In the Company of Greatness

It was the trip no-one wants to make. Traveling to comfort a loved one in a time of grief is not the sort of traveling anyone likes doing, to see people we haven’t seen in far too long for all the wrong reasons. But when I heard the tragic news that my nephew Mason had passed away suddenly and tragically, getting on the next flight to Las Vegas to be near to my sister Holly was the only thing I could think to do.

Red Rock Canyon Vegas

The ‘other side’ of Vegas: stark beauty near Red Rock canyon…

Holly and I have the same Father (who has passed away). He had two kids from his first marriage, Holly and Justin, who are American, while my other sister Rebecca and I are Australian. We didn’t all grow up together, but Holly and Justin lived with us in Australia for a year when I was about 3 years old. My memories of that time are vague, though I distinctly remember Holly taking Rebecca and I to the park one day and making us turn around while she kissed a boy.

Funny the stuff you remember!

Holly and Justin returned to live in the states, my parents divorced, and since our Dad was no longer a part of any of our lives, we lost touch. Life went on for everyone, though I would occasionally receive a post card from Holly in beautiful curly handwriting, from an address in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 2004, on a trip to Vegas with my friend Kelly, I remembered back to the postcards, and though I had not seen Holly in over twenty years, decided to open the phone book (yes, the paper one!) just in case she was in there, knowing the chance of her still being in Vegas, or even being listed, was pretty slim.

But sure enough, my sister who still had the same last name as me was listed in black and white next to her home telephone number, which I dialed. When she picked up, I said something like, “Hi, it’s Sarah, your Australian sister,” to which she replied, “Aaaaaaaaah!”  in an excited, rather than terrified (!), tone. She then came to see me at the hotel I was staying at while her then five year old son, Mason, slept soundly at home, being watched by a friend.

Over the course of the following nine years, Rebecca visited Holly in Vegas once, and Holly and Mason visited Australia twice. We all spent Christmas together in 2008 and got to know the bright, polite and sweet-as-pie little boy Mason. He completely threw Tyrhone off guard by immediately calling him ‘Uncle Tyrhone’, and since he’d never been anyone’s uncle before, Tyrhone was equally freaked out and flattered. I’d never been anyone’s aunt before either, yet here was this little boy who hardly knew us making us feel like the family we were, however unconventional.

My brother-in-law Mark, Mason, Me and Holly, messing around…

Our time together was spent laughing and joking around; Mason had a mature sense of humour and a mischievous appreciation of the absurd – a true Chamberlain.

Us practicing the sign-language symbol for ‘holidays’ …

He called my Mum ‘Miss Pam’ and she was equally beguiled by his charms, sleeping outside in a tent with him one night so he could have an Aussie camping experience.

My Mum holding Mason like a baby, because… ya know…

The recent news of Mason’s passing at just 14 years old was shocking and heart-wrenching to say the least, but for no-one more than his ‘Mom’, my sister Holly. Everyone who knew her knew he was the center of her universe, and the pain she would be feeling was simply unimaginable. The only thing I was grateful for was being close enough to jump on a plane to Las Vegas to attend the memorial service and support Holly in any way I could.

I am now home in Mexico again, processing the emotional whirlwind of the last week. I am absolutely astounded and humbled by the love I both witnessed and received, as Holly (yes) and her wonderful friends welcomed, loved and supported me during the saddest times of their lives.

Me and Holly (right) still who still lights up the room with her smile…

Mason’s memorial service was a celebration of a life well lived. He was funny, original, loving, and made everyone around him feel special (like his uncle Tyrhone!). He didn’t care what people thought of him and he was loved and respected all the more for it.

There are so many lessons I have been privy to in the last week, which will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I have witnessed the power of faith and its ability to heal in the most wretched of circumstances, as well as the power of love, particularly Motherly love, which is simply unbreakable.

Holly and Mason on their recent trip to the UK…

But most of all, I have been blown away by the life force that is my sister, Holly Chamberlain. She wrote a speech for Mason’s memorial, because even in his death, her Motherly instincts to honour her baby were greater than her pain and grief. No-one knew him like her, and no-one could speak about him like she could.

And if you knew her, you’d know there was simply no other way.

She sat down twice to write the words for her speech, and after the second sitting, she read them out to a small group of us, asking for feedback and suggestions.

When she finished, “It’s perfect,” were about the only words we could get out through our tears and blubbering.

“Surely something has to be changed!” she said to us, slightly annoyed that we had no advice to offer. We had nothing, because the truth was, the words we had just heard were utter perfection.

As Holly spoke to the packed-to-the-brim church at her son’s memorial service, there was only one thing I knew for sure. I was experiencing true greatness, unlike anything I’d ever witnessed before. Like the concept of ‘Darshan’ in the Hindu religion, whereby divine energy is transferred to another by simply being in the presence of an ‘enlightened one’, I was receiving healing and love by being in Holly’s presence in a moment of true divinity.

“We are foolish to think we are guaranteed any number of days on this earth… Mason’s death was accidental and tragic. His life was purposeful and beautiful…

He flipped me off daily and I LOVED it…

14 years ago, I took a blood test and while waiting for the results, I prayed so hard for God to give me results that read ‘not pregnant’. He didn’t listen to me. He could have, but he didn’t. I’ll be forever grateful for that because Mason was the most amazing gift I have ever received. Getting pregnant was the biggest mistake of my life… But a funny thing happened… God turned the biggest mistake of my life into the best blessing of my life. That’s what God does. He makes all things good for all those who love him and are called to his purpose.

We struggle to understand God’s love in times like this because our nature is to become angry… I prayed so hard for God to save my boy… God could have saved my boy. He chose not to. Who am I to question that? Who am I to tell HIM what to do or be angry when he doesn’t do things my way?

Believe me when I tell you this. God will make this good. If I can say this in my grief and bewilderment, you can believe it is true.”

– Holly Chamberlain

In the last week I’ve been privileged to see what true greatness looks like, what community means, and to learn that love has the power to heal all, without exception. I wish I hadn’t learnt these valuable lessons this way, but I’m forever grateful for them. Thank you Mason, Holly, Tina, Jen, Taunia, Kevin, Tina, Badina, Mel, Lisa, Karen, Remi, Teri, Donna, Christina, Laura, Connie, Jen, Joe, Jason, Autumn and the rest of Holly’s EPIC (!) family who have humbled me with your love, humour and hospitality.

greatness balloons


300 balloons were released into the sky to honour Mason’s greatness…

Mason’s life will forever serve to inspire all who knew him, and I know Holly’s unbreakable spirit will continue to touch and bless countless lives, as it has mine.

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In the Company of Greatness — 37 Comments

  1. Well, you’ve done it.. I am at my desk at work, blubbering and trying to stop crying reading this wonderful testament to your sister, your nephew who left this earth too soon, and all those who surrounded them with light. None of us ever know God’s whole plan for our life but a life short lived can still change all those around them.
    Rhonda recently posted..Fear and a Mothers DreamMy Profile

    • Sorry Rhonda! But yep, you’re right, even more I think, I can’t begin to explain the influx of messages, stories, artworks, musical pieces and more that Holly received in honour of her son, who impacted so many.

  2. Oh that’s so sad for your sister, for you, and for all whose lives he touched. So very glad that you were able to be there for such an important time, I’m sure your support meant a great deal.
    Carina recently posted..A Monumental ShiftMy Profile

  3. Sarah, I cannot imagine how Holly must be feeling but her spirit is truly inspirational. It sounds like Holly was blessed to have Mason but Mason was also blessed to have Holly.
    Kim recently posted..Dear lifeMy Profile

  4. I can’t begin to imagine the utter heartbreak such an event would cause, but the healing power of Holly’s love for her son is truly inspirational. I know you only through this site, and Holly not at all, but I give all my love to both of you, and can only hope that people as beautiful as Holly and Mason, and their bond, will continue to grace this beautiful world.
    Lindsey recently posted..Refocusing: A Heart to HeartMy Profile

  5. I’m so sorry to hear about your family’s loss, but somehow I am not surprised to hear that you’re related to people who are able to take this sadness and transform it into something beautiful. Thank you for sharing such a personal, painful, but inspiring piece of your life with us; you Chamberlain women are pretty amazing!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Sunday Sketchup: Missing the Dogs EditionMy Profile

  6. Once again, I am so sorry for your loss Sarah. I can’t even imagine what your sister is going through.

    It really puts things into perspective when things like this happen. We should all live life to the fullest and not take things for granted.

    Take care,

    Paul Farrugia (globalhelpswap) recently posted..Paris in picturesMy Profile

  7. So sorry for your loss Sarah. I can’t imagine the strength it must take for your sister to handle something like this and to do it with such dignity in front of so many people, she sounds like an absolutely fantastic human being.
    Maddie recently posted..Laos round-upMy Profile

  8. Sarah, thank you for sharing such a beautiful story, and tribute to Mason. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Holly and the rest of your family right now – I’m so sorry for your loss, and what a blessing that you were able to be there for your sister like that. And that photo of the balloons is so moving – an incredible image to have on my mind today.
    Candace recently posted..dear saigon: at home in ho chi minh city.My Profile

  9. Sarah, sorry to hear of your loss and I can’t fathom what Holly must be experiencing.
    I admire you for being able to find the positive and write about it with such beauty in such difficult circumstances. May you find comfort in the memories.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you Lauren, I was inspired by my sister who has the ability to do that, even in the worst time of her life. It is truly something to behold, and a great example to me xx

  10. Beautifully written. I need to make sure I’m home when I read these blogs about Mason as I inevitably end up balling! Love and positive energy to Holly x

  11. Hi Sarah,

    So sorry to hear of this news. All my heart to you and especially your sister. Your sisters speach was possibily the most beautiful thing i have ever read and I shared it with a friend and we just cried and cried with your sisters faith, just so beautiful.

    Loads of love

    • Thank you Karen, yes, she is pretty amazing, an absolute inspiration. Thank you for sharing that with me, I’ll be sure to let her know. Lots of love to you too, I hope all is well in your neck of the woods XXX