ACT Government minister Chris Steel says he feels like death has been following him recently.
He spent a good portion of the past week walking through Canberra’s future burial site at Southern Memorial Park on Long Gully Road and discussing the ACT Government’s plan to build a public crematorium at Gungahlin Cemetery.
Last month, his 97-year-old grandmother died. The month before that, his partner’s mother died after battling with Multiple System Atrophy.
And five years ago, his younger brother Kurt never returned from his South American holiday.
“Kurt was a major figure in my life,” Mr Steel told the group gathered for Menslink’s Midweeker at Gryphons Caffe Bar. “We were not only brothers but best friends – he would have been my best man at my wedding.
“So when Kurt died it was the worst day of my life.”
Mr Steel described that morning as “one of those shiny Canberra spring Sunday mornings”. Turning over in bed, he saw that there were 10 missed calls and one message on his phone.
“There has been a bus accident. We can’t find Kurt,” the message read.
Kurt had decided to travel via a bus instead of a plane to La Paz, Bolivia, returning from the famous Salar de Uyuni salt flats. It was ultimately a fateful decision. The bus ran off the highway and rolled over.
“The call from the Australian Embassy came as I pulled into my parent’s driveway,” Mr Steel said. “Kurt’s abdomen was crushed and he died along with nine other people, including the driver. Kurt’s travelling partner, Gemma, was beside him and survived, pulled out hours later with broken bones all over her body.”
Mr Steel’ parents and sister jetted off to South America immediately to bring Kurt home, while he stayed back and made funeral arrangements, which he admitted was one of the toughest things he has ever had to do.
“They say that we don’t move on from grief,” Mr Steel told the group. “After the last sympathy cards roll on – everyone seems like they move on except the people grieving.
“But one of the great things has been that Kurt’s friends have been a regular presence. Every year on 30 August – the date of the accident – and on Kurt’s birthday on 22 September, we get together.
“I might not move on from my grief, but I am moving forward with all that I need: a supportive partner, connection with Kurt’s friends, a close-knit family, a community that cares and mental health services if we need them.”
While Mr Steel calls himself “fortunate” for having a supportive network around him that has enabled his resilience. He is all too aware of others who have not been so lucky.
“I am always mindful from the very beginning there are people who for various reasons don’t have those layers of connection and support – and who are facing challenges,” he shared. “I am also mindful of the role of community organisations like Menslink in supporting young men to build confidence and overcome challenges whatever they may be.”
You can learn more about Menslink and support their work here.
Menslink Midweekers are free events held every four weeks at Gryphons Caffe Bar on a Wednesday evening. Midweekers are open to every man, woman and young person interested in discussing issues affecting young guys in our community.
The next Midweeker will be held on 6 November, the guest speaker is Damon Smith, General Manager of Construction at Geocon.