Two a.m., Wednesday, March 17, 1979: a deathly knock on our front door disturbed the sleeping, and divided lives into two parts. Before Paul and after Paul.

I was sixteen. Paul was two months past his seventeenth birthday. His driver’s license was two months old, as was his motorbike. My mother had bought it for him for his birthday, with justified reluctance. But he was persistent, and who could resist his charms.

Two policemen delivered the news. My mother responded by rocking back and forth frenetically like an autistic child. My younger brother and I watched on, in horror and disbelief, feeling heavy with fear and despair as if the roof had collapsed upon us; in many ways, it had.

We went outside and walked the length of our street, arms around each other, no tears or words. It seemed symbolic that the rain should fall as it did—a soft, gentle rain that seemed to be saying goodbye, and it cast a beautiful yet somber shroud under the light of the street lamps as we strolled past.

I wondered about Paul’s tall, lean frame splayed on the bitumen on that coasty road, alone, with a steel rail piercing his chest, and ours. I wondered if, as his spirit ascended, if he had stopped for just a second to glance back to see what he had done to us. And if he had stopped for that second, why didn’t he turn around?

Surely, he could see the anguish, and the broken lives scattered like autumn leaves, shriveled and colorless. A goodbye would have been nice, and perhaps an apology: “I’m sorry for what is to come, for the decades of unrelenting grief and regret. I’m sorry that lives will be destroyed because I am leaving you now. I’m sorry that the darkness of this morning will never pass, and that you will never forget to remember me, on birthdays and death days, when a motorbike passes, or whenever you see a dark blue t-shirt.”

And if Paul could have returned, just for a little while, to comfort John and assure him that he was not to blame—it was not their argument that had caused the crash, but an exploding tire. Maybe then, John, our eldest brother, would still be with us. Time will continue to force us onwards, and days will come and go, until we get to that place—where the brothers are.

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Leigh Cunningham

In March 1979, Leigh Cunningham's 17-year-old brother, Paul, was killed in a motorbike accident. Afterward, her family imploded, and Leigh's other brother, John, driven by the pain of his loss and guilt, embarked on a course of self-destruction. He succeeded a decade later at a point in his life when he had finally found peace and happiness. Leigh has written the book, The Glass Table, to help others who lose a sibling. Leigh is a lawyer by profession, but the majority of her career has been as a senior executive for various public companies in Australia. For five years while living in Melbourne, she was the CEO for the Institute of Arbitrators & Mediators Australia, holding a concurrent position as the Secretary-General of the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration. After leaving Melbourne for Sydney, she was the Executive Director for the Australian Institute of Project Management. For a short time after she arrived in Singapore in 2004, she was Director, Operations & Finance, Asia, for a business unit of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Her earlier years were with a law firm in her hometown of Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia. Married for 26 years, she lives in Singapore with her husband, Steve.

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