Each year, Ethan makes the visit to Xtrac, the engineering company where Mark worked before he died. Either I or his grandparents go with him. We’ll pick him up a bit early from school, drive across town to the factory and take our place at the front of the bank of chairs in the large hall. We sit amongst people who worked alongside Mark, who made up some of the standing-room-only congregation at his funeral, and who have watched this small boy grow from a babbling baby.
Ethan is introduced, and then Peter Digby, the company’s President, announces the winner of the annual Mark O’Brien award. This award goes to employees who have made a large contribution to the work of the company and it supports them through a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Ethan helps present the award on his father’s behalf and shakes the hand of the winner. He’s done this since he was 3 when he didn’t understand anything more than that he was going to see some friends, until this year, when Covid moved everything online and stopped us from attending. This year’s winner was Demian Wieland. Here he is with the award:
When someone young dies it feels sadder. This is not to belittle the grief of anyone who has lost someone older, but the loss of a younger person incorporates the loss of their potential, all the things they didn’t get the chance to do, the life that was never lived.
It is hard to find a way out of the deep sadness, and, when you do things to remember them, it is tempting to keep your focus on how terrible it is (which it is), and not look for a way to move forward taking your love for the person with you.
Mark’s death was an absolute tragedy. He was only just 32, and had a whole life filled with success and achievement and love and family ahead of him. It will never stop being sad, however many years ago it is, however different our lives look. We have all lost something fundamental: a son, a brother, a life partner, a father, a friend.
But I think it helps Ethan (and it definitely helps me) to focus on the good that has come out of Mark’s death. We factor in these moments to our year, celebrating his impact on the world in the short time he had. The Xtrac award is one of these things. 6 people have been able to improve their skills and career prospects because of Mark and the impact he had on those he worked with.
Ethan gets to see how highly his father was regarded, and how he was loved, in this place. He gets to talk to people about the job Mark had, and see what his work life would have been like. He sees how wide and deep his security net is – the people who care about him. For his first birthday without Mark, we were invited to the factory and he unwrapped a ride-in Ferrari, that the whole build team had worked on. They were so excited to give this little boy such a cool present! For Christmas Lamborghini (with who Mark worked on a project.) sent him a remote control car, and Mercedes (another client) sent him 2 beautiful books about the cars his Daddy had helped with. And every year we go to Thruxton for the British Touring Car Championships, something Mark would have loved watching with his son. They enable me to keep the petrolhead side of Mark alive for Ethan (without me actually having to know anything about cars!).
They also help us to celebrate Mark. Celebration of the person you’ve lost is so important. Being able to enjoy the things they loved, and laugh at circumstances which remind you of them. For me, being able to look at Ethan, see the echoes of Mark in his face and manner, and smile over and above the tinge of sadness allows me to enjoy my son without constantly pitying him for what he has lost.
Because (even in the midst of his 8-year-old-boy-ness) he is pretty damn awesome.