After the recent passing of self-professed “Mayor of Salamanca” and all-round nice guy Hugh Burridge, I felt a sadness deep within that I hadn’t felt for a very long time.
As I navigated through these rising emotions, I was overwhelmed with the sense of unfairness that another young life was cut short.
But what I soon learnt is that while grief and loss are things I fear, a life lived must be celebrated. Because what Hugh taught us, is that every day we have the opportunity to leave a mark.
My engagement with Hugh was roughly two or three times a week, bumping into him on my way to get a coffee or lunch. It’s only now I reflect and realise how often I found myself looking for him walking towards me.
A quick chat about how we both are, telling him in recent times that my new-born daughter was well and always a chat about Stay ChatTY or Movember.
Hugh wasn’t someone I would say I knew overly well or someone who I viewed as a close friend. But what I did know about Hugh was that if I ever stopped at the end of a day to reflect on what I did or who I interacted with, seeing Hugh was always front of mind – he just simply left an impression on you.
In day to day life, I find that people share with me their experiences of loss and heartbreak. Why? I think that people know that I have ridden the wave of grief in the past and in a weird kind of way found my way through it and safely back to the sand.
I suppose people find a sense of calm in allowing themselves to share their feelings with someone who knows exactly what they are experiencing.
When I have these conversations, empathy is always present. But it’s also important not to connect too much with others’ pain as this can lead me into fully immersing myself back into my own memories and sadness.
Some days though, that sadness just grabs you without warning, like when you get news that someone has died. And on this occasion, it was Hugh.
I can’t explain how I felt at first – I’ve experienced loss many times, but this was different. I knew instantly I had no chance of putting my walls up to distance myself from the amount of sadness I was already starting to feel.
Straight away I felt a sense of genuine tragedy. Hugh’s impact was so large – he had a real presence that couldn’t be denied. Everyone knew Hughy and everyone was going to be impacted from his passing.
All I could think was: “He’s so young … he brings so much joy to so many.” My heart broke for his family and the pain they were experiencing.
Funerals bring me undone. I always ask myself why do I go to them? Why do I put myself into that position when I’m so mentally scarred from the funeral of my own brother Ty?
I have become someone who gets very emotional very easily.
I took the afternoon off for the funeral, and went along alone with more Kleenex in my suit pocket than a corporate board room table post-Covid.
I anticipated that the service was going to be heavy and assumed it was going to be a really tough afternoon.
To my genuine surprise I didn’t use one tissue, I didn’t leave with red eyes, and I didn’t walk out feeling overwhelmed with sadness.
What was evident at Hugh’s farewell was his family and friends – of course – would grieve for their son, brother and friend for a very long time.
But for me as I watched montages and listened to speeches, the main feeling I was overwhelmed with was appreciation.
I genuinely felt, and continue to feel fortunate, that I shared life with a man like Hugh who did nothing less than live his life to the absolute fullest.
It became apparent that his death had and has affected me deeply, simply because of how much I now recognise the joy I felt in his presence.
For everyone there are certain places, a song, a movie or a smell in life that bring back memories of people we miss the most.
What we do and how we act in the presence of those little reminders is entirely up to us.
Salamanca for me is where I now reflect about Hughy. I am reminded that I am going to try to make the most out of my day.
I’m going to show up, I’m going to smile and where possible I’m going to leave a positive mark for others – just like Hughy did.
I know I’ll face grief and sadness again, it’s inevitable. But the loss of Hugh has taught me that joy comes to us in many different ways.
It’s not always instant, it’s not always obvious, but it’s there. So gather and enjoy it while you still can.
Rest easy Hughy x