or even the fifth best choice, because our personal best is not automatically equal to the very best. I believe that you would have compassion and would know by now that compromise, forgiveness and asking for help are not weaknesses, but the highest forms of strength.

I struggle to accept all of this myself. Nowadays, I find I mourn you alongside my own youthful idealism. You are intertwined in the fissures of my heart. I miss you both so much it hurts, often more than I am able to bear.

This is not to paint a bleak picture, not at all. We have so very much to celebrate, and we do. Still, it hurts to admit to you that losing you has in fact done what you feared – taken its rightful toll on the hearts of those who love you the most.

Happy Birthday Strachan Hartley. We miss you. In old ways and in new.  But our love for you remains the same. Perfect. Still. Always.

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