The Death podcast: Peter Bray

  • 10/06/2019

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Peter Bray leads the counselling programme in the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland. He lost his wife, son and step-son in a car accident.

"About 22 years ago I was working in England as a school counsellor and a teacher, and I thought I'd like to see the world a bit. So I found myself with a job in Auckland. My wife wanted to explore the idea of a lifestyle block - she really loved animals and her kids were equally excited by calves and lambs and chooks, the whole thing.

"I guess some people might call her quite a hippie. She was quite tall, with raven black hair, enthusiastic about pretty much everything, devoted to her children and fortunately devoted to me as well. We did some IVF, and having a child together was something of a dream come true. He was born within a month of our arrival in New Zealand, and then within about eight months, he was dead.



"Bridget, Freddie, Ben and Daniel - two of her other boys - were involved in a car accident. They were going down to pick up a schnauzer, a puppy, and we were very excited about it.

"They went off on this wet morning and they had an accident, they were T-boned on State Highway 1. I've not corresponded with the driver. It was an accident, and no charges were made.

"I was at home with the other kids, they were eating breakfast and mid-morning there was a knock at the door. Two police officers arrived - they said, 'Are you Peter Bray, we've got some news for you, can we it inside?'. I understood that they were going to tell me something bad and I made a joke about how in the films the police always say they have to come inside, and they next thing you'll do is ask me to sit down. They said, 'We do think you should sit down.' They told me that there'd been in a road accident and that my wife had been killed. It was like everything suddenly just got switched off. I started to descend in this in this lift to oblivion if you like.

"It seemed Bridget and Ben were killed instantaneously. And by now I'm kind of reaching for cover, knowing that this is an impossible script and thinking, 'It's over now, I've got a child, I've still got a child, Fred is going to be okay.' And they said, 'Your baby child has suffered severe head injuries and is on his way to Hamilton hospital.'

"In mourning, you crave other people but you don't necessarily want to share anything. Especially early on, you feel like you're in a tsunami, this wave is going to dump you down and you're going to crash, and then the next thing you're back up again and everything is okay for you. You oscillate between feeling overwhelmed and feeling, 'Oh I'm okay now.'

"When an event occurs which shakes your world, your world changes completely. And life won't ever be the same again. And one of the truths I think that people need to know is that they will never ever go back. People talk about moving on but they will never recreate their former lives perfectly. And so in many ways I think grief and loss is an opportunity to change.

"We live with the knowledge that we're all going to die and those around us can die, and yet we keep thinking it's not going to happen to my family, it's not going to happen to me, in spite of the fact that it's clear we will all eventually die. It's one of those wonderful myths that we have about ourselves.

"You can't go back from loss but you can start again. I think it's reassuring to know that it doesn't last forever, that you can rebuild yourself with other people's help, that you can rebirth yourself.

"My entire life's journey since the death of Bridget and Freddie and Ben has changed completely. That's partially to do with coming to New Zealand as well. But it's also to do with people's help. People's kindness and people's prompting me to do things.

"After it happened I went off and did the master's in counseling at the University of Auckland, which is now the program I lead, and that was through the good graces of those people at Mangere College who said, 'You need to go out and do something'.