Harry died 50 weeks after a Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM)was diagnosed. In simpler terms a Glioblastoma Multiforme is a malignant aggressive brain tumour. At diagnosis Harry’s was a grade 4 meaning terminal. These tumours are aggressive fast growing tumours. At the time of diagnosis Harry’s tumour was equivalent to the size of a golf ball situated in the right frontal lobe of his brain.
Space occupying lesions in the brain raise intracranial pressure. They cause swelling in the brain which can result in symptoms such as headaches, vomiting and seizures as the brain is pushed against the rigid skull trying to expand it space to accommodate the extra size, but can’t and intracranial pressure builds. The tumor invading the brain matter with tenticles growing like tree roots and the rising intracranial pressure eventually prevents the brain from functioning and sustaining life. GBM’s often stiking the young and Harry was 34.
Harry joined the Police Force in 1983. Each officer is given a member number. A number Harry was proud to have.
He was a well liked and well-respected guy. He had been in the Police Officer for many years, taking promoting through due course and holding the rank of Detective Sergeant when he died on the 24th of March 2000. His funeral took place in the church where we were married on the 28th of March.
After Harry’s death, I was met by some official senior police officers who said it was offered, if the family were to agree, to have Harry’s funeral conducted with Police Honours. Harry had said during his illness to me he wanted his children to be proud of him so when this was offered I accepted it.
It was truly incredible. It most often given for members who die on duty, but Harry had received a couple commendations and he had been in the police force for 17 years and I think he was respected and very well regarded and perhaps his friends felt he deserved it and they somehow organised it. Even now on reflection I am not sure how this came to be, non the less he was more than worthy of it.
The days that bridge between death and funeral are filled with a gamet of emotions for many reason.
At the time I was in such a fog, such a daze. I was numb and stunned. The funeral arrangements were happening around me. I myself did not fully understand what would actually happen on the day. I needed to get clothes ready for the three children, clothes for Harry to be buried in to the funeral parlour and clothes organised for myself. I had family asking what I wanted to do for the wake, a casket to purchase, the pamphlet to organise for guests to receive on their arrival at the church, to choose flowers for the casket, helium balloons to be released by the children, and whatever else that normally needs to be organised for a funeral, and at 32 I was a novice at this. The Police worked quietly and efficiently organising the police band including the bagpipes, the horses, the motorcycle motorcade and the necessary officers of ‘brass’ ranking that would attend an official occasion such as this. It was appreciated they took time out of their busy schedules to attend and be present in a show of cohesiveness.
The day of the funeral I was numb. I wasn’t used to so much going on or attention. As I arrived at the church there were hundreds of people there. I looked very composed, almost unaffected dressed in my dark Grey skirt and matching suit jacket. I appeared unaffected by the gravity of what had happened, not shedding a tear in public, not a quiver in my voice, but as my mum would say about me, ‘still waters run deep’. In the days and years following I have not necessarily been so composed. I have cried, felt anger, and despair at different times and 19 years later here I am still writing about it, still affected by it. So that girl who looked like she had it all together herself was falling apart within under the calm surface. Grappling with her fear, and her new normal. Sole parent and widower.
The police military style honours ceremony and sheer number of people who came, in itself was such a credit to Harry that others were there legitimately to show their respects to him.
He was young 35 at the time of death. Young people pull a lot to a funeral because of their age. They are in the prime of their lives and it affects so many the death of a young person, but this showing of respect was amazing.
Harry lived his life not wanting or hoping for this type of respect he just lived being a good person because that’s who he was. He did things for people because he wanted to and never expected anything in return. I think that was what made him so popular. He was just a good person, a fun person, good work ethic, believed in right from wrong. He was genuine. Made people feel comfortable in his presence. He couldn’t stand dickheads as he referred to people who sped on roads, did burn outs, had disrespect for the law and poor manners.
He was like if you go out and have a big night and have a hangover the next day, no matter what ( self inflicted) you get up and go to work. Of course genuine illness was different. He would say, good manners take you a long way in life.
I believe I live a good life and I’m a good person but he just had something special about him that people flocked to him.
When princess Diana died and her funeral was similar in the sense of a flag over the casket and people walking in the street with the hearse Jane said ‘that’s like daddy’s funeral’. Which I thought was very sweet. Diana was royalty and to Jane her dad was the same.
He didn’t have a bugle, or the guns fired or a fly over but he pretty much had everything else.
Police members come in their dress uniforms and all its pomp and ceremony. Word got around that Harry was having a formal funeral and they came dressed for the occasion, in their formality, medals pinned to uniforms, shoes shining and caps donned, bodies straightened to attention and heads high. The church was known to hold approximately 1000 people and it was at capacity with many needing to stand outside. A friend held 2-year-old Archie in her arms as the service was held. Rupert’s primary school teacher who he had been comforted by during Harry’s illness attended the funeral and sat next to him. Natalie was a warm, compassionate attractive girl with long straight brown hair who graced our junior school as a newly graduated teacher. Harry specifically asked for the song Even when I’m sleeping by Leonardo’s bride to be played at his funeral. He wanted us to know in his death whilst eternally slept he still loved us. Once all seated it started to play.
As it played, I nursed 5 year old Jane and her innocence on my lap as she studied the pamphlet printed for mourners to read about her dad. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who had come to say good-bye to Harry. As the tune played, ‘even when I’m sleeping’ , I turned my head resting it against Lucy’s blonde curly hair and drifted deep into thought about Harry. It’s as if he was speaking to me. Every word of that song infiltrated my senses.
‘ I love you, even when I’m sleeping, when I close my eyes you’re everywhere, no matter where the road is leading us, don’t be afraid……’
He knew me so well, he knew I was afraid. Afraid of the of raising three young children on my own, afraid of being in this world without him. He was there holding my hand telling me to not be afraid, comforting me with his love, giving me strength to get through this.
Jane had written a Eulogy for her dad but due to age and shyness I read out for her to the congregation as she stood beside me dressed in her pink floral dress, red fluffy jacket and little boots, and snuggled into the reassuring warmth of my legs and hips.
My daddy he sometime got mad, but he didn’t always get mad. Just sometimes, most of the time he didn’t get mad at all. I could feel it in my heart he was a beautiful person. He wasn’t a grumpy person. I sometimes cried for him because I loved him. He was happy all the time. He helped mummy a lot, he tried. Now mummy’s got his wedding ring. He was fun. He got sick, he just had to die.
From Jane x
As Harry’s casket draped with the Australian flag, his police cap and flowers adorning the top of the casket was carried by friends and family pall-bearers came out of the red brick church through the open heavy wooden church doors and down the steps to the silver hearse awaiting with its rear door open, the bagpiper dressed in a red and blue Scottish kilt began to play. It stopped as the casket was placed in the back of the hearse with large rectangular side windows. Police officers saluted and on command began a slow march with the hearse.
I followed behind in a mourning car. The police chaplain, band and horses slowly proceeded up the street lined with shoulder to shoulder sworn and unsworn members with hand on hearts as the police drummer banged the drum in the saddle of a majestic looking draught horse and bagpipes continued to play an impressive but sorrowful tune. The pall-bearers slow marched each side of the hearse and police dignitaries behind as the civilian mourners, our family and friends watched on.
Footage of the funeral was taken by the police force and a copy given to me. Our children were so young and it’s nice knowing I have this footage in the event Rupert, Jane or Archie ever would like to see his actual funeral for themselves as they were so young when all this happened. This snippets of footage we have of different stages of our lives are the only tangible evidence or memory we can hold onto.
I can’t sleep tonight thinking about how incredibly special it was having the police horses, and bag pipes. The organisation that went into it. At the time I was numb and overwhelmed. I put on a brave face but still 19 years later it still can keep me awake at night.
All the St Teresa primary school kids came rushing over to watch as it was recess at the time. They sent a letter to Police force saying, they were sad for the police because their friend must have been very special because there were a lot of people there.
I’m not sure if our children want to see these clips but I feel it’s important they know about this moments because one day I also won’t be here to tell them about their dad and it’s important they know the stories so they aren’t left wondering.
The 19th anniversary of Harry’s death has once again passed but the array of emotions that brings lingers. You want to remember but you also don’t because it sits like a heavy cloud over you. I’m never quite sure if this year will just be a cloudy dull day or more. Year after year March comes around I’m never quite sure what this year, this anniversary will be like. As the March calendar days flick over I wait to see if the storm of emotions will shower down or if there will even be a sprinkle of rain. It may just be a cloudy day.
The 18th of March was the day Harry and I got married. Till death do us part. That day comes and goes and I roll with the punches for few more days. With each year I wait for the year the feeling of peace comes and wraps around me like the warm embrace of loving arms. Will it come, will it ever happen. Will this ever be over or will it forever haunt me and inflict nervousness and unease. Will the shroud of deaths eternal nature be forever there reminding me of 1999/2000 and the demise of my life as I knew it. My carefree life. My life with Harry raising a young family like any other mainstream couple. Gosh I grieve that. I so miss that. I crave what that once felt like. The easiness of a family unit that consisted of the biological parents and children living under the same roof. Just us. No us and them, yours and mine, just us. That is something that for us we lost that has been indescribable. The simplicity of family unit was.
Surviving the trauma Harry’s death has had on myself and my three children has moulded us into who we now are. The four of us all on our own journey of grief and survival, yet intricately entwined, entangled and binding us stronger as family and individuals.
All of us has gained an intimate insight into what death and loss of a vital piece of the puzzle feels like. What it’s like to watch other fathers joyfully play with their children, support, guide and unconditionally love.
That has been one of the most significant losses. Unconditional love.
Other supports and role models have been amazing and we are truly blessed to have those in our lives but no one, no one, unconditionally loves my children now, as I do, and that’s a very isolating. I carry the burden of worry alone. Raising children as a sole parent never stops. You never stop caring or worrying or wanting the absolute best for your children and standing strong for that. Never stop loving them. Your love only deepens and with that so does the fear of anything dreadful happening.
The longevity of grief, it’s never ending presence in your life segregates and isolates. Only others that have shared a similar experience truly understands. There is nothing anyone could possibly do more to console us. It hasn’t gone away the missing and wondering, the knowing your life will never be the same remains. But you don’t talk about it because no one can fix it or even really understand.
It’s beautiful when friends acknowledge our days of significance. It lets us know they care and it warms our hearts and we are very much comforted by their kindness.
It isn’t fair what happened, our pain we didn’t want, but we have endured and out of that we can give back to the world. We are the angels.
It can make you a wonderful human if you embrace your grief and use it for good. To help others in their time of need. To give back kindness in the world.
Jane conveyed, no one really understands our grief nor should they, and even though they try it can be quite isolating. I acknowledged this and replied, you will touch people’s lives throughout your life and not even realise, because you will be sincere. You have been to the depth of sadness and understand it’s pain. Unless you have experienced such deep deep sadness and loss personally the human mind cannot comprehend it nor understand it. Only those who have lived it truly know how deep the loss runs. The depth to which it impacts you. That’s why it feels so isolating. Only those who have been positioned with the same emotional pain can understand. Most people will never feel that depth of emotional pain their entire lives. It’s a loss that never goes, a void that never can quite be filled. A piece of you that lives in silence to endure for the remainder of your life to try to make sense of. You talk to others who have suffered a loss through death of someone taken way to young, we as a family pull on each other to feel less isolated in our thoughts. Reassured that others directly affected can relate. That’s where we gain our strength at these times. From those who also have been to a depth of sadness through a life changing event.
It gives you a wisdom, an empathy that no other experience may never come close to and for that it unwittingly makes you a better person . Sometimes you may feel a little crazy because others don’t understand your grief, your loss, and you may question if you really have survived and shown resilience. But the reality is you are special, you are an angel. A more sympathetic and empathic human being towards others sufferings. You have learnt strategies to live with the missing, longing and wishing, and you’ve made a conscious choice to be happy. That is your magic.
When death comes knocking at your door on some idle Tuesday afternoon.
Love Lucy x
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