The last farewell

by Bill Ralston / 08 September, 2012
How to say goodbye to a brother?
Bill Ralston and his brother Jack in rugby team photo

Pardon me for being self-indulgent (again). Several weeks ago, my older brother Jack and his wife, Marg, popped into my place to explain the bad news. The blood disease he had been fighting so courageously for the past few years, through the horrors of chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant, had, after a couple of years of blessed remission, suddenly torn back into his system as acute myeloid leukaemia. His specialist told him he had only a matter of weeks or, at best, months to live and used that dreadful phrase “palliative care”. “I’d like you to emcee my funeral,” Jack said. “Emcee? The funeral? Of course, of course. Whatever you want,” I replied, bewildered and shocked by the task. It wasn’t like hosting a corporate function or a family wedding, but Jack, having spent a large part of his life in sports marketing, promotion and coaching, had a very definite idea of the style of occasion to mark his farewell. It did not involve vicars or churches.

At the risk of raising the ire (again) of our more clean-living readers who have taken to chastising me for often mentioning the demon drink in this column, I automatically stood and reached for a bottle of Aussie shiraz on the sideboard. “Well, we’d better have a wine.” I breathed deeply, more than a little in shock. “Oh, no thanks,” came the reply. “We’re doing Dry July.” Nothing better underlines the difference between us as brothers. Having started something, he was determined to finish it, even though I was sure the charity would forgive him for having a quiet one in view of the circumstances – and I told him so.

A few days later, he rang and said, “Yeah, bugger it. I’ve just opened a red.” “Have one for me.” So, it’s been a difficult week. He died peacefully in the gentle care of the haematology ward at Auckland Hospital, with his gorgeous family around him, late Sunday evening. I’d seen him earlier that night when his girls came into the room. He briefly roused to consciousness and said contentedly, “So, you’re gathering”, before lapsing back into ragged sleep. He knew what was coming and faced it bravely.

With me, it is less so. At the time of writing, I’ve yet to do my long funeral oration. Because Jack knew so many people, worked in so many sports, coached so many young athletes, we began to worry about how many might attend his farewell, so we hired the North Harbour Stadium’s ASB room, which can hold as many people as you care to throw at it. The location is fitting. He spent his life in sport. He used his remission to write a book about his career, called The Sports Insider, a precious legacy to his children, grandchildren and others he encountered in various roles – in athletics, triathlons, gymnastics, netball and the New Zealand Rugby Union. He coached countless young men and women, particularly in triathlons, and came into contact with thousands of people in the world of sports.

Preparing what to say at the funeral, I trawled the net and found people describing him with words like inspirational; true gentleman; legend; and mentor. Others used phrases like “always smiling” and “everyone who has met you is better for it”. In a few days from now I’ll emcee the celebration of his extraordinary life and hear more of those words and sentiments. The risk is I’ll end up a blubbering wreck, forever disgracing the family name and the stiff-upper-lip traditions of North Harbour rugby. The only way I’ll get through is by rerunning through my mind Jack’s exhortations from when I was a teenager and he used to coach me, entirely unsuccessfully, in athletics. “Dig deep. Push hard. Go through the wall. Ever forward.” Jack was 64.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


How empathy can make the world a worse place
71431 2017-04-24 00:00:00Z Social issues

How empathy can make the world a worse place

by Catherine Woulfe

Many of us think that high empathy makes you a good person, but giving in to this “gut wrench” can make the world worse, says a Yale psychologist.

Read more
For the Fallen: Remembering those lost to war
71473 2017-04-24 00:00:00Z History

For the Fallen: Remembering those lost to war

by Fiona Terry

Every day before sundown, a Last Post ceremony is held at the National War Memorial in Wellington, to remember those lost in World War I.

Read more
Film review: Ghost in the Shell
71490 2017-04-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Film review: Ghost in the Shell

by Russell Baillie

Nothing dates faster than a past idea of the future.

Read more
The rate of technological change is now exceeding our ability to adapt
71303 2017-04-24 00:00:00Z Technology

The rate of technological change is now exceeding …

by Peter Griffin

A decade on from the revolution of 2007, the pace and rate of change are exceeding our capacity to adapt to new technologies.

Read more
Government tests electric limo for Crown fleet
71520 2017-04-24 00:00:00Z Technology

Government tests electric limo for Crown fleet

by Benedict Collins

An electric-hybrid limousine is being put through its paces to see whether it's up to the job of transporting politicians and VIPs around the country.

Read more
What growing antibiotic resistance means for livestock and the environment
71360 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Social issues

What growing antibiotic resistance means for lives…

by Sally Blundell

Animals kept in close proximity, like battery chickens, are at risk of infectious disease outbreaks that require antibiotic use.

Read more
The little-known story of Ernest Rutherford's secret anti-submarine work in WWI
71418 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z History

The little-known story of Ernest Rutherford's secr…

by Frank Duffield

Famous for his work splitting the atom, Ernest Rutherford also distinguished himself in secret anti-submarine research that helped the Allies win WWI.

Read more
Book review: Larchfield by Polly Clark
71160 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Books

Book review: Larchfield by Polly Clark

by Nicholas Reid

Poet WH Auden stars in time-hurdling novel – as a life coach to a lonely mum.

Read more