Jo and I wish to share our story of losing a child. It is a little different to some people losing a child in that our son was an adult when he died and that it was very sudden and traumatic. However the effects and experience will be familiar to many who experience the death of a loved one. You will all understand how the effects are like a ripple in a pond and how so many people are effected by a single event.
Scott’s death, eight years ago, was a traumatic experience for me when I was told that someone had killed him and then within two minutes I arrived where he was lying, got out of my vehicle and was confronted by a police woman coming towards me with a rifle saying “Stay where you are”. It was traumatic in that we had no answers to so many questions. It was traumatic that in the investigation that followed, our family, our business, our lives were exposed and revealed not only to the police but also to the public.
And while we were grieving the death of Scott, cooperating with the police investigation, speaking with media, there were so many other issues we had to deal with. While I was still trying to run our farm and Jo and our daughter Nikki had their women’s clothing store, we were also focusing on our children and grandchildren. Life is never simple is it, only having to deal with one thing at a time?
A few weeks after Scott was killed my father became ill and he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then Scott and Kylee’s second son was born and I stood in for Scott at the birth, cutting the cord and watching this little bundle of new life take his first breath. Within a month I sat with my dad and watched him take his last breath.
A few months later another traumatic event occurred when our then son-in-law was arrested for Scott’s death and a month after that Jo’s sister and husband lost their son when, for no particular reason, he was pushed out a second story window and killed.
Following that we endured the murder trial, we journeyed with one of our dearest and best friends when she was diagnosed and eventually died from a brain tumor and we walked alongside our daughter Nikki when she and James turned off the life-support for their two week-old Elsie.
Through all of this we have learnt a lot about grief and grieving. We have learnt that we grieve differently and that we grieve differently at different times. We have learnt there are no rules when it comes to grieving. You may have heard about seven different stages of grieving – emotions such as shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger, depression, acceptance. These emotions wash over us like waves. At times it feels as if we are about to drowned in these waves. These emotional stages do not happen in order and will return often. We may go from denial to anger and then back to denial many times.
Jo and I experienced this a lot and we found it helpful to accept that we grieved differently and not to try and change how the other felt. In fact, for a long time we never cared much how the other felt. We were each just trying to survive – trying to keep our own head above the waves.
But we have found that healing does take place. It is a slow process and healing is never in a straight line. Often it’s two steps forward and one back. I have found talking about it all has been healing. It’s something that we men don’t do well. We were fortunate in strange way (looking back now) in that early in our marriage I was a terrible husband. That created a lot of tension and problems in our relationship but twenty-five years ago we managed to get help and sort those issues out. A lot of the problems were caused by me not talking to Jo. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk, it was more that I didn’t know how to express how I felt.
We both knew that when Scott died the pressure on our relationship was going to make or break us. We talked about this and were determined that we wanted to keep our family together. This gave us a hugely strong sense of purpose and it has been something that has kept us going when things have so often seemed insurmountable.
We have managed to get good advice from some very good people. Good people are only too willing to help and they are there if we seek them out.
Continuing to be a part of a community is a big help. Often we have felt like we don’t want to see anyone else, but a community is such a great support. In saying that though, there are times when people say the wrong things because they don’t know what to say. They may say too much, or they may avoid us altogether. But those times become less and we found we had to just “let it go”. If we hold on to negative words or thoughts they will make us bitter and twisted so we try to just “let it go”.
Things that have helped me? I get motivated by other people and enjoy reading about their lives and what they think or say. People like Winston Churchill, “When you’re going through hell, keep going”, Martin Luther King, “I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through this mountain of despair”. Raol Wallenburg who is credited with saving 100,000 Jews in Budapest from the Nazis. Frank Worsley, the captain of Earnest Shakleton’s Endurance who saved the entire crew of 28 men, 18 months on the Antarctic ice and then navigated a 6½ metre boat 1,300 kms to get help. Victor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Another Holocaust survivor, Edith Eger, who became a psychologist and recently authored the book “The Choice”, which I highly recommend.
And there are people like Tony’s mother. Tony collects the supermarket trolleys from the carpark. He is effected from a brain injury and Tony’s mother would drive him to work at the beginning of the day and then collect him again when he finished. She would drive about 50kms a day doing this and when you meet her she always has the loveliest of smiles and the brightest of attitudes.
I also find solace in music – listening to Andrea Bocelli singing Nessun Dorma or the theme to the film “Schindler’s List” being played on a cello. And sometimes just sitting in the garden listening to the music of birds and nature is so good for my soul. Being quiet and having time to contemplate.
I have a belief in God and a Christian faith and I found this little piece recently.
“I asked for strength – and God gave me difficulties to make me strong. I asked for wisdom – and God gave me problems to learn to solve. I asked for courage – and God gave me dangers to overcome. I asked for love – and God gave me troubled people to help. I asked for favours – and God gave me opportunities. I asked for prosperity – and God gave me brain and brawn to work. I received nothing I wanted – I received everything I needed. My prayers have been answered.”