All that you were to us

Keith Saunders
Keith Saunders

They are the everyday Australians who never appeared on the front page of the nation’s newspapers, but whose deaths have defined 2014 for those who loved them.

ABC Open is inviting Australians to “remember and pay tribute the people in our lives who died in 2014” as part of a new project, In Memory Of.

Inspired by the New York Times Magazine project The Lives They Lived, a selection of stories will be collated into an interactive timeline to reflect on the year that was.

Tributes need not capture achievements but favourite moments, such as Dr Derek’s tale of the day he discovered his seemingly bullet-proof uncle’s Achilles heel.

“I have never seen such fear in a grown man’s eyes until that day. I still laugh reminiscing as a 10-year-old boy chasing a grown man with a frog.”

In mourning the loss of his uncle to aggressive throat cancer, Dr Derek reflects on his career in medicine. “I wanted to make a difference for my people, to close the gap between indigenous mortality rates and suffering but I can’t even save the ones I love, the ones that I have an influence on, in their every-day life.”

Joel Rheinberger sums up his father, Jack, as “a loving husband, proud father, respected businessman, fearless fireman, staunch Catholic, generous friend, and hammy actor”.

“When he was in hospital and the end was near, he maintained his good spirits by singing show tunes. The ICU is normally a pretty quiet and serious place, but not with Jack belting out: ‘Oooooooooklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain’!”

Other stories chronicle those who came into the world in other countries before making their way to Australia.

Contributor Annie wrote of Patricia Delahay, who was born in England in 1922 before migrating to Australia and “a house standing in bare dirt”.

“Patricia’s life was full of change, the war, leaving family, setting up a new life in a different country, she experienced happiness and sadness,” Annie wrote.

Many of the tributes honour the values of a generation. Persistence. Courage. Sacrifice.

Contributor Marija Popovic shared memories of her father, Antun.

“My dad spent a lifetime loving his family and migrated to Australia in the 1970s to give us a better life. He worked hard for us all to value and enjoy life.”

In closing, she paid him a simple but powerful compliment: “I respect your life and all that you were to your last day with us.”

The photos accompanying each contribution show beach holidays and backflips, weddings and wagers.

Some are stories that have no doubt been told around the kitchen table with every passing year.

“Once she was persuaded by Harry to let him shoot a can out of her outstretched hand with his .22 rifle,” wrote contributor Norma Wainwright.

Several heartbreaking entries tell of the loss of babies and toddlers.

“2014 was supposed to be the best year of our lives,” writes WA woman Shannon Cook.

Instead, her son Lincoln was stillborn in August.

“The innocence of pregnancy is now lost, and part of us died that day with our son.”

It is a sentiment likely shared by Jessica Robar after the death of her son, Jameson Sayers.

“I sent my son’s birthday invitations out one day before he died. People were getting the news of the tragedy the same day they were receiving invitations in their letterbox for his first birthday,” she writes.

ABC Open’s Jane Saunders penned a tribute to her late father, Keith, a parishioner of St Charles Borromeo, Ryde, and a lifelong fan of horse racing.

“For as long as I can remember the Saturday soundtrack at our family home was the call of the horse racing. The house was filled by it and there was Dad at the table ready for his day,” Jane writes.

“If he was out, there was always a black transistor radio in his shirt pocket. Randwick. Moonee Valley. Rosehill. Flemington. He never missed a call.

“He had a ‘system’ and a TAB account. In his back pocket, the form guide was folded into eight. The prospects for each race were circled and the winners noted in the margin.

“Years later, boasting of a significant win, I was scolded for having bet too much. But, what did he expect? I am his daughter.”

Jane was inspired to write the epitaph on 4 November, “the first Melbourne Cup without him”.

“It is just a beautiful way to acknowledge everyday Australians,” she told The Catholic Weekly.

“Often when we see end of year memorials it’s often of more public figures, so it’s lovely to have a place online where we can publicly honour the people close to us.”

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