This photo shows the singer- songwriter Frank Turner after one of his concerts, giving my youngest son Stef a big hug. Stef has just told him that he has lost his brother to suicide, and that Anton had been a big fan of his.
Frank Turner didn't hesitate.
Despite never having met him before, he reached out and enveloped a tearful Stef in his warm and caring embrace.
One human being to another.
An act of love for his fellow man.
Thank you, Frank.
When we were planning the music for Anton's funeral in January 2020, Stef went through Anton's playlists and discovered a lot of Frank Turner tracks. One of them was Be More Kind. We had never heard it before but when he played it to us we all warmed to it immediately and agreed that it should be played at the funeral service. It spoke to us of Anton - his gentle kindness, his generosity, his desire to help others. It also seemed to echo some of the confusions and despair about the world that he might have felt before he died. Many people at the funeral asked about the track and told me they looked it up afterwards. Its impossible to argue with its simple, yet profound sentiment.
The song has of course stayed with me, but until now I had been unable to listen to it. So to write this post I have played it, and yes, it did bring me into a hollowed place, tearful, fearful and dark. But I managed to listen to it all the way through. I am still here; still writing.
Influenced in part by the song, sometime during the first year of loss I made the decision that Anton's legacy should be kindness. For the remainder of my life, I determined that I would hold these words in my mind and that I would try to be more kind, to anyone and everyone I meet. So I try to do little acts of kindness. It might just be taking time out to check in with friends and family, shopping for my neighbour, volunteering at the refugee drop-in, or just a friendly smile to a passer-by. Yes, I know, I'm a psychotherapist; its my actual job to be kind! But I now have a renewed determination to think of Anton every day as I find little ways of using kindness in his name. I give him a little nod and imagine him smiling at me, and saying "I love you, Mama", and I feel the connection to him.
Many years ago my Mum told me a story about a time in the 1960s when she found herself desperately poor. My father had lost his job again, and at one point she quite literally had no money to feed her four young children. On this particular day, she had a call from one of the other mums at school with whom she had become friendly. As they chatted, the woman sensed there was something wrong, and eventually Mum confided in her about the situation. She knew that her friend was also far from well off, and they were able to comfort one another a little about the difficulties they shared.
Later that afternoon, there was a knock at the door, and when Mum opened it she found her friend standing there with a carrier bag full of food, which she shyly handed to Mum. She had been to the local shop and bought as much food as she could for £1*, and then caught the bus from the other side of town to deliver it. My Mum was so touched at this human act of kindness, she never forgot it. She had a hard life in the main, and she had very little to share, but she was always very kind to others, constantly helping those less fortunate than herself, being kind in her dealings with others at work, giving small and large gifts of kindness every day. And she would often tell me that the best way to cheer yourself up is to do something for somebody else.
Because as we all know, one of the most wonderful things about being kind to someone, is that its not only the other person who benefits.
Something amazing happens to us too.
We feel a little better because we've been a little kind.
Dr David Hamilton is an Organic Chemist who used to work in the pharmaceutical industry researching and developing drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer. During drug trials he became very curious about the placebo effect, and the seemingly immense possibilities inherent in the idea that improvements in health could be made without any active medical intervention. He found it incredible that this phenomenon wasn't talked about more often, but in fact had always been widely believed to be "all in the mind" and thus dismissed as unimportant. He became interested in the idea that when someone's health improved after a placebo, this improvement may actually have been caused by changes in the brain. He doesn't limit 'placebo' to mean a pill with no active ingredients either, but includes the things we all know help us: hugs, empathy, a plaster on a child's hurt knee.
Dr Hamilton's interest and the discoveries he made eventually led him to leave his job in the pharmaceutical industry to spread the word by speaking, writing several books and a blog that encourage people to exploit the power in their own minds and bodies and thereby improve their own health. One of the ways we can do this is by being kind, the act of which according to Dr Hamilton has 5 amazing positive side-effects.
Kindness: 1. Makes us happier
2. Is good for our hearts
3. Slows aging
4. Improves relationships
5. Is contagious
And I would add yet another important one to the list. Being kind brings us an emotional connection to others, together with a shared sense of our common humanity. We are all here on this Earth, stumbling around, finding ways of working through whatever challenges, big and small, that life throws at us. Everyone hurts at times, everyone struggles with problems, everyone grieves for those they have lost. Thanks to the kindness and sharing of other bereaved parents in The Compassionate Friends (TCF) I have learned that losing a child may be the most painful, terrible experience of my life, but that I can survive it, and learn to live alongside the pain. Thanks to the wisdom of others who have trodden this path before me, I have been able to find ways of growing a garden of hope around the edges of the black hole.
Thank you to all the kind and compassionate people out there, finding time to give to those who need it.
* I looked it up - £1 in 1965 adjusted for inflation is roughly £18 in today's money