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Twice a year the kids and I gather at Harry’s parents home for balloon day.
This 19 year tradition occurs on Harry’s birthday in October and March the 24th, the day he took his last breath.
Harry loved the Australian Football League (AFL) and he followed Carlton Football Club, the mighty blues! Their team colours are blue and white.
Stephen Kernahan was one of Harry’s idols. He visited Harry and the kids in hospital and organised the publishing of the pamphlets for mourners to view at the funeral. Stephen Kernahan also known as ‘Sticks Kernahan ‘ touched by Harry and his illness, attended Harry’s Funeral, something I have never forgotten. Sticks, AFL footballer showed compassion and interest for our family beyond his ‘media and public profile’ expectations. Harry just seem to have that effect on people.
At the funeral the children released white and blue balloons symbolic of Harry’s love of footy and the mighty blues. Since then Harry’s mum, Nana Maude has gotten Bobby to buy white and blue helium balloons for what is affectionately known as balloon day. Each of us have a balloon, transcribe a message on it with textas and go outside and release them, symbolically watching them float up to Harry in heaven to read. Our messages are private, we don’t read each other’s. It’s therapeutic nature of this has become tradition. We gather as family and build on each other for comfort and strength and just have a good old family catch up.
Last night we traditionally did the releasing of balloons and then proceeded to enjoy a beautiful roast lamb dinner with lots of spoils. Nana Maude goes to lots of trouble with home-made baked scones with strawberry jam and cream, homemade fruit salad, chocolates, biscuits and many more treats.
We discuss world events and chatter. Rupert recounted a couple of memories of his dad as did Jane. I asked Archie, ‘do you remember anything, anything at all about dad?’ He replies a solid no! ‘Only what I’ve been told’ . It got me reflecting on Archie. Archie was 16 months old when Harry was diagnosed with cancer and 2 years old when he died.
At the time of death Archie did have a visual image of his dad. A man with an Akubra Hat. It’s an Australian style stockmen cap and Harry would wear it gardening or if in the sun often.
In the weeks and few months after Harry died, there were occasions Archie would recognise this hat on other men. One day the gardener came and was working in the backyard. 2-year-old Archie became all excited looking out the window and enthusiastically said, ‘there’s my daddy outside, look there’s daddy’. I softly said that’s not daddy Arch it’s the man mowing the lawn, our gardener.
Another occasion a couple of months after Harry’s death we had gone for a day trip to visit friends camping. At a campsite near by another camper had donned an Akubra hat. Once again Archie became excited, grabbed my hand and said, ‘there’s my daddy, there’s my daddy, take me to him, take me to my daddy’. I once again reply no, that’s not your daddy. He became quite agitated and insisted it was his daddy.
Nana Maude, also told of a few situations when she was minding Archie where he thought a man close by was his dad, pointing him out and saying, daddy’s over there.
This on reflection has made me feel so sad. When we were all grieving and communicating our grief through tears and words, having the vocabulary to articulate to people our feelings, there was Archie unable to elaborate but desperately searching for his dad. Trying to fathom, where his daddy had gone. Realising he hadn’t seen daddy for sometime and pining for him, seeking him in the crowd of faces he came across. Where’s my daddy? I want to see my daddy?
I can’t help but wonder what was going on in that tiny little two-year olds mind. How was all this new normal affecting him. Were we, the proficient masters of the English language, blindly unaware of the desperation happening for a little two-year-old who wasn’t verbally able to communicate or old enough to have any such capacity to understand his dad had died of a terminal illness, a brain tumour.
Were we so all consumed in our grief we didn’t think Archie was grieving as a two-year old does. Did we not understand two year olds feel loss. Or did we simply not know how to ‘fix’ it, how to help him understand, and were we all just surviving doing our best at the time, trying to comfort protect and shield him as much as we could. I’m sure we were. But little two year olds are just little humans. They still think and feel human emotions like missing, sadness, fear, they know the difference between sad and happy, angry and calm. It did break my heart at the times when Archie thought he sighted his dad but as I reassured him I don’t think I fully understood the gravity of loss for my little boy. A boy who was constantly looking for daddy.
I wonder when he stopped looking. I wonder when his little mind gave up hope. I wonder how his infant minds ability made sense of what had happened. As much as he was surrounded by love, he too was now surrounded by grief. He too would have felt the shift within the vibe of our being and home.
How did this effect Archie, the almost non verbal toddler who now at 21 has no memory at all of his dad. His dad he was desperately trying to find, searching for, scanning the adults he could see as a vulnerable two-year old, hoping one of them was daddy.
Archie was never separated from Harry. He didn’t go to work or school or leave to go home after a visit. Harry was there by Archie’s side 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and then suddenly gone, never to be seen again. It must have be extremely traumatic for a two-year old.
About 12 months after Harry’s death we got a new puppy. Archie asked me at the time, could I buy him a new daddy. He’s little mind and soul so desperately needed and wanted a daddy.
You drop children at care before work and they cry, but you know you will return. They know you will return, but Archie’s dad never returned. For Archie he was just gone, and Archie was waiting for his return.
I now sit and wonder how does an infant process the death of a parent. Are they the forgotten one in this life changing situation. Have they endured a shift they didn’t understand and grown into who they are as a result of how they processed death. The death of a dad who for 12 months of your two short years of life you had spent every single waking moment with except for hospital stays and some doctors appointments.
I am of the belief that Harry’s death has impacted on Archie more than we even know, and maybe more than he knows. He not only was looking for his daddy that he was waiting to return, but as he got older he looked on as friends dads rolled around playing on the floor with their sons, kicking the footy kick to kick, watching them play weekend sports cheering them on. There were times growing up I felt Archie was grieving.
I had met a man who had no children of his own prior to Ted who I refer to as the ‘Lone Ranger’. Archie was about six at the time. He gravitated to this man, a male he so desperately wanted to be a dad. The relationship ended, partly because I didn’t feel he was good for my children. One Easter Archie made an Easter egg basket out of paper at school. He came home with it filled to the brim with tiny gold foil wrapped Easter eggs in it. He’d made it for the Lone Ranger and beaming proud of his efforts held it up to give it to him. The Lone Ranger awkwardly laughed and said give it to your mum, I don’t want it. My heart sank for Archie whose love filled gift had just been rejected by the man he so desperately wanted as a dad. To have a dad of his own like the other boys at school, like his friend Will up the street whose dad was a fireman. The Lone Ranger was a policeman another hero like Wills dad, yet Archie just got his gift rejected, he’d been rejected.
I said to the Lone Ranger after in private. No matter what or how that present was you gracefully take it from an innocent child and say thank you. Maybe he just didn’t understand parenting, or thought I as his mum should be given the gift, but he clearly didn’t get the significance of Archie’s love for him and desire for a dad.
When the relationship with the Lone Ranger ended, Archie was now about 8 or 9. Once again he was to face loss and heartache. I recall one night Archie taking my phone and hiding under my bed where he thought I couldn’t hear him and dialled the Lone Rangers number. Of course the Lone Ranger would have seen my number come up and chose not to answer so Archie proceeded to leave a message. ‘It’s me Archie, it’s your little mate, don’t you want to talk to your little mate? Please call me’. The phone call was never returned.
My heart ached. I knew I had to protect the hearts of my children that any relationship with another man not only impacted me but impacted them. Before they met Ted I was very protective about this. I could not be reckless with their hearts.
By the time Archie met Ted he was 11. Still young, still vulnerable and still impressionable.
I don’t think as a parent I’ve done everything right but I have tried to do my best at the time. Tried to make good choices, but I’m human and I’m certain I’ve made mistakes. Ted has been a good role model for Archie, however I feel Archie still missed a dad.
When Harry died someone said to me. Archie will be fine, it’s Rupert and Jane who will miss him the most because they knew their dad and know what they are missing. I’ve always remembered this. The truth is the opposite. Because Archie doesn’t have any memory of his dad at all and only knows what others have told him, I believe he as a result has been the most affected emotionally. Rupert and Jane can pull on memories, fond memories. Can visualise him, his personality and remember his vibe the sort of man he was. Rupert was 10 when his dad died and Jane had just turned 5. I don’t want to diminish what they have lost and I know they both are still saddened and wish everyday this didn’t happen to our family, but for Archie he has grieved almost separately to us.
He has grieved a dad, a person he never knew, he has grieved never having known what it is like to have a dad. He has grieved never having a male take him under his wing and really show an interest in him and want to guide him, father him. He has had good male role models but never been fathered and there’s a big difference in that. He was a boy who really needed his dad. A boy who I know would have had a fabulous relationship with his dad had he be given the chance. Not having the opportunity to have that chance is beyond words to describe what that loss really is. For him to have absolutely no physical presence on this earth who is his dad. A man we all know was a good dad. A man we know didn’t want his son to grow up without him. A man whose own dad died when he was a teenager and knew exactly how that felt. A man who said to me prior to his death, my children won’t remember me and if you meet someone some other mans values and beliefs will be given to my children, not mine. I have tried hard to stand my ground, raise our children with our values, our beliefs, and ensure the children have been surrounded by good male and female role models. It’s the best I could do and I think I have done that.
I love Archie to the moon and back and will always be here for him and hope to help him undo any of the pain growing up without his dad has caused. No one can change that, it unfortunately was out of all our control. I look at the him now and wonder what pain may still exist behind those blue eyes of his now chiseled face. What does he think, does he carry a similar sadness to the rest of us. Is he ok? He has grown into a smart determined young man, who has such potential and deserves lots of love and happiness. At 21 he is still young. I want to wrap my arms around him and squeeze him tight with a warm hug and tell him I love him. That I love him so much. That I’m sorry for all that’s happened. To make it right for him. To let him know he is not alone and he has the DNA of his dad flowing through his veins, and in part of every cell in his body, that no one can take that from him. That his dad loved him and wanted to be here for him. That it’s shit that this happened to him and he has the right to feel sad and cheated growing up because of what happened. That he did miss out on a lot. That life can feel so unfair sometimes and even cruel. That he has such potential. That he is very loveable . With the right guidance and him believing in himself he will evolve into a great man his dad will be proud of. Someone he is proud of.
Archie is the youngest of his siblings. His dad and I are the youngest siblings of our families and as his dad has written in his letter to his youngest son, ‘the best always comes last mate, don’ t forget it ♥️.
Harry’s letter to Archie before he died.
Love Lucy x