Impermanence: On Dean Bailey’s passing

On the train to work on Tuesday morning I casually turned from my book to the Age website to see what was happening in the world.  Plane still missing.  Check.  More guesses than Cup tips about why it crashed.  Check.  Putin holding Crimea hostage.  Check.  Barrack Obama threatens to huff and blow his house down.  Check.  Abbott threatens to cut back free oxygen entitlement.  Australians breathing beyond their means.  Check.  Shorten says we should all be able to huff and puff as much as we like.  Check.

Then the headline that rocked me, and had me re-reading and checking to see if it could possibly be true.  “Dean Bailey dead of cancer at 47.”

Wasn’t he on TV taking pre-season training a little while ago at whatever club he works at these days?  Adelaide Crows?  Check.

Isn’t he 11 years younger than me?  Check.

Wasn’t he a clean living, active, purposeful guy who always seemed to see the glass as half-full?  Check – as much as you can ‘know’ anyone from the footy media.

Wasn’t he one of the ‘good guys’ of footy coaching?  In an industry full of egomaniacs and control freaks, hadn’t he always seemed to put young men – their lives and not just their footy talent – first?  Hadn’t he told the truth and been punished and humiliated for it, when lesser men would have told the easy lies – and got $2 million salary bonuses for their skill at insider trading and public dissembling?  Big Check.

The things that shock you in life are those that you don’t see coming.  That there is no logical rhyme or reason for in all the shrewd risk assessment skills we acquire in life’s lottery.  And those where at some tangential level we feel we can identify with the unfortunate ‘victim’.

With Dean Bailey I ticked all the boxes for some reason or other.  Death normally makes me sad and reflective.  But it rarely shocks me as it did today.

I found myself turning to one of the 3 Buddhist Noble Truths of “Impermanence”.  Indulge me for a minute in a small extract from a philosophical text:

According to the teachings of the Buddha, life is comparable to a river. It is a progressive moment, a successive series of different moments, joining together to give the impression of one continuous flow. It moves from cause to cause, effect to effect, one point to another, one state of existence to another, giving an outward impression that it is one continuous and unified movement, where as in reality it is not. The river of yesterday is not the same as the river of today. The river of this moment is not going to be the same as the river of the next moment. So does life. It changes continuously, becomes something or the other from moment to moment. (

To be attached to things we cannot control is to be doomed to disappointment and ultimately frustration, fear and anger.  And most of the big things in life are beyond our control.  My genes, earlier life stresses, excessive consumption or a thousand other things may already have destined me for cancer or dementia.  Government budget cuts may shorten my career.  Chinese iron ore prices may see thousands of ‘self-reliant’ West Australians following the career trajectory of ‘old economy’ workers at Ford and Toyota.  A brilliant new coach and a fit, motivated playing list may still see my Eagles finish 13th again (please Lord, not that).

Somehow acknowledging all those possibilities actually seems quite liberating these days.  Because it helps me embrace the many smaller things I can control in this moment; this minute; this hour and (at a stretch) this day.  The kind word; the connection to a service that can assist a struggling client; the apology for yesterday’s snipe; the phone call to a friend; the overdue message to dad; and the hug for my loved ones.

Chances are it adds up to something meaningful for myself and for others.  But if chance isn’t kind then I (we) have all still had those moments (that day).  And that is all we can really guarantee in a life that Damon Runyon aptly said “is always 6 to 5 against”.

Bailey’s death also reminded me of many of the sentiments expressed by Roger Angell, the greatest American baseball writer of the last 50 years, in a recent piece in the New Yorker magazine.  Angell is now 93 and has outlived virtually all of his contemporaries.  He is still healthy and independent – for a 93 year old.  The piece is called “This Old Man – Life in the 90’s.”

Read it for the sparkling prose and how he feints, beguiles and delivers surprises you don’t see coming.  Read it for his passionate embrace of the moment; the possible; no matter how that might be constrained by the limits of advanced age.

Above all I found it reassuring when he says how much he thought about death when he was in his sixties.  The things undone that haunted him then.  In his 90’s there are still things undone, despite a rollicking life and prodigious output.  My reassurance was that death and those many things undone are no longer a concern for him.

Embracing the moment is now too precious to even glance backward with regret or envy.

Thanks Roger.

Many, many thanks Dean.



The full Roger Angell article can be read at:




  1. Peter Flynn says

    I’m finding Bailey’s passing bit spooky.

    Dean Bailey and I both started our journeys on 18/01/67.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Dean Bailey was a fine man hugely respected in the footy industry exactly as you described . In football terms a mistake by Melbourne to sack him and appalling by the AFL re the stupidity of the rule and how many other clubs have tanked .
    Thanks Dean Bailey for the enormous contribution you have made to the football industry and more importantly to the guidance and help you have given to many people over your way too short journey
    Thanks Peter

  3. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi the two Peters, I end all my emails with “Be Well and Healthy”, the be well is about living positively and the healthy is what we all hope for. Dean Bailey (and Peter) is 7 years younger than me, about the age my father dropped dead of a heart attack. We are all in the same river and need to be in the moment as much as possible. Life is random and short (in relative terms) and drink it in my friends. Peter B, you write beautifully and have summed up the feeling of hearing the news yesterday. Thank you Dean and thoughts are with his young family.

    Be well and healthy my Almanac family


  4. PB – yes Bailey’s death really shocked me too. The speed of it.

    We are from dust and to dust we shall return – but to do so at the age of 47 is not in the plans.

  5. Thanks for that Peter I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. I was shocked to see my twitter feed fill with the news yesterday. I had read that piece by Roger Angell a few weeks back when it also did the rounds on twitter. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  6. Mickey Randall says

    How do we make sense of the untimely death? Peter, you’ve provided some possibilities. Thanks for this.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Fine words Peter. Thank you.

  8. Lovely work Peter. The Angell article is a cracker. The reverend at my children’s school said something very sensible (a rare thing I believe) several years ago at a service following the shocking death of a very fine young man, Jacko, from a freak lightning strike while kicking the footy with mates including my eldest. He noted that many students would probably be wondering what the point is – of studying to gain good marks in particular, but of life more generally – when it could be over in literally a flash. Therein lies the very point, as you identify Peter. Death is coming. It is a certainty. And then there’s nothing. So live every moment. Be. Right. There. In every moment.

  9. Tony Roberts. says

    Hi Peter
    With the prior death of ex-Demon Sean Wight, it seems that smokers are not the only people vulnerable to lung cancer.

    Your reference to Roger Angell allows me to strike a lighter note on how the world has changed over his long life. Writing about the 1963 World Series (when he must already have been 42), he recounted watching Game 1 on a new colour TV in a New York City bar. Noting the tendency of the still-developing colour system to give a ‘rabbit-eye’ pink patina to the players’ faces, Angell commented that: ‘I expected to see Victor Mature [he of the Biblical epics] warming up to bat in the on-deck circle.’

  10. Skip of Skipton says

    Terrible loss of a genuine footy bloke. His coaching record at the Dees wasn’t too bad. He was inching them north until the big hiding at Geelong when the powers that were made the wrong but inevetible decision.

    My mum is 89 and still smokes tobaccy. Has done since WW2 kicked off. Cancer is random.

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