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On Grief and the Importance of Mental Health Awareness

A friend of mine passed away suddenly and tragically last Friday. We weren't super close but he was a well-known and much-loved member of the extended cricketing community here in Victoria. He leaves behind a wife and two young children and it's truly a tragic situation that has rocked our tight-knit community to it's core.

Nagy and I were two guys who loved cricket, enjoyed a beer and a chat and shared a great number of mutual friends. Every interaction I'd ever had with him had been positive, even that one time he hit me all over the cricket field. He once asked me for advice on how to improve his throwing action so he could salvage his injured shoulder and extend his playing career. Recalling this mundane story on the morning after he died over breakfast with my wife moved me almost to tears, and I still don't quite understand why. I didn't know him well enough to understand that when I got the message in our group chat late on Friday - "just so you guys know, Nagy died today" - everyone else had already connected the dots. Suicide.

I've since learned that he battled depression most of his life. I've been to some dark places but some of the stories I've since learned about Nagy were shocking in terms of how pervasive and powerful those demons were. If there's one positive thing that I hope comes out of this horrible event, it's that we can start normalizing discussion of mental health within our small community. Nagy had a handful of close friends that he confided in, but sporting teams are often rife with toxic masculinity and alpha-male rhetoric that sometimes make it difficult to ask for the help you need. I'm very fortunate to have a group of team-mates and friends who recognize the importance of mental health awareness and are there to support one another. I'm very proud of our group - within hours we had raised $800 to ensure that the grieving family had food on the table in this most difficult of times. High character folks all around.

We've organized a couple of events in his honor, with the annual cricket match between our two teams this past weekend forming the basis for an evening of stories, reminiscence, song and camaraderie between a bunch of guys who had lost someone special. That I was able to attend, even briefly, and honor his memory in some small way was cathartic on some level.

Grief is a funny thing. It sneaks up on you in the strangest of ways and hits you at the most unexpected of times. In this case, because we weren't particularly close, I almost feel ashamed of my grief when there are dozens of people who are more entitled to those feelings than me. But still those feelings persist. Over the last few years I've lost both of my parents to cancer and depression has been a constant passenger, lurking in the back seat, eager to take the wheel. Losing someone like this, in such a tragic act, I feel a lot of those old triggers. I hope that by being open to discussing when we aren't at our best can help me and countless others to avoid a tragedy of this magnitude in future. I'm determined to be there for those I care about and to continue supporting those who struggle with mental health issues, now more so than ever.

Rest easy Nagy. Your mates miss you and will never forget you. Every time the Cragg's Cup is contested we'll all be thinking of you.

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