By Susie Itzstein

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
Marcus Aurelius

My brother Malcolm (shown above), two and a half years younger than me at fifty-nine, died June 23, 2012 at 5:00 am. This is a brother who kept very much to himself—a very private man. Who learned to protect by staying silent; who learned to stay safe by disappearing inside—by being very selective and opening his heart to the few he gave “the password.” I give thanks for and honor his life, for the paths he has walked and the choices he’s made. For the life he chose, this man who was a brother, son, cousin, husband, son-in-law, father, father-in-law, stepfather, uncle, grandfather, friend, mate, work colleague, neighbor, and so much more.

I wanted to share how I am doing. I have felt everyone’s support and love. I am grate-full for all the caring and kind prayers and blessings.

Right now, these are the words that are in me:

Where did you go?
Where are you now?
What’s it all about?
Why are we here?
Questions with no answers.
Thoughts with no response.
I’m sitting here pondering,
sitting here wondering.
I just don’t get how you can be so alive,
be breathing, be flesh, be soft, be warm,
then so dead, so silent, so un-alive.
So deadly still, so hard, so cold,
like a statue, so lifeless, so un-moving.
Yet, I wonder how can this stillness, this quietness
roar so loud?
I can’t make meaning of it, of you being dead.
I can’t make meaning of us being alive.
I can’t make meaning of who is now lying in the bed.
I can’t make meaning of me trying to decide.

No amount of teaching and messages wake us up like personal experience.

I was sitting with Malcolm late the night before he died. He was sedated and unconscious, laboring with each breath; we were told there would not be many more until it would be his last breath. I was thinking about recently reading of a tribe that the pregnant women go out and listen for the song of their unborn child, which they then go back and teach to the tribe. This song is then sung at the child’s birth, marriage, and all other significant times in the person’s life up until the time it is sung when they are dying. I reflected on what would be Malcolm’s song. What came to me was “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, which I sang to him over and over and now remember him by. I love the idea of people being sung to as they die.

My lesson to you is to wake up before you get a wake-up call.

Malcolm as a Child

Malcolm as a Boy, Son, Brother

Malcolm as a Young Man

Malcolm as a Man

Malcolm as a Father

Malcolm as a Grandfather (a.k.a. Poppy)


The words below are part of a poem I wrote back in 2001, twenty-two months after the death of my partner Russ and seven months into my new (and lasting) relationship with Shelton.

Asking myself a thousand times
Why did he have to die?
Why do we all have to die?
Why do good things have to end?
How can I love so deeply
without breaking my heart?
Is it possible, or is it just being human,
being delicate and fragile and tender?
I wish I had answers,
could help us to understand.
Yet all I keep coming to is to love
more deeply, more sweetly, more truly
not wasting a moment finding
more ways to offer your heart,
more ways to open your soul.
Let’s walk the tightrope of living and dying
experiencing the deep loving and losing.
Perhaps in embracing full living and loving
we’ll give new meaning to
all of our Beloveds who’ve died.

These are the wonderings and ponderings, with LOVE from a perplexed and questioning and inquiring and “thrown” Susie, who is also feeling peace-full. I would love for you to share yours too. 

Susie Itzstein is the co-director of the Institute for Relationship Development and Imago Matters and is a psychotherapist and educator with a private practice in Perth, Western Australia. With extensive training and experience in relationship matters, Susie is passionate about teaching “Happily ever after does happen!—Relationships are easy if you know how!” She believes healthy relationships are the foundation of a healthy society and EVERYONE needs Relationship Education to create the LOVE and life they want.