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Out of this intense grief, there is something positive we can do

Even in this terrible moment, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens continues to look to the greater good. Ali Clarke honours the Stevens’ family’s wishes with a very personal story of her own.

Nov 23, 2023, updated Nov 23, 2023
South Australian Police Commissioner Grant Stevens with his son Charlie Stevens. Image supplied by SA Police

South Australian Police Commissioner Grant Stevens with his son Charlie Stevens. Image supplied by SA Police

This week hasn’t been a good one, not good at all.

I can’t remember feeling this collectively impotent in such a very, very long time.

Ever since the news broke of Charlie Stevens being struck down in an alleged hit and run at Schoolies, most of us have been trying to make sense of the united grief we have been feeling for a family most of us don’t know personally, and for a young man most of us have never met.

At times it has been confronting, as the shared relationship we’ve formed with Charlie’s dad, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens, has led us to feel an ownership of an anguish that is real, yet immeasurably distant from the overwhelming sorrow he and his loved ones are living right now.

As the leader who took care of us through COVID and as the person in charge of a police force protecting us from the known and unknown, Grant has become something of a father figure to our state: tough, no-nonsense, fair, a guardian.

The man’s entire working life of public service was – is – about keeping us safe.

Then, in the blink of an eye on a nondescript Friday night, his own family couldn’t be protected from the danger he’s sought to keep from all of us.

And that’s gutting and scary. We struggle to make sense of it; if a tragedy like this can happen to him and his family, then it can happen to any of us.

We have seen beyond the probabilities and statistics and we have seen the face and family of a victim clearer than most of us have ever had to, thankfully.

And even in the depths of what must be unimaginable fatigue and sadness, the Stevens’ family, and Grant himself, continue to look outside to us, continue to look for the greater good, when truly, at this moment, it must be so almost impossible to find.

His penned letter paying tribute to his boy – 101, the one hundred and first road victim of this year – reminds us of the boy behind the number, an antidote to a road toll that sometimes serves only to reduce lost lives to a brief news report, promptly forgotten by all, except those left behind.

But in all of this, it’s the Stevens’ family’s other wish – the hope to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation – that is something that I, at least, might be able to help with.

So, with much care and pained consideration, I would like to share part of a letter of my own.

This goes out not just to the Stevens’ family, but to all of the other families in this country whose utter heartbreak and devastation has meant someone else can live.

I know it’s not a simple equation where our family’s happiness will somehow cancel out your family’s sorrow.

For those that don’t know, my family is only what it is, because someone, somewhere, had the discussion the Stevens’ family is imploring us to have.

Someone’s passing, somewhere, meant my brother is now alive due to a donated organ. While processes rightly exist to respect the donor’s anonymity, we are allowed to write a letter to them in thanks – the smallest of gestures for the biggest of measures.

I will never meet you.

I will never know who you are.

All I know is that you were in a car accident at Easter and I’ve spent many hours wondering where you were driving to, where you were going.

I wish I knew who you were beyond just a blood type and tissue match.

I wish I knew what sort of person you were and how you fit into the world, but most importantly, I wish I could hold your family and simply say how sorry I am that you are gone.

We’ve been watching my brother go, little by little, for years.

First, there was the faint disquiet that something wasn’t right, and then the stress of endless tests and doctors.

That became full-blown fear when we were told he needed a kidney transplant.

It was some type of long-winded syndrome – rare we were told – but in my brother’s life it seems he’s got the arse end of rare often, as he lives with various intellectual and physical disabilities.

But gosh he’s funny. And even though he can’t show it in a textbook, Hallmark way, I know he’s kind.

He keeps trying every day to be understood and works hard at the work he can do.

He has a few friends but ignores the girls.

He loves to dance to Michael Jackson and John Farnham, or Johnny Fart as he likes to call him, laughing every time.

Every boy loves a fart joke right?

None of us were compatible and so, as we waited on ‘The List’, every single night my mum and dad would hook him up to a machine that would do what his body could not.

Every night, and then as he became more ill, every afternoon too, they would sterilise his body, the tubes, the machine, his room.

They lived their life around his schedule, never going away, having to be home where he was comfortable.

They had to change jobs and so did he as he got more and more tired and run down.

They never slept through the night again.

That went on for five years. Half a decade. 1,852 days.

And then we got the phone call that there had been an accident and you had passed away.

That moment was a chaotic jumble of thoughts.

Joy that there could be a future for him, fear at the operation he was about to go through and immense sorrow that your family was going through such unimaginable grief.

I know nothing I can say will take away that pain.

I know nothing can replace you, certainly not my brother.

I know it’s not a simple equation where our family’s happiness will somehow cancel out your family’s sorrow.

What I do know is how thankful I am.

Thankful to you for your selflessness and perhaps, pragmatism.

Thankful to you for talking to your family about what you wanted, so in the moments of intense grief, they at least knew what you wanted.

I’m just so very thankful that you existed in this world.

Some people would probably talk about there being a bigger picture, or faith or perhaps even religion or angels, but that’s not what this is for me.

This is your noble decision, nothing more, nothing less, that has meant my brother, my family, can get back to living, can go on living.

I owe you so much more than thanks and so, I give your family all of the love I can from a distance and perhaps, one day, they will be able to understand that whilst your beautiful life meant everything to them, it now means everything to us.

To repeat the wishes of the Stevens family: They would like to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation and encourage you to talk about organ and tissue donation with your family and friends.

Registering for organ donation is easy. Go to www.donatelife.gov.au

Ali Clarke presents the breakfast show on Mix 102.3. She is a regular columnist for InDaily.

 

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