Well, tomorrow (Monday 4th February) is World Cancer Day, so what better time to open-up Gareth’s blog once again. It is just over three months since Gareth sadly left us, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of all those who knew or were touched by him. Before we go on, I would just like to take this opportunity to apologise in advance; my brother, Gareth was the wordsmith and I know many of you enjoyed his witty, cutting edge, sarcastic and often dark sense of humour. So, I do hope these few words would do him proud.
Gareth's celebration of life took place on Friday 23rd November at Sand Moor Golf Club in Leeds attended by over 250 people, many staying throughout the afternoon and into the evening. A good number of Gareth's friends donned fancy dress and went on to the Otley Run pub crawl in Headingley- sending him off quite literally in style. Although a very sad day, the atmosphere at Sand Moor was relaxed with reflections, stories and eulogies from myself- Gareth's brother, our father, Gareth's girlfriend Olivia and words from Gareth himself read out- during which a photo and video slideshow memorial to Gareth was played. This was followed by fitting tributes and recollections from family and friends including the 'ropey' stories Gareth wanted to hear, songs and toasts. Gareth had an ability to light up any situation with optimism, sharp wit and humour- all of which shone through that afternoon thanks to the memories and stories recalled by friends and family. His final wish to ensure the event was kept as casual as he could by requesting everyone attend with colour and sports kits was enthusiastically observed by everyone. Gareth would be proud of us all.
You can find the slideshow of Gareth's photos on the main webpage.
Thanks to everyone who attended and made what was such a difficult day into a slightly more bearable one particularly for Gareth's close family, his father Lee, mother April, myself and Olivia. From all the family thank you. For those that could not attend but sent myself, my Mum and Dad messages and cards of condolence- thank you- we have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of people getting in touch. It is a fitting tribute itself to Gareth and a testament to his character the vast number of people that could count him as a friend and others unknown to us who have got in touch to tell us how Gareth has helped them through his story and fundraising efforts- both indirectly and personally. Your tributes and memories of Gareth at both the celebration of life and through cards and messages have been a source of great comfort to us all through this terribly difficult time.
My final thanks, it goes without saying, are to Gareth himself. Thanks for being my brother, my best friend, a little brother that I constantly and am so proud to look up to. To the work he's done, the people's lives he has touched and for his ability to humorously and selflessly write about his life aspirations so cruelly taken from him, about living with cancer, the fears and trepidations but also the small blessings, happy moments and sobering reflections on life that he shared with us all- his blog quite literally looks on the bright side of life and reminds us all to reflect on ours. It also makes it extremely easy for us to reach out to his friends and supporters- so thanks Gaz for making my life easier and phone bill smaller. His blog is a legacy that we will continue periodically and keep everyone updated on fundraising with posthumous comments from Gareth.
Gareth wrote a bucket list, many of the items on it I shared with you at the celebration (he would be livid knowing I was reading his gags!) so I attach it to this blog for your own enjoyment. Over the next few years we hope to tick off some of the items on his list that he was unable to fulfil, perhaps you may see one or two items you would like to tick off on Gareth’s behalf or perhaps you will be inspired to make your own bucket list.
One of the items on it shown unfulfilled was to "make sure all those close to me know they are loved". Myself, the family and Olivia will posthumously tick this box for Gareth. In the absence of any words I could come up with perhaps the following heart-rending message written by Gareth shortly before his death to his girlfriend Olivia may explain this-
"It's just that I can't shake this impending end. I want a life with you. I want a career. I want Paralympic gold. I want to see the rest of this world. I want kids. I want a family. I want normality. I want to be free of pain and I want the freedom of a life on my terms, with you. But I know I'm never getting it, and I know that it's not long until it really all is done and dusted. Thankfully it's not stopping me, it really isn't, I'm still motivated to do things with you and things I intend to do on a daily basis, it's just the underpinning sense of 'the end' that makes me uncomfortable, sad and angry. I realise it's a daily occurrence for many people, but it doesn't take away from my sheer desperation for constant achievement, even when I know it's all out of my hands now. I know you'd do them with me and that gives me so much happiness and contentment, but it also adds to that anger. Not in a 'why me' sense, just that on a purely personal, intimate level to me, myself, that it's grossly unfair, and not having control is the hardest thing about it all. I don't want to die. I just don't have the time, inclination or purpose for death yet. There's so much to do still. So disregarding that, Olivia, all I want is normality, all I want is to be without pain, with you, living the life I planned. Being static, not moving, not progressing; that's no life for anyone. Constantly learning is the spice of life.
You know what, fuck it, yes I am bitter. I'm bitter that other people get to live their shitty lives without appreciating others are desperate to do all these things but won't get the chance to do so. Why do they get the opportunity to squander it? I’m not going to be noble about it anymore. If I had the time, I would have done EVERYTHING I said I would. I'd have been an award-winning conflict photojournalist, a Paralympic gold medallist, had a family, built a house, a vineyard, seen the world, had kids. Done EVERYTHING and more on that bucket list. All of it. I don't want shit karma for them, I'd just love for them to realise that others don't get the time they get, so why squander it, use it, eek every drop of blood from it. Then perhaps everyone in this world would wake up each morning with such a greater sense of the value of life. The kind of value I place in mine, in yours, in my family's...
I just hope that perhaps in my next life, if it works like that, some of these characteristics are still there and I can keep working on them to make me the best me I can be."
I have no doubt that Gareth would have gone onto achieve everything and more that he wanted to. I would often joke with him that I couldn’t think of any flaws that he had, and over the last few months have come to the conclusion that to me Gareth really was perfect, a perfect gentleman in all respects of his life. I think it is important that we all take some of the brilliant qualities Gareth had and try applying them in our lives today. Making the most of every opportunity given to us whether that be exploring more countries, starting a conversation with a stranger doing something completely out of your comfort zone or trying to keep a positive outlook on life like Gareth did. And in that way a part of Gareth will live on through each of us today and in the future. Please enjoy the video below that Gareth wanted us all to reflect on. (Olivia)
At the event we asked people to write their stories and messages on 'memory cards'. We received hundreds and will collate them within a formal book. If anyone missed out and you would like to add any stories or memories, messages to and for Gareth or the family, please download the memory card attached .jpg, print it, write whatever you like- formal, funny, dodgy- there are no rules. Scan or photograph it and email or post it back to Rhys or Olivia and we can include it in the book.
During the second half of the celebration an invitation was extended to anyone who wanted to speak in an open-mic format to recall their stories and memories of Gareth, to read out their own eulogies and tributes. A number of people performed songs and read out poems in memory of Gareth.
Gareth raised more than £120,000 in just over a year for Cancer Research UK, specifically for Sarcoma research that will help people in his situation in the future. His wish is to continue the already outstanding fundraising work done by friends and family and continue to raise money for this cause in his memory. I set a rather sobering target of over £25,000 this year and will manage Gareth's justgiving page. But I will need everyone's help to achieve this target. This year we have people participating in the London Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Tough Mudder and Rowing Challenges to name a few. Please let me know about the events you are planning or participating in to fundraise in memory of Gareth, and I can update the page as Gareth did to aid people looking to sponsor and donate towards your efforts. We are already looking to organise a second annual Sportman's Luncheon in autumn 2019 after the success of last year's event Gareth set up with our Dad.
One of the first dates to add to your diaries for this year will be on Sunday 19th May 2019 ,we are helping to organise the Cookridge Community 10K race in memory of Gareth and to support CRUK; if you would like to help, volunteer or sign up for the race please contact us or go to the link below-
I would also like to use this opportunity through the blog as Gareth did, to extend our thanks to the thousands of people who have and continue to donate, run, dress up, shake buckets and fundraise in myriad ways in aid of Gareth's cause and now his legacy. If you have somehow missed the very large advert Gareth added at the beginning of this website and would like to donate you can do so here-
To Gareth- in our thoughts always, may you always be travelling.
Rhys, April & Lee Dunn & Olivia O'Donovan