I’VE LEARNED TO LOSE, YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO.

The other night House Rules was on TV, just running in the background while I did other things. Before I knew it the program ended and the next one started and the first scenes of it involved a grandmother identifying the body of her teenaged grandson. As I reached for the remote the memory flashed through my head; “There’s nothing to identify.” I could see the officer, knelt before me, asking which dentist my Daughter Number One had attended. “There’s nothing to identify.” For the next twenty four hours that phrase pinged around my head. “There’s nothing to identify”. On the walk to school. “There’s nothing to identify.” In Coles, grocery shopping. “There’s nothing to identify.” Washing up at the sink. “There’s nothing to identify.” As the days go on it echoes less, and I write it here to diminish it’s power again. But it’s not a memory I can ever be free from. Burned into my brain like her love knot bracelet into my Daughter’s arm.

A friend’s daughter asked why I don’t drive. “I’ve never driven.” I said “I catch public transport. You get used to it.” And all that is true. But I didn’t mention that during any car ride I take, when anyone brakes sharply or swerves or merges into traffic or just does nothing but be on the road at the same time as the car I am in; that I see, time after time, the impact if the cars were to hit each other. In my mind’s eye, in less than a heartbeat, I see the crumpling of metal and the flailing of limbs and possessions in slow motion flying through the car. Time after time. I didn’t explain that I will never drive. That I could never be anything but a liability on the road, reacting to things before they might happen. Because sometimes they do.

Ironing Daughter Number Two’s shirt the other day for school I almost called out her Sister’s name. Almost. The sister she is uncannily like but never got to meet. They are both their own people but still, having Daughter Number Two at high school now and fast approaching the age and stage Daughter Number One was at when she died is more challenging than I had anticipated it being. Mostly because I hadn’t anticipated it. In the first week of Daughter Number Two starting high school I went to pick her up and as I approached the school a girl who looked vaguely like Daughter Number One walked out the school gate and my heart leapt in recognition before plummeting as reality kicked in. Just a moment, fleeting but breathtaking.

Through all of these things time marches on. Mother’s Day is on Sunday. The next week is Daughter Number Two’s birthday. The day after is Son Number One’s birthday and ten days after that will be the 16th anniversary of Daughter Number One’s murder. And I iron uniforms and pack lunches and plan birthday celebrations but part of me is just so sad. So tired and so sad. I am always grateful for all of my children. I know how lucky I am. I have so many wonderful friends and people who love me. But this time of year is hard. It is heavy.

I was speaking to the Beautiful Friend, who was talking about her own Mother and her focus for this Mother’s Day; which was to celebrate all that she is and has because of her Mum. Because of Her.

Those words really resonated with me. Celebrate all that I am and have, because of Her. There are things that I wish with every fibre of my being were different and things that I wouldn’t change. But you can’t go back anyway and every step on my path has been one that has led me here. So, even if I am moving a bit slowly at the moment I’m still putting one foot in front of the other. Celebrating all that I am and have. Because of Her.

(Gustav Klimt, Mother and Child)

Safe onward travel x

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FROM THE PERFECT START TO THE FINISH LINE.

It’s been a long time, since I last checked in. Months, according to the calendar. Light years if you ask me. So many things have happened and so much has changed. Recent events have been personally shattering and I’m trying to put my pieces back together again and refocus on changing the things I can.

On the 6th of April I attended the birthday celebration of one of the most magic kids I have had the extreme pleasure of knowing. The 6th isn’t his actual birthday, that’s a few days later, but it does happen to be his beautiful mother’s birthday. It’s also my youngest sister’s birthday, but I haven’t had any contact with her for well over a decade. Coincidentally, it’s also the birth date of this very blog, eleven years ago this year. So, I celebrated with the Magic Kid and my Beautiful Friend, and I thought once again that I should check in with you here. Accept the things you cannot change; change what you can; know the difference.

February 25th was the thirtieth anniversary of the day my Daughter Number One was born. We spent a quiet day, had some cake and then two days later Son Number Two and I attended Eminem’s final concert in Australia before he left the country to continue his tour. Our seats couldn’t really have been further from the stage in the gigantic stadium but we were at a great angle to see everything. We arrived early enough so that the crowds were overwhelming but not unmanageable, and I had the upcoming concert to focus on. We were lucky enough to get tickets cheaply, in a presale, and they counted as my birthday present as well as our Christmas present to each other. When Eminem came on for the encore and closed the night with the same song that closed Daughter Number One’s funeral I sobbed. And I looked at my Son and was glad to be there.

We have been through a lot together, that kid and me. In a few months he will be twenty one years old. The other night he went out with friends and was picked up on a motorbike, riding pillion. He knows me well enough to anticipate my abject terror; he didn’t know that would be the mode of transport beforehand. He reassured me as best he could, hugging me goodbye ; it was a short journey and he would message me when he arrived. Which he literally did, sending me a close up of his face, in the dark of night, as soon as he got off the bike. In the roughly fifteen minutes it took, between the time he left and getting his message, I had sent a message to my Beautiful Friend, who rang me. I had gone through Son Number Two’s outfit in my head, ordering clothing items in terms of the protection they offered his body. Leather jacket = ✔, jeans = could be worse, running shoes = ❌. Helmet = ✔✔✔✔. I reassured myself that I had my details in the emergency information on his phone and that the trip was only a short one. I sat with my terror and tried to get my breathing under control.

Son Number Two will be twenty one years old in a few months. He tells me where he is going and when. He lets me know when he will be back. If his plans change then he will tell me that too, because he knows I cannot tolerate surprises. He lets me track him on iPhone’s Find My Friend app, which means in theory I can see where he is all the time. I don’t abuse that privilege. I understand the trust and respect that concession is given in, so I return it. I appreciate it. And he hugs me while I sob and closes the door behind him, to go out and live his life on his terms. Which is how it should be.

At the end of January I was sitting in an airport, drinking a hot chocolate and looking at my wrist. On the inside of my wrist is a tattoo that matches one that adorns one of my dear friend’s and wrapped around it a Christmas present from another; a bangle inscribed ‘nevertheless, she persisted’. Another dear one was with Daughter Number Two and I, and the three of us were there to travel across the country to take Daughter Number Two back to where she lived. I was tired. So tired.

Last year I had cancer. It’s still surreal to say that. Last year I had cancer. In one of my ovaries. But I was lucky. Treatment was definitive, with a surgery, my second for the year. After the first operation, for ‘women’s issues’, where they discovered the cancer incidentally, my only real concern was my upcoming holiday time with Daughter Number Two, which necessitated being able to fly across the country twice and care for her, for the month she was with me. After being told the cancer I had was a good one to get, slow growing and unlikely to have spread, my only questions were about the timeline for the surgery, making it clear that if it was going to interfere with Daughter Number Two’s time with us, then it would need to wait. The doctor assured me she would do her best in terms of scheduling the surgery, but that I would need a six week post operative check up before I would be cleared to fly and, given the timeframe, there was no room for any complication of any sort. Ok, whatever, let’s just get it done and over with so I can go and get my girl. And it really was only when the Oncology nurses would speak to me in a certain tone that I would be reminded that it was actually cancer I was dealing with. Anyway, the doctor scheduled the surgery as soon as she was able. It all went smoothly and my post operative check happened just before I went to pick up Daughter Number Two, just after Christmas.

We’d spent four weeks packing as much love and laughter into every moment as we could, but here we were again, at the pointy bit, sitting in an airport, about to take her back. And we boarded the plane, and crossed the country and that was that. Except it wasn’t, because life can spin on a dime and change in a heartbeat and you can NEVER know what is around the next corner, good or bad. So after two weeks we boarded another flight for home and the three of us who were there on the forward journey were there to make the journey back. ‘Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end’, right? So, I have fewer internal organs but Daughter Number Two is home fulltime now and it seems like a more than fair trade.

Which is how it came to be that Daughter Number Two and I were watching Ricky Gervais’ After Life on Netflix together. I had already watched it, but wanted to share it with her. Despite the uncomfortable nature of the subject matter but mostly because of it, the masterful story telling and nuanced, layered characters make After Life compelling viewing. Gervais’ characters are always so multidimensional. In a world where every day we are encouraged to consider everyone who isn’t exactly like us as ‘bad guys’ to our ‘good guys’, Gervais reminds us we all have the potential to be both. And that even when circumstances are outside of our control we still have choices, and we make them. By action or inaction, we make them.

My bedtime routine consists of scrolling through Twitter and falling asleep to paternity test clips, either Maury or Paternity Court, on YouTube. Judge all you like, but whatever gets me through the night is alright. After Life has created a huge buzz on Twitter, well, everywhere really but like I said, I drop in on Twitter most nights. There’s been lots of discussion about Gervais’ character, Tony’s, last scene with Julian. One of the things that has bothered me about discussion of that extraordinarily impactful scene is how the character of Julian is actually referred to by some viewers. The adjectives used. But his name is Julian. He and Tony discuss the fact that they are both grieving and Julian makes reference to the fact that Tony’s grief is more socially acceptable. And OH! How I felt that, down to my very soul. How quick people are to judge and assume, even when others are in the most horrifically heartbreaking of circumstances. When really, we all of us, are shades of grey. There’s been much made on the interwebs of Tony’s final gift to Julian too, and once again Gervais leads us all to the water but doesn’t try to convince us of how it tastes. If anything, for me, his muddying of the waters only increases it’s ability to reflect our own humanity back at us all. Truly powerful viewing that has people talking about grief and loss. Highly recommended.

Speaking of Humanity, since After Life is only six episodes long (thankfully a second season has been confirmed!), Daughter Number Two and I have moved on during the school holidays to Gervais’ Netflix stand up special Humanity and then, of course, to Derek. Two episodes in Daughter Number Two declared“Nothing better happen to my boy Derek! He’s just a sweet, little cinnamon roll!”. It was interesting watching Derek post After Life, seeing how concepts had evolved and grown but each production mentioned stands easily on it’s own merits. The writing is truly exqusite, not least for the many facets of each character that are revealed. In one conversation Daughter Number Two and I were having she referred to the writing being ‘Show, don’t Tell’ and reminded me that there’s always something to learn if you leave yourself open to lessons.

So, I’m still here. Still putting one foot in front of the other. Still learning. Still loving. And I wish the same for you.

Safe onward travel x

FEBRUARY MADE ME SHIVER.

To the Students of Stoneman Douglas High School,

There are not words to convey how sorry I am for what has happened to you all. On a day most associated with love, in a place that should be associated with growth the magnitude of the horror you have experienced and continue to experience is almost incomprehensible.

I don’t pretend to know what you are going through but my heart bleeds as I imagine you going from funeral to funeral, from hospital bed to hospital bed. Even just going from day to day, as you navigate this, your new normal.

This Sunday, my eldest Daughter would have been turning 29. She would have been, but she was murdered aged 14. I don’t pretend to know what you are going through so I will speak to what I do know.

I know that all these years later, my Daughter’s friends still say her name.

You will move on from this. You won’t have a choice. Time rolls on regardless. I hope you can hold on to your outrage but not let it rob you of all that is beautiful in life. None of you have chosen this but you will get to have some choice about what you carry with you into your futures. Or how you carry it into your futures. Honouring your friends and your teachers but also, importantly, honouring yourselves. Take it one step at a time.

I hope that you can ask for help if you need it. I know that you will not forget. More than anything else, I hope that you see the change you are fighting so hard for.

Safe onward travel x

ONCE I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD. 

A couple of nights ago Son Number Two woke me in the early hours of the morning. I had been having a nightmare that something was coming at me out of the dark and, in my dream, I had been screaming his name. He said, in real life, that he couldn’t understand what I was crying out, but that I was clearly distressed, so he woke me up. It wasn’t the first time, it will not be the last. He wakes me up and talks to me for a couple of minutes as I reorient myself and then he goes back to bed. And in the morning he gets up and goes off to school. 

Last Wednesday was Son Number Two’s eighteenth birthday. That seems incredible to me but there you have it. My beautiful Daughter Number One died when he was four years old and he has very few memories of her. Life ‘After’ is life as he knows it. I wanted his birthday to be all about him and I think, I hope, that he felt that it was. The birthday video I made to post to facebook had only one photo of him with each sibling; the rest of an increasingly good looking boy across the years. So many memories as I trawled through photos to pick the best ones. 

And I got things together and I organised his birthday dinner but by the big day I was exhausted from the effort of containing the unfairness of his big sister not being here to celebrate this milestone with him and the brutality of the knowledge that she never got to see her eighteenth birthday. Or any birthday after she turned fourteen. Each night this week brought a nightmare that didn’t really stop when I awoke. 
On his birthday Son Number Two went off to school and I attended to the last few details. I went to visit a friend and while they were sweeping outside I stood in their kitchen with music on full blast and sobbed the kind of heaving, full bodied sobs that leave you unsure if you are going to vomit and bring you literally to your knees – and they did, and they did. But before my friend came inside I had wiped off my face and regained my composure and the day wore on. 

I came home to my Son and one friend, followed by another, then another. We all got ready to go out for his birthday dinner and there were many laughs. The general consensus amongst his friends seems to be that I am cool, as parents go. But they have no idea of how hard my Son’s life has been at times. We have had some adventures though, he and I, and I guess we have both made it this far. That’s saying something in itself even if I’m not sure what that is. What I do know is that he has a solid group of friends who, like him, are loyal smart arses for the most part. But funny as fuck. 
We all prepared to go out and I sent them off to the bus stop and waited for my own lift at the top of my drive way and with their laughter travelling around the corner to me I felt the tightness in my chest and the change in my breathing as the grip I held so tightly once again started to slip. I sent an emergency text to one of my oldest, dearest friends and then my other lovely friends picked me up to go to the restaurant. 


The birthday dinner was a good night out and a jolly good time was had by all. I limped through the rest of the week and here we are, on Father’s Day. 

Once again I feel for my son and all that was stolen from him but more than that, I am so grateful. I am grateful beyond measure for the truly good men who have been in his life. The ones who came to his birthday dinner and clapped him on the back, shook his hand and hugged him goodbye. I am grateful for all of those men who have spent time with him over his life and who have cared enough to make the effort. I am thankful for the beautiful men and fathers I have the privilege of knowing, the true good guys that mean I continue to have hope. Lastly, I am grateful for my Son, who he is and who he is becoming. 

Safe onward travel x 

AM I ON MY OWN? AM I EVEN CLOSE? 


Well, that’s Mother’s Day done and dusted for another year. I know I am not the only one who finds Mother’s Day hard. There are lots of reasons it can be hard for people. Those who have lost their mothers. Those who have not been able to have children but who have deeply wanted to. I don’t pretend to have any monopoly on Mother’s Day related pain. Really, who would want it? Truth be told though, it is not a day I enjoy.

There are obvious reasons for that and for those of you following along, here’s one more:

In a few days it will be Daughter Number Two’s birthday. She will be nine. The day after that it will be Son Number One’s 22nd birthday, but he is much younger than his years in some ways and however old you are it’s nice to feel people appreciate having you around, particularly on your birthday. Thirteen years ago I was decorating a Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake with my beautiful first born Daughter for her brother’s 9th birthday and then ten days after that she was dead. Each and every year since Sam’s death my eldest son’s birthday has fallen into the chasm of grief that opens between Daughter Number One’s birthday and the anniversary of her murder. Every. Single. Time. And since Daughter Number Two rocketed into the world her birthday is consumed by the same black hole.

It’s not like I forget the dates. I know when they were born! I was there. It is just that the dates kind of sneak up on me. Every time. So last Friday I was speaking to Daughter Number Two on the phone and I said to her “It’s Friday tomorrow, so there’s only one more day of school before the weekend!” And she answered “Yes! And you know what the next Friday Is!” And I, her Mother, said no.

“Next Friday is my birthday!”

Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck. “Oh yes! Of course I know that!” Fuck. Really? Already? But there has to be more time, surely. I have to have more time than that! I need more time!

When I was awaiting Daughter Number Two’s arrival into the world I was so excited she was due after the anniversary of her sister’s death. It would give me a positive focal point past that dreaded anniversary, I thought. But best laid plans and all of that… Daughter Number Two made her grand entrance six and a bit weeks early, completely overshadowing her eldest brother’s 13th birthday the following day, a fact from which he has still not completely recovered.

It’s not like I don’t try. I do. I knew the birthday’s were coming up. I knew I had preparations to make. I had thought a little bit about what to do this year. I just hadn’t done anything yet. But there has to be more time, surely. I have to have more time than that! I need more time! Except now there wasn’t any time left and to have any chance of getting anything to them in time for their birthday’s I would need to get something into the mail to them the very next day. I said my goodbyes to Daughter Number Two on the phone and sat on my bed berating myself for my failings as a mother. ‘What THE FUCK is WRONG with you Kate? You are their MOTHER! You know when their birthday’s are! How can you drop the ball EVERY. FUCKING. YEAR??!!’

Since detailing my shortcomings didn’t seem to be getting me very far I decided to focus on what I actually do have and what I actually could do, better late than never. Limited time, limited finances and limited capacity to think of anything in the face of my guilt and shame made it an uphill battle. Until it hit me; what I have in abundance! Where my wealth of riches are found. In my family of the heart. My beautiful and amazing friends.

So I wrote a post on facebook asking for help in making my Son and Daughter’s birthday’s special. I asked if anyone would be willing to send them a card, because I thought having more than expected mail would be a fun thing! And so many of my lovely people came through. People who have their own shit going on. No one particularly financially wealthy but all incredibly rich in heart and generosity. I know I have told you before here but it is a point I cannot make too often; I have the very best friends. Where ever I go and whatever I do, I never walk alone.

I had already asked for their support earlier in the week when I spoke at a workshop run by Angelhands. It is always a honour to be asked and I hold on to the hope that sharing my experiences will somehow, someway, someday help someone. My friend Ann was also there and I always get much of value listening to her speak. Ann was recently appointed an ambassador for Our Watch. They are lucky to have her. We are all lucky to have her.

On the day I spoke at the Angelhands workshop I had posted on my facebook saying only that it was a big day for me and asking people to keep me in their thoughts. As always my beautiful people had my back. Son Number Two and another lovely friend physically came with me. The kindness of the comments on my facebook post and even just in the acknowledgement of their ‘like’s’ – ‘I see you, I hear you’ – was a reminder that my friends stand with me. Always. How lucky I am.

After I managed to get something in the mail to my children I had time to reflect on why this happens each year despite my best efforts. I realised that if I don’t actively acknowledge the birthday’s are fast approaching then the anniversary cannot be fast approaching either. Because there has to be more time, surely. I have to have more time than that! I need more time!

Because I remember what we were doing and that my Daughter Number One was still alive this time thirteen years ago. Because I didn’t know that those would be the last times we ever did things together. Because there has to be more time, surely. I have to have more time than that! I need more time! But there isn’t. There is no more time. And that is that.

I am so thankful for all the kindnesses I receive. I try to pass on these kindnesses, to pay them forward. It doesn’t take much, as I said in my last post, to change someone’s day. I can’t pretend that it’s completely altruistic on my part; making someone else feel better makes me feel better. It really is more blessed to give than to receive. But a win-win can’t be a bad thing!

I have been doing a bit of reading on love languages recently. There are, apparently, five main ways we express love; words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. I like to think I am fairly fluent in all of those but that doesn’t mean there is not room for improvement. The more opportunities to practise, the better. Love is my religion. My reading has also been useful for reflecting on the ways that others around me show me I am loved. Acknowledging that to them and to myself is important. Especially when I don’t feel loveable.

I love and I am loved. At the end of the day it is all that counts. So, just do it, while you still have the time.
Two days before the anniversary of Sam’s death this year is the eighteenth anniversary of the day a man I loved deeply committed suicide. I still miss him enormously. He was my friend.

The day before the 13th anniversary of Sam’s death is the first anniversary of her father’s death. While I know he suffers no longer my heart breaks at the thought of how hard this day will be for his wife and his sons. Selfishly I mourn another piece of my Daughter gone forever from this world.

Then comes the 13th anniversary itself. And I inch ever closer to having the time spent living without my daughter become longer than the time I had to spend with her and, truly, I don’t know how one bears that. I just know that there doesn’t seem to be a choice.

Hard days. Hard days. I’m not going to lie. It is the love of my children and friends that holds me upright and in that way I am truly blessed. That is what I hang on to. At the end of the day that is what matters.

Life is short. Love hard.

Safe onward travel x

BELIEVE. 

  
So much has happened since last we spoke. I wrote my birthday message to Sam to commemorate her 27th birthday. My gorgeous friend Eden of Edenland was generous enough to share my post on facebook. Eden had already inspired the title of the birthday post – ‘Beautiful Pain‘ – from a song she had shared earlier in the day. Once Eden shared my little post it took off around the world with thousands of views from dozens of countries. Because Eden shared my post it come to the attention of Kidspot, who published it on their site. I had the opportunity to work with lovely Kidspot editor Alex. And more and more people read my words about my beautiful Daughter Number One, my amazing Sam. 
Some of those people, who read my words, left me their words in return. Kind, loving, gentle words that I pulled tight around me and allowed to seep in with their warmth. There were many kind words from those who know me and love me and the words of beautiful strangers who had let me reach out and touch them. It was a profoundly humbling experience and an awesome birthday gift to my Sam. 
  
In the days that followed two more wonderful things happened. I had a message from someone who had not been a friend of Sam’s but who had gone to the same school. He recounted meeting Sam on his first day, how she showed him some kindness and left him with a message that shaped the rest of his educational career. A message that he carries with him still, all these years later. His story was Sam all over and reading what he’d written was like having her walk into the room with me. It was typical Sam; loving, inclusive, champion of the underdog. Sam’s legacy astounds me, then, when I think about it, surprises me not at all. I am SO PROUD. 
I have spoken here before of the police officer that worked Sam’s case and the difference he made to me at such a difficult time. The former police officer also wrote to me after Sam’s birthday. A lovely long message that made me smile. More kind words to keep me warm. He said he hoped my family knew how lucky they are to have me. Are they? I don’t know. What I do know is that I am so blessed to have my family of the heart, not necessarily related by blood but bound by love and loyalty. He said he had seen my strength, all those years ago when we had met under such traumatic circumstances. As I’ve said here before, I do not know if it is strength. My mind rebels at the word because I do not feel strong at all. What I am sure I had then and what I am lucky enough to have still, are people willing to stand beside me and hold me up when I falter. People who love me and believe in me when I am doubting myself. If it is strength that I have, then that is not me, it is all of you. 

  
After Sam’s birthday and my post, a friend disclosed her history of sexual abuse as a child and extended me the kindness of explaining why she had not told her mother. What grace that takes! Sometimes such kindness feels like more than I deserve. 
I was in a taxi the other day, completely hysterical. Absolutely beside myself, contorted with sobs. After about ten minutes the taxi driver said to me softly in his Eastern European accent “Would you like a cup of coffee? I buy you a cup of coffee.”  I demurred “No thank you. That is very kind of you but it is not necessary, thank you”.  After another ten minutes the driver said “This service station here, they make good coffee. I going to stop. Get you a coffee. You wait. I turn off the meter.” So I asked him if he could make it a hot chocolate instead, because it was easier to acquiesce than to continue to resist. And he did. He stopped the cab, got out of the car and came back with a bottle of water, a croissant and a hot chocolate. He gave me instructions to eat the croissant with the hot chocolate – “Will make you feel better!”. Oh guys, people are good! On the whole, people are good. I really believe that. 
I don’t know if I am brave or strong or any of that, and I certainly don’t feel it, but I know that it is a small world. I know that little things matter. I know that in ways we cannot fathom we are connected to each other. I know that when all else is gone love is what remains. 

Love is what remains.

(The police officer’s nephew, Fletcher, is on Australia’s Got Talent in the semi final tonight. He’s fab! Go give him some love x) 

  

BEAUTIFUL PAIN.

TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault, violence,murder, suicide. Safe onward travel my friends x

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Happy Birthday Sam. You would be twenty seven years old today. This photo was taken in the flat where we lived above a mechanic’s shop in The Entrance NSW. Your first birthday was almost exactly two months after the Newcastle Earthquake. On the day the earthquake happened you had gone back to sleep, so I was sleeping too. Something woke me and I wasn’t sure what had happened. It was quite disorientating and very unsettling and I picked you up out of your cot and dressed you and took you down the road to the shopping centre, and we sat in a café and people around us started talking about what had happened, and then I knew it was an earthquake. It was surreal.

When your second birthday rolled around your Daddy and I were still together. By the time you were two and a half, though, we had separated. Just after his 21st birthday, just before mine. It’s been almost nine months since the day he killed himself. My grief today includes his wife and his three sons, your brothers that did not have the chance to really know you. I know, like you, nothing can hurt him any more and I hope that if there is an afterlife, that you have found each other.

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This lovely birthday cake and yummy cupcakes were made by a friend, not by me. By the time you turned four I already felt that I had failed you as a mother. Everything I didn’t want for you, everything I wanted to give you that I had never had, I had not managed to provide. Luckily you had other people who loved you and who picked up the slack. Hayley, I love you.

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You turned five at the start of your educational career – it was only a day or two after you had started school and I brought this cake to school so you could share it with your new classmates. By this stage we were already living with the man who would become your stepfather, and then later, your murderer.

You had a brother to help you celebrate your seventh birthday. He’s twenty one years old now. Seven years older than you ever will be. He stands over two metres tall and although he still has issues he is far more independent than I ever hoped he could be. He misses you. At this time in our lives I had gone back to studying. I was studying welfare. I felt like I finally had my shit together.

What a smile! From the days of your first smiles until the day you died you had this huge, infectious smile Sam.

You had two brothers helping you celebrate your eleventh birthday. Your youngest brother towers over me now and turns eighteen this year. He misses you too and he doesn’t really remember you, which is another loss. He was so little when you died.

This was the year before you started at the Hunter School of the Performing Arts. Although you were good at school, socially you found it a bit hard sometimes; you didn’t feel like you fitted in. You started at the Hunter School of the Performing Arts in year 6 and there you finally found your home. All the other oddballs who were born the stand out, rather than blend in. These were your people. And they stayed your tribe until you died. Hell Sam, they are your tribe still, and you are still part of them and there are no words for what that meant to me then and means to me now.

The Hunter School of the Performing Arts is the only fully selective Year 3-12 performing arts school in NSW, Australia. You had to audition to get in. Everyone did. I remember preparing for the audition with you. I remember you attending the audition and having the time of your life! And I remember you getting the letter to say you had won a place in your chosen category of drama. That passion was something we shared and your youngest brother also shares it. Your little sister, born four years after you died, has it too. I see you in them.

Just before your twelfth birthday you broke your arm playing basketball at Vacation Care. You had to spend time in hospital for a closed reduction and you shared a room with two girls around your age who had cystic fibrosis. The three of you had a ball! The break meant your ice skating birthday party had to be postponed but a couple of months later it happened, with all your beautiful friends.

Your fourteenth birthday was the last I had to spend with you. There was a school dance that night and your adored best friend came home from school with you that afternoon. I love you Harley. You were so happy, so excited and it was so fitting that you spent your last birthday celebrating with people you loved in a place you were so happy. After you died, Sam, your school was so great. Honestly, I love that school. The care they provided to you continued after your death and extended to us, your family, and they looked after your friends too Sam, which I know you’d be thankful for. Above and beyond their job descriptions.

In the last photo there is a movie poster behind you for The Matrix. Your murderer told us he was taking you to see the sequel on the day, just over three months after your fourteenth birthday, that he killed you. Instead of the cinema he took you into bushland and repeatedly sexually assaulted you before murdering you.

Today is a hard day for me Sam. Some days are harder than others and this one is a tough one. I think about where you would be now, if you were here, on your twenty-seventh birthday. Would you be married? Have children? Be paying off a house? I see your friends doing all those things and more. Someone asked me if it became easier with each birthday that passed. Does it get easier the more time that passes since the last time I hugged you? Does it get easier the more days you do not get to see? The more things I realise you will never do? Does it get easier knowing that next year will bring a point in time where you will be gone longer than you were here for and I don’t even know how I will bear it. No. It does not get easier. Yes, I live with it. I don’t have much of a choice.

I live with knowing that the Monday after you died you were meant to go on an excursion to tour NIDA, when it was your DREAM to study there. And that does not get easier either. I live with knowing there is much I cannot change, but that your little sister and your brothers have flown on many aeroplanes because you never flew on one. Hey Sam, your lovely friend? The one with your name? She flies planes now – as the pilot! She flies sick children in for treatment. She studied really hard for many years but she’s living her dream now. And I’m very proud of her.

For days now I have been dizzy. All. The. Time. Brought to my knees by tears in the kitchen at 7.30 in the morning, crying in the shower so nobody hears, crying in the toilet after seeing photo’s of Luna Park in Sydney and remembering the time we celebrated your first brother’s birthday there. You were six and walked to the front of the orchestra playing and conducted them, in your jeans and denim jacket. A photographer took photos of you for a local newspaper and I still have copies somewhere. Everything today is too loud, too bright and way too hard.

On the night you were born I was eighteen years, two months, two weeks and five days old. Your Dad was working as a station attendant on the railways and I had travelled down the North Shore line to work with him before coming back to the Central Coast, where we were living, to pack as we were moving out of our first little rented unit. I had fallen asleep on the train back and as I got off the train at my stop I didn’t feel very well. It was around half past three in the afternoon. The flat was only across the road from the station though, so I walked back and continued the work that needed to be done. I really didn’t feel well at all and I started to feel pain. It occurred to me that this could be it, this could be you, but surely not? I rang the hospital and spoke to a midwife who advised me to stay at home for as long as I could. And I rang your Dad and asked him to come home, please.

But he was hours away and there came a point when I realised I couldn’t wait for him so I called a cab and went, alone, to Gosford Hospital. After I arrived I was taken to a room and apart from being periodically checked on, there I was left, alone, waiting for your Dad to arrive. I had been there several hours when I asked the nurse to call your Dad again. He hadn’t left yet. He was settling the till for the day. He was still hours away. And then I cried. And the nurse asked if there was anyone else she could call? But there wasn’t. So I waited, alone. For your Dad. And for you.

He arrived around half past ten and you arrived just before 11.30pm. It was overwhelming. Shortly afterwards your Dad said he was off. He needed to finish the packing and was tired after work. It was just me and you, kid. Until a nurse came in and offered to take you to the nursery and look after you, so I could get some rest. And I didn’t want you to go but I guessed this was what new mothers did? I didn’t want to make a fuss so I just agreed and as I lay there and waited for the nurses to bring you back to me I felt so guilty for letting you go. I feel guilty about it still. Deep inside me there is a little voice that whispers in a scratchy, spiky tone, that maybe if I’d said no and not let you go, maybe if we had spent that time together after you were freshly arrived in the world, maybe you would have been able to tell me that he had hurt you. Maybe I would have been able to save you.

And in my head I know that there would have been threats and promises to keep you quiet. I know that you stayed silent to try to protect us. But that wasn’t your job Sam. It was mine to protect you, to look after you. And I feel like I failed from the start.

But I can’t go back Sam. I can only go forward. So I do. Every day, even on the hard days. And I’ve been asked to speak about you again Sam which is so terribly, terribly important to me. I think, if talking about your life and your death helps just one person then that will be the only sense I can ever make out of it. And I tell it all Sam, even the hard bits. Because you lived it. And all with that giant smile on your beautiful face.

I miss you Sam and it hurts like crazy. But nothing can hurt you any more. I love you Sam, so very, very much.

Happy Birthday my Sammie.

On this day 27 years ago you made me a mother. And I will stay,

Always,

Your Mum x