once upon a time someone felt your loneliness. find ancestors. become their living memorial. — Alok Vaid-Menon
Before I left for Montréal, Jack was insistent that I visit him. He’d been crook for a couple of years, by then, suffering neurological episodes and ongoing problems with his memory and balance. When I visited, he was in good spirits, hopeful that a recovery was on the cards. He felt that Vitamin B12 deficiency was the most likely explanation for his condition, and I think he saw that as easily reversible. Whenever we spoke, I emphasised that you can learn to live a meaningful and happy life with brain injury. And he was, last we spoke, finally beginning to understand his time working for the Kirby Institute in the past tense, with sadness rather than an ongoing sense of injury.
On Jan 8th, 2019, I woke in the silence of a heavy snow day to a message saying Jack had died after a heavy fall, at home, with his beloved terrier Copa by his side.
For a few months after that, I was numb. I wanted to write about Jack. I was also resisting that with all my might. When I write, I tend to lose the living memory of the subject matter, instead remembering the words I wrote, which are inevitably inadequate. When writing about trauma, that’s helpful. For grief, it can feel like losing a loved one all over again.
And Jack was a loved one. I call him my gay uncle, a member of my queer family. When I first met Jack, he was the quiet, polite research assistant of a social researcher I knew. Which is to say, I hadn’t really met Jack at all, yet. Around 2008, everyone in the HIV sector simultaneously joined Facebook and friended each other. Jack took to Facey like a duck to water, using frequent status updates to tell stories and spark up conversations that could pivot in a second from ribald to reflective and back again. He shared soulful pics of Copa, his constant companion, and near daily #JMOGs, ‘moments of gratitude’ that often featured the sun setting over his balcony, hammock and frangipanis. Alongside Copa, and his work at the Kirby Institute, Jack’s great loves were his friend and former colleague Brigette, and her son Aiden – and he delighted in their adventures together to Uluru and Italy.
Back to the uncle bit. When I moved to Sydney in 2017 for PhD fieldwork, shit went sideways, I barely knew anyone in Sydney, and Jack was there for me. But he’d been there for years before that: when I was living with treatment-resistant depression and social anxiety, Jack was there on Facebook, always willing to have a chat. It’s always been pretty clear that, if I’m not on the spectrum, I live near the on-ramps, and he never, ever took any notice of that. Being loved for who you are is a life-sustaining gift.
I will remember two things about Jack. His politeness, and his fierceness. He was proud that he never blocked anyone on Facebook, never made his posts private, always tackled disagreement with implacably stubborn Southern politeness. And the fierceness with which he loved life, a drink, a joke, a sexy bloke, his work, his adopted family and his friends. Even as his memory and his balance got a bit wobbly, nothing could change that about him. I miss him every day.