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Life & loss

The recent passing of two old friends has Richard O’Leary reflecting on the lottery of life.

The lottery of life seems such a glib way to refer to our brief existence on this planet, but that phrase can seem terribly appropriate at times.

And by lottery I don’t mean one of those big jackpots you get in the United States either; more like when a random draw of a conscription ball has your number on it and you’re off to a war you don’t believe your country should be fighting.

In the past few weeks I’ve lost two friends. Neither of them were my best mates, but they were close enough for me to feel the loss, and strip me of the invincibility that cloaked me as a younger man.

Now I could say, what are the odds? But the reality is when you’re 45, time starts to catch up with you and the people you grew up with, and others you have met along the way to middle age.

The first friend was killed in a cycling accident. He too was 45. A dentist, married with four kids. The newspaper report said he was a well-respected member of his country New South Wales town.

The truth is we hadn’t spoken in years; not through any design – we’d just drifted away after year 12. I would watch his life through Facebook, as I’m sure he did mine. But it’s not the same as a handshake or a chat.

I found out about my other friend after a story popped up about his death while I was scanning The Sydney Morning Herald. He’d died through complications from alcoholism. The last time I’d seen him was after he’d rung me to take him to hospital. He was in a very bad way.

That was a year or two ago now. We’d spoken a couple of times on the phone.

It always seemed he was getting worse, not better.

These friends are just two of the people who make up the statistics we read about. Around 40 cyclists die on our roads each year. Fifteen Australians die each day from alcohol-related illnesses. My friends are no different from the others, except I happened to know them.

But this lottery of life does deliver a few wins as well. A friend has just married, my niece has become engaged and my boss has given birth to a beautiful baby girl.

Numbers keep falling. Cogs keep turning. Life keeps going.



Richard O’Leary is a journalist, a political advisor and a father who knows there’s a deeper meaning to life but struggles to find it.

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