top of page

When Someone Dies

When someone dies, especially a young person, it is entirely to be expected that there will be an outpouring of emotion, and heartfelt words expressed about their character, and the tragedy of their premature passing. And of course, as should also be the case at such a time, what we hear of the person who has been lost are all of the positive aspects of their personality, and all their greatest achievements.

But even that expectation and understanding could not have prepared us for the (very welcome) deluge of tributes that we received in the days and weeks following Ben’s death, and the celebration of his life.

It meant so much to us during this extremely challenging time to read the messages sent, and posted, by those who knew him best. Ben’s many close friends, male and female alike, most of whom we already knew well, and admired, distinguished themselves by composing beautifully moving tributes like those below ‑ led off by Laura, Ben’s girlfriend of five years:

“February 10th, 2014: A nervous 16 year old boy asked my brace face to be his girlfriend. And so our journey began ... As we navigated the next few years together, I very quickly learned that you were something extraordinary. Not only were you gorgeous but you showed selflessness like no other. You were so bright, but humble and unassuming at the same time. You always put the most effort possible into anything you did, including loving me. Thank you for proving to me that pure and genuine love does exist. Thank you for loving me with your whole heart every single day and for being so damn good at it. We were all so lucky to have had you. I love you and I miss you, you cheeky thing”

“It was an absolute pleasure getting to grow up with you over the years into a great guy. You could light up any room you walked into, bringing laughter, happiness and positivity everywhere you went”

“It’s so hard to describe how much of a beautiful, kind-hearted and caring person this man was. I’m so grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend with you, and I’m never going to forget that. I love you so much mate – you’re going to be inside everyone’s hearts forever”

“Ben was my role model for as long as I can remember, and it was such a privilege to have him as a best friend”

“The most loving, selfless guy, with a pure heart of gold. Your infectious energy, cheeky charm and exceptional dance moves will continue to light up our lives every single day. I was blessed to have you in my life”

“No amount of pictures or words can truly describe how much every single one of us loved Ben. He had a heart of gold, and always gave 100% in everything he did. Benny could light up any room with a funny dance move, or even just a smile”

To the beautiful man who could light up a room with nothing but his presence; to the man who could put a smile on anyone’s face regardless of the situation. I hate that you’ve left us so soon, but I can be nothing but grateful for the time and love that you blessed us all with. It’s impossible to put into words how much you will be missed”

“To see such a genuine human leave us so soon is heartbreaking. I could never ask for a more loyal and caring friend, who was always willing to put the needs of others ahead of his own. It was truly a privilege to see the man that you became”

“We have lost one of the most genuine people I've ever known; someone who was funny but always caring, smart but always humble, strong but never afraid to be vulnerable”

“Forever grateful to be able to call you my best mate, brother and family. This man was the most beautiful, loyal friend a bloke could ever ask for”

There were also a number of Ben’s contemporaries who emphasised his ability to make people who might otherwise have felt excluded from “the group” feel as if they were part of it; mainly by the way he radiated a contagiously confident and inclusive energy. One such (male) friend went on to describe some more of what he regarded as Ben’s most important qualities – namely, his fearlessness in showing emotion to those he cared about, and his willingness to accept and embrace the differences, and the distinctive uniqueness in those around him.

Another (female) friend wrote:

“Ben was the kind of person that made extra effort with everyone; he wanted to know everyone individually, and most importantly he was always there for us girls. I remember specifically one night a couple of years ago I had been really upset by something that had happened. Ben noticed, and without hesitation came up and gave me a big hug, and told me it would all be OK. It was such a simple gesture that, I’m sure he didn’t realise at the time, meant so much to me. He really cared, and I knew right then and there that I had a true friend in Ben”

What we didn’t, and couldn’t have anticipated was that we would also receive messages from people we did not know at all, or had rarely met, and that they would tell us things about Ben we would never otherwise have become aware of.

Like Ben’s tutoring student, who shared with us that:

“Ben was such a light in my life, and I am so grateful I was able to be a part of his. He was genuinely one of the best people I knew, even though he was only my tutor. He was responsible for making me enjoy maths at school. He was so intelligent and such an inspiration to me. I was in awe every time he would explain to me what he was doing in university. Ben was truly a role model and I am so grateful to have known him”

Or the young men from Ben’s school who were not part of his core group of friends, but who had been significantly influenced by him nevertheless:

I remember when I first came to Epping Boys in year 10 and had a few chats with Ben. He was a fantastic role model who I talked to whenever I struggled at school. He showed me around and completely understood my situations. I am completely lost for words that his life has been cut so short. A very wonderful loyal human”

“Even though I spoke with Ben almost every weekday for four years, the admiration that I felt for him never faded. He was a great student, but an even greater friend”

“Ben was a beautiful soul that took the time necessary to engage with people. He was the ringleader who united our year group when he organised the Year 10 Formal, and the effort he made to unify us was undoubtedly why he was appointed Vice Captain of the School”

These assessments of Ben, the student, were endorsed by one of his English teachers, who wrote:

“Everything he did made people feel included, and he seemed to want the best for all those in his year group. I believe Ben’s legacy can still be seen in the ways future years have operated. There is more fun, more joy in the way student leaders reach out to the school as a whole. The outpouring of grief and love for him across several yeargroups is a testament to his outreach. No-one could help but be influenced by his joie-de-vivre and his wide involvement in activities. Ben’s death can never diminish the achievements in his life, and he will never be forgotten by us here at Epping Boys”

Another teacher was just as effusive in her praise:

“Words cannot express what a wonderful human being Ben was. I, like everyone, am a better person for having known Ben, and definitely a better teacher. Whilst he and his friends challenged me, I never left our lesson without a smile. The charisma, wit, cheekiness and, most importantly, the intelligence that Ben possessed has left an eternal mark on my life and teaching career. The chats we had, the jokes we cracked will always be some of my fondest memories. I say with great joy, he challenged everything I thought I knew about teaching boys. He was an exceptional human being, and is a true example of what all young men should aspire to be”

You can also readily imagine how much it meant to us to receive a personal letter from the previous Principal of Ben’s school; someone who had not, so far as we are aware, had any contact with Ben since retiring from EBHS more than six years prior to Ben’s death. Peter spoke in glowing terms about how well-rounded a student Ben had been, and how much of a leader and role model he was amongst his peers.

Another EBHS student we had never met wrote us probably the longest letter we received from anyone following Ben’s death. In it he went into detail about how Ben had helped him deal with the mental health issues he was facing throughout years 11 and 12 ‑ even though they came from completely different cultural backgrounds, and the groups they hung out with at school had little in common. The way this student described it, Ben could sense when he was at his lowest point, and it was on these days that Ben would deliver the light‑hearted comment, or the physical act of friendship, that he needed to keep moving forward. The young man summed up his feelings for Ben in this way:

“Ben had a special gift of knowing what to do and say, and over the course of two years he, in my eyes, grew to be the brother I never had”

A similarly moving tribute was forwarded to us by a fellow student at Macquarie University ‑ who told us she had been suffering from severe anxiety, and an ongoing eating disorder, as a result of a sexual assault, and continued to blame herself for her role in that event. Ben was the only person, she told us in her letter written following his death, who had ever guessed the truth. And it was Ben who had made her believe and accept that nothing that had happened was her fault, and that she was strong enough to overcome her demons.

A player from Ben’s under age soccer team, who we had not seen for three years before Ben’s death, shared this insight:

“Your son was such an inspiration to me, and was the most amazing captain I could ever have asked for. He really was a brother to me. Although we didn’t see each other as regularly after I left Panthers, he really shaped the man I am today. While it is such a tragedy, your son was able to touch so many lives including mine ‑ you should be so proud”

Whilst a young lady from Ben’s junior soccer days, who we had not seen for five years or so, took the time to tell us:

Ben was an amazing man. He always made me feel comfortable being the only girl growing up in an all boys team. I think of him every time I step out onto a soccer field now; Ben’s in my heart”

Another young woman wrote about her memories of Ben dating back almost ten years; important memories that had remained with her throughout that intervening period:

“Ben and I went to primary school together. I just wanted to give you my condolences. Although Ben and I weren’t close since primary school, Ben was always lovely to be around, and was one of the only kids to stand up for me against bullies”

And it also became clear to us that Ben’s influence was not confined to young people and/or those who had met him at school, or on a sporting field. The mother of one of Ben’s mates, who we did not know, shared with us the story of Ben taking time out from a 21st birthday party to chat with her 92-year old mother, who was then suffering from the early stages of dementia.

And the parents of one of Ben’s female friends told us we “should be proud to have raised such a loving, intelligent, capable young man, who was a real leader amongst his friends and community”

Rest assured, we could not be prouder. And we are so grateful for the efforts made by so many to share their memories and anecdotes of Ben with us at the most difficult period of our lives.

One other story in particular – shared separately with Linda and I, but directly by its source ‑ will live with us as long as any. It emanated from one of Ben’s longstanding mates, and went along these lines:

This particular friend of Ben’s – we’ll call him Sean, though that is not his real name – confessed to us that when he was a teenager he attended a party at the house of another young man, Jarrad (also a pseudonym), who Sean didn’t know very well. During the course of the evening Sean decided he was going to make a gift to himself of a fancy pair of runners he had stumbled across at Jarrad’s house. Whether this act arose as a result of the influence of drink or drugs, a dare from a mate, from having taken a disliking to the host, or some other less obvious explanation, we are not quite sure. What we do know is that it does not sit at all comfortably alongside our own experience of, and interactions with Sean over many years.

In any event, not long after returning home with his ill-gotten booty Sean was overcome with an attack of conscience. I choose to believe this was genuine self-induced remorse on his part, which preceded the receipt of a text message from Jarrad demanding the immediate return of his property ‑ but it goes without saying that only Sean himself knows the truth about that sequence of events. The bottom line is that within a very short time of having acquired them, Sean reached the conclusion that he had no realistic option but to restore the shoes to their rightful owner.

But the text message from Jarrad having been laden with violent innuendo, Sean was pretty sure some back-up would be warranted if and when an arrangement for their return could be negotiated. “No worries” he thought. “The lads will have my back on this”.

Apparently not. After pleading his case to the group the next day, Sean was overwhelmed, not by a chorus of support, but rather by the sound of crickets. Indeed the response was so lukewarm it had Sean wondering whether his plan for redemption might founder before it had even begun.

Only just then, as the group was breaking up, one of the assembled number tapped him on the shoulder and announced, “I’ll come with you mate. You need to take them back”. Sean was a good enough friend to make sure his buddy knew what he was getting himself in for. “We might end up getting our heads punched in you know. This guy’s pretty bloody angry about what’s happened”. The response Sean received to his warning was an all too familiar one to those who knew Ben during the last few years of his life. “It’ll be fine mate. Trust me”.

Ben was not at any time during his 21 years, so far as I am aware, a pugilist of any renown. And he certainly didn’t fit the accepted mould of hired muscle. But what he did have was a strong belief that if your heart is in the right place, things will work out just fine.

And so, according to Sean, they did.

Within a day or two of agreeing to do so, Ben drove with Sean to Jarrad’s house at the appointed time, and accompanied his friend to the front door. And far from there being any hostile physical altercation, or even harsh words exchanged, the transaction was conducted, under Ben’s oversight as mediator, in a sufficiently peaceful manner that, at its conclusion, all parties separated on amicable terms. An outcome that, it must be said, reflects great credit on Jarrad; willing to let bygones be bygones even though he had clearly been wronged.

And upon Ben, demonstrating the sort of proactive loyalty we might all reasonably aspire to.

But surely credit is due in large measure to Sean too. And not just for having realised the error of his ways so quickly, and having then done what was necessary to correct the error. But for having the courage to share his story with us – despite knowing full well that the telling of it would paint him in a less than favourable light. That is to say, having imagined and understood what it would mean to us to hear about Ben’s unflinching act of friendship, he was willing to risk our disapproval in order to communicate that to us.

If Sean was concerned about what we might think of him after hearing his story, he need not have been. Hopefully he remains assured that our gratitude far far outweighs any other emotion, and that he remains a person whose friendship we continue to value, as Ben clearly did.

And, most importantly from our point of view, in sharing his tale Sean has contributed yet another crucial piece to the jigsaw puzzle of Ben’s life that all of us who knew and love him continue to construct in his honour on every rainy day that passes without him around.


bottom of page