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By Shane Gilreath
Spencer Matthews is a decade younger than me. His family own Eden Rock on the Caribbean island of St. Barts and he’s well-known for his appearances on “Made in Chelsea,” a reality television show about posh Londoners, living in the historic Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. We both speak a little French and have an interest in the arts. I don’t know Spencer Matthews, but I know him well. We both live with questions amidst the tragedy of losing an older brother. There is some bit of PTSD involved and a lot of kindredness in an unspoken, undesired, and universal club.
In the past, I have called “Dispatches from the Edge,” a memoir by Anderson Cooper, himself a reluctant member, the most terrifying book I’ve ever read. Despite our fundamental differences, his ability to recount his own loss gained my admiration, but also sent me spiraling. I feared Spencer’s documentary, “Finding Michael,” would do the same.
In 1999, Michael Matthews became the youngest Briton to summit Mt Everest, aged only 22. It was a glorious achievement and should have made headlines the world over, but on his descent, he was separated from his guide in the ‘Death Zone,’ where oxygen is so scare that human cells begin to die, and lost amid a Himalayan storm at the world’s highest point, 29,029 feet above sea level.
Coordinating with such giants as Bear Grylls and the great Nims Purja, Spencer, who was 10 when his brother died, traveled to Nepal, documenting his effort to locate his brother and bring him home. The idea of it left a pit in my gut, but I fully understood.
I was slightly younger than Spencer when my own brother died, but when you lose someone at such a young age, you cradle and absorb the shock. You’re not emotionally equipped to deal with it, so you lock it in a chamber, where it’s supposed to stay. It rarely does. There’s limitations, after all, to the stress any object can take before it buckles. Flesh and bone are no different. It just exhibits itself differently from person to person.
Four years ago, in an effort of condolence, a friend of my parents said to me, “brothers are hard to give up and never forgotten.” For all the many things people have said, these simple words, as so many, struck truth. Though the circumstances of Spencer’s and my losses are different, every member in this unsolicited club will well understand the lifelong desire to honor that person, live for that person, and make sure they continue to exist in the hearts and minds of others, in a way that seems to manifest strongest when radiant lives are cut far too short. It is, without question, an odd experience to grow older and leave someone behind, knowing, with each passing year, each milestone, each and every memorial and remembrance, that they live eternally as a giant among the stars.
“Finding Michael” is available on Hulu.