Bravery personified

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Tomorrow we go to Abi’s school prize giving. In collaboration with her teachers we have created a new prize to celebrate her (agonisingly short) life. The whole process was gruelling: creating a legacy to cover so much, from so little; seeing her brief lifespan etched into silver that is sure to endure way beyond her fledgling years. But we both feel the end product, the Abi Hone Bravery Award, is a fitting representation of our dear girl.

I’m not sure who's receiving it tomorrow. But I am sure about bravery. Sure that Abi was brave. Sure that it’s a character trait worth celebrating.

She wasn’t brave in a particularly obvious way, but the confidence and excitement with which she entered her new school last February gave us a first inkling that she was far gutsier than we’d previously realised. She knew no one, but didn’t falter; determined to get stuck right in. Then came the wonderful day when she returned from school, charging gleefully in to our office, utterly triumphant that she’d sung an Adele song in front of the entire school in their annual talent show. Thrilled. Ecstatic. Utterly buoyant. She’d taken the plunge, and been amply rewarded by generous applause and feedback.

Soon after her death we attended a small year-group gathering at school where all the girls sang Sarah Bareilles’ Brave to us, prompting one of the teachers to remind the girls that while they felt they were singing it for Abi, it was actually her reminding them to be brave. For, said Ms. Campbell, Abi epitomised the kind of bravery that prompts us to take risks, try something new, and dare to step out of our comfort zone.

Her and Ella’s friends have certainly been brave these past six months. I’ve seen it first hand, felt it in their letters, messages, and hugs. A few weeks ago, one of her new school friends spoke out about bravery in a chapel presentation. I asked Courtney if I could share what she said here.

“Losing a friend is like losing a limb, an essential part of your day-to-day life, and you don’t realise how much you actually need it until it’s gone. It was like this in our class, when we lost Abi. We took the frequent “Kia Ora’s” and the endless photo booth selfies for granted. Not realising that it all could be gone any second.

Another thing that we took from this was the fact that we need to think about all the good things in life, not dwell on the past. The good thing that has come out of losing Abi is that we can now appreciate all the simple little things she did and all our memories with her. We decided, as a class, at the start of the year to take the good things out of every single day of our lives. Whether it is the fact that the sun is shining or that you are going to a friend’s house after school, we like to note it down, so we actually acknowledge it. We call these our gratitude diaries. Every morning in tutor time, we write down what we are grateful for that day. Like this morning, one of mine was, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in chapel. Abi herself was also a big fan of these, some of our favourite entries of hers are:

“I am grateful for my brother Paddy teaching me how to catch the bus”, “I am grateful for Courtney for showing around the boarding house and getting my charger with me”, “I am grateful for my dad for taking me to the new season of Witchery” and “I am grateful for Aspen for inviting me to her birthday party”. Our favourite thing about Abi’s gratitude diary, apart from her ability to find gratefulness in everything, is probably the numerous spelling mistakes in each entry.

Another positive about this situation, is the way it has made us closer as a class. As cliché as it sounds, it’s like we have his invisible bond tied around us know, and that bond is Abi. It also made us more tightly knit as a whole year 7/8 faculty, we found the strength that we could not find within ourselves, in others.

I sometimes think of myself as stupid. Why? You ask? I was sitting at home this morning, millions of negative thoughts running through my head about this talk, then I took a moment, sat back and thought, “if the people who are hit the hardest by a tragedy can manage to keep their life together, then why am I sitting here stressing over a talk in chapel?” Take a leaf of out their book, and be brave. Think, in the long run, is it going to matter if you mucked up a talk in chapel?"

Courtney gets it. She understands there’s no harm in failing, only in not giving it a go. Whoever gets our award tomorrow night I hope it reminds them for the year ahead to grab life, try new things, say what you feel, never fear mucking up. "Reaching Out" is one of the seven components of Karen Reivich's resilience model I was taught at UPenn, and forms part of the professional development training skills I use to promote mental toughness among organisations.

For me, reaching out these past six months has involved leaning on my friends and family. Recently reaching the end of Veronica Roth’s Divergent Trilogy, highlighted the kind of bravery I need right now. “There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain and the work of every day, the slow walk towards a better life. That is the sort of bravery I must have now.”

Imogen told me that Abi stayed up reading to the end of Allegiant the night before she started her new school last February. Knowing this, I read every last word of that book, even the acknowledgements.

I'm glad I did, because, right there, in that final line, she says it again...

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