I was settling in for the evening one night not long ago. When I arrived home, my wife, Heidi, handed me a package. I opened it to find a book from a friend 5,000 miles away in Nottingham, UK. It was a book her son wrote in the form of a collection of blog entries in the wake of a heartbreaking diagnosis. Accompanying it was a hand written greeting:
Strange, isn’t it, how small the world has now become, but how it is still the universal things of love and loss that unite us?
I am pretty sure that our sons would have liked each other—they have so many shared traits. They left the world too early but changed the lives of those who carry on.
Ours can sometimes be an intolerable burden but it can be easier to bear sometimes when you come across a fellow traveler and stop to chew the fat for a while.
With very best wishes,
I opened the book to also find a dedication from her:
“In memory of two remarkable men and reaching out across the ocean in celebration of extraordinary lives.
With love and best wishes,
My friend, Kay Sudbury, is the mother of Adrian Sudbury, and his book is titled simply
Adrian was indeed a remarkable man and I’m told he was a brilliant journalist and fine writer who had the misfortune of contracting acute myeloid leukemia. In November 2006 the 25-year-old was promoted to digital journalist, effectively editing the new-look Examiner website.
Just two days into his new role he became seriously ill and called in sick. A week later he drove himself to an emergency medical facility. After his diagnosis it was identified that he actually had two distinct types of the disease at the same time. According to the medical literature he was the only person in the world to have this condition. As such, it was not possible to offer Adrian a prognosis, and he shared his experiences of the disease on his blog, he titled Baldy’s Blog.
I’ve never received news of such gravity for myself, and my imagination informs me that I would have probably focused my efforts on trying to survive. Full stop.
Adrian, instead, did something wonderful. In the spirit of Candace Lightner, Susan and Don Cox, Jeff Holst, and Kay Warren, Adrian Sudbury decided to use his talent as a journalist, to record his journey. In the process he educated his readership about leukemia and the challenges victims of the disease face.
His readership grew and eventually captured the attention of both Parliament and Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Through his efforts he raised awareness of the importance of stem cell research and donation, and bone marrow donation all three of which are key elements in raising the survival rate of this terrible disease and others like it.
Through the simple gift of his writing coupled with a determination to use his misfortune as a platform to bring medical technology to bear, he sought to be a beacon of hope to stem the tide of cancer.
My heart is broken when I consider the outcome of Adrian’s situation for, like Tim, Adrian did not survive—that he succumbed to a wicked strain of cancer on August 8, 2008 at age 27. No one should forfeit his or her life at such an early age, nor should any parent be burdened with such a loss. These events exist squarely in the realm of things that should not be.
And when a misfortune of this gravity does visit you, you are left with the question
Adrian’s parents, Keith and Kay, answered that question, deciding to save lives and hoping to spare others the pain of bereavement by continuing Adrian’s campaign. They developed a formalized educational program that included classes in the UK on blood, organ, and bone marrow transplantation.
They worked tirelessly with blood cancer charity, Anthony Nolan, to finally create Register & Be A Lifesaver. Because of their efforts 50 young people have donated, which means that 50 other people got a second chance at life. And each of those precious lives, have families, families who want nothing more than to experience yet another holiday, another birthday, another anniversary with their loved one.
And this is Adrian’s legacy and the legacy of his parents.
“We are often asked about Adrian’s wonderful legacy. We say we wish we didn’t have the legacy but some people want to go down the route of grieving parents, and we will always be grieving parents, but we do this because it is such a good idea.
We have been delighted by what has happened and I think Adrian would be very proud of what has happened in his name.”
“We say we wish we didn’t have the legacy…”
I wish that I were not telling my son’s story. I wish that he were alive to tell it himself. But when fate steps in and deals you a terrible hand, you owe it to the one you lost to raise awareness in her name, or prevent another drowning on his behalf, or provide a platform for curing a terrible disease in his honor, or to provide a safe place for the bereaved as her legacy, or just to simply tell his story in his absence.
We strive so hard for immortality in so many ways. Through our work, or our children, or those we come into contact with. So many of us feel the need to be remembered after we are gone. It’s as though we cannot abide the thought that we actually do come to an end and want our memory to live on in the lives of those we leave behind. And as it turns out, we do.
Someone once told me that a loved one does not end with cessation of his physical life; rather, it is transformed. That he lives on in our memories of him. In that sense my son is still very much alive in my heart and my mind. I go to bed with him every night and wake up with him every morning—and as I have told his story here he lives on in you. For you are reading his story as I am writing it.
And I thank you for that.