Happy Birthday precious boy…

 

January 21, 2018

Tania Rice-Brading & Colin Brading

Waking up this morning, 22 January, 2018, is reminiscent of Christmas morning last year.  There is that overriding air of something special that requires celebration, combined with that aching pit in our stomachs that will not go away.

Every parent wants to mark their child’s birthday each year with something special, irrespective of age, or even when they aren’t physically with you.  The idea of a celebration today however, is far removed from each of our thoughts.

I guess it is the day we have all been dreading for the past five months, and yet here it is, and as with each of the milestones to date, we will attempt to all put our best foot forward, and make the most of it.

Without Cooper, our family exists in a highly- altered state.  We appreciate what we have, and we truly appreciate those around us, but his absence is, and I suspect, always will be , such an overriding force in our lives. For eighteen years, his larger than life presence, beautiful smile, wicked sense of humour, willingness to debate anything and everything, his innocence, and his humility, has blessed our lives, and the void he has left defies words.

There is so very much to miss about our precious son and brother, but we are not alone.  So many feel his absence in so many different ways.  I hear the comment so often, that he used to make others laugh – usually at someone else’s expense, and how much that is missed amongst sporting teams, school friends alike. I was usually the butt of his jokes at home, so I understand this.   Loyalty  to his friends was also a big part of who he was.  He would never let a friend down. As his family, we miss his courage, bravery, and determination in the face of adversity, and we miss his dominating physical presence in our lives, despite it being very different for each of us.  When you lose someone you love, you lose the physical essence of who they were, and it is something that can never be replaced.

The Foundation that proudly bears Cooper’s name will today, celebrate several milestones without him.  He would have been so touched to see the CRBF 1st X1 play the CRBF All Stars at Trumper Park, an oval where he spent the majority of the last decade playing AFL for East Sydney Bulldogs.  After all, sport was his life.

 The  ABC 7.30 Report last week showcased Coops Foundation, and the last twelve months of his life, a piece lovingly compiled by journalist Lesley Robinson, which has been a work in progress for the past year. We announce today that Cooper’s long held hope of CRBF operating as a registered charity, is one step closer, with our application to the ACNC – the final step in registration. We will continue to  support our long held partnerships with Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and the Australian Cancer Research Fund, whilst diversifying with some funding directly to pipeline projects through our most recent partner, the Australian Sarcoma Group.

So today we all join in Cooper’s long held dream of making the world a better place for those young people facing this unspeakably difficult journey-   one step at a time, one determined foot in front of the other…

Never be in any doubt as to how much we truly appreciate your love and support throughout this unspeakably difficult journey.

 

Two sides to every story…

January 20, 2018

How many of us witnessed the beaming smile on Nick Kyrgios face last night when Hollywood A-lister, Will Smith acknowledged him with a thumbs- up for being “cool”?   The crowd were on their feet celebrating his win over Jo Wilfred Tsonga, his childhood idol, and it was a truly lovely moment for a young man who has been judged quite harshly, over past years.  Wonderful, but largely buried memories came flooding back to me about an encounter Cooper had with Nick Krygios four years ago.

We have for the past decade, gravitated to Melbourne during the Australian Open, and have taken in many games over that time.  It was Father/Son time for Colin, Mitch and Cooper. Unbeknown to us, The Grand Hyatt Melbourne which is our home away from home in Melbourne, is also home away from home to some of the world’s most prominent names in tennis, and the hotel is under siege in January of each year with familiar faces from the tennis world.   I remember the excitement after Coop took the elevator with Jo Wilfred Tsonga in 2012, who took the time to say ‘hi’, accompanied by a disarmingly warm smile.  At the time he was ranked no.5 in the world.

But this story is not about the personable Jo Wilfred.  It began with Coop and Colin having an impromptu game basketball at the hotel.  They hadn’t bothered to book the court, and took their chances.  After half an hour of exhaustive competition, they were approached by a young man with a very familiar face, asking if they would like to join he, and his friends for a game of basketball, as it turned out – he actually did have the court booked.  Colin, noticed a familiarity in this very friendly, exceedingly polite and uber fit young man.  For Coop, the penny dropped immediately.  This was the highly talented and often misunderstood, Bernard Tomic, and amongst his “friends” was the very young Nick Kyrgios.  For over half an hour, (because that’s all Colin could manage…) they engaged in a spirited, fun and very friendly match up, or as Colin put it – “They took it easy on us”…

Both Nick and Bernard have been surrounded in controversy over past years, and each time the media portrays the pair in an unfavourable light, we often think of that day in 2013, the chance meeting with the two young men, and the sheer joy and excitement it brought to Coop’s life, and may I add, to Colin’s also.  Coop was not visibly unwell at the time, and was highly competitive, and he was never going to allow Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic clean the floor with him on the basketball court.  The two young men embraced him so warmly – despite the fact it was them who had booked the court for them and their friends.

We all dabble in duplicity from time to time, and I use this word in its meaning of “being double”.  We often have one persona that is not necessarily the one that is seen by the outside world. We know from first-hand experience with Cooper during his illness, what you see is not always what you get…He was a master in the art of masking how ill he truly was to the outside world.  There is most often, two sides to everyone.  It is hard to know how often these boys engage in these random acts of kindness, but I suspect a little more often than we might think – without cameras, and without media to record it.

Last night Nick Kyrgios posted on Instagram, “Tonight was special.  You will always be someone I look up to @Tsongaofficiel. Was an absolute pleasure to play out there today”… With a little tweaking here and there – it could easily have been posted by Coop.  There are always going to be times in your life when no matter who you are, and how good you are at what you do, you will find yourself in awe of another.  For Coop, it was that 30 minutes on the basketball court with what would turn out years later, to be two of Australia’s most promising tennis prospects and their entourage.  Over the years, he never waned in his support of either despite the tumultuous media representation.

Next time the media take a swipe at Nick Kyrgios or indeed Bernard Tomic, I would ask you to remember this story, and remember the huge heart, and generosity of spirit, they both showed our precious boy, and his dad, and the wonderful memory they created in the process.

The team at CRBF would like to extend our congratulations to Nick for a great game last night, and we cannot wait to see him take out his first Australian Open, on January 28, 2018.  Bernard, we hope you are back again next year!

 

Using your currency wisely…

January 6, 2018

Using your currency wisely…

December, 2004, saw two cricket obsessed five and eight year olds, transfixed to the television, watching Australia’s Glenn McGrath, tear through the Pakistan batting line up in Perth, finishing with a career best 8/24 off sixteen overs.  For those of you who know nothing of cricket, an eight- wicket haul is something every bowler dreams of, but rarely achieves, much less at Test level.  It is akin to winning, the Melbourne Cup, the Sydney to Hobart or the Australian open.  It takes huge talent, courage, an enormous heart, and a touch of mongrel to do so.

During commercial breaks, there would be the mimicking of each wicket taken, in our lounge, and my incessant nagging about taking the game outside.  Coop would practice his “air bowling” and after careful analysis, adopting every finite move of the cricketer he idolised.  The moment the game was over, it would be straight to the nets, to practice with a tennis ball. His brother, a willing and very able participant with the bat, and an accomplished leg spin bowler.

The boys would spend hours honing their self- taught techniques, while Coop continued to mimic Glenn Mcgrath, and Mitch, Shane Warne, to the point where a number of Masters in his first year at Sydney Grammar, who did not know him by any other name than Warnie.  The boys would find any excuse to play in our back garden, the laneway, or the nets at the local school, wherever there was a space – the bat and ball would emerge. Coop was annoyed he was deemed too young for a team at six, but eventually burst onto the scene playing local club cricket aged eight.  This had given him two years to analyse and mimic the bowling style of his idol, and he embraced the challenge.

Coop’s first game caused one of the cricket tragic dads on the sidelines, whilst watching Coop deliver his first few balls, to remark…”I think we have just discovered our next McGrath”…  Possibly the highest order of compliment to Coop at the time.  Needless to say, after a succession coaches had moulded his style in later years, his likeness to his hero changed dramatically, but for a brief moment in time, he dared to dream.

Fast forward four years, and Cooper had been given the unexpected honour to captain the Scots College prep 1st X1.  His first fixture resulted in the revelation his idol had returned to the game, only this time as a school cricket dad. The ensuing nerves when he was around, proved to be problematic for Coop. Glenn would not have even noticed the uncharacteristically nervous young boy, as he treated all the boys in the same understated manner, and seemed to understand the impetus he had on each.

Last year, when Coop was struggling with the side effects and the endless disappointments attached to his treatment, he quite unexpectedly received an email from Cricket Australia, and attached were two videos, one from Glenn, and the other from Steve Waugh. Cooper had trialled at representative and state level with Steve’s son Austin who has gone on to become a force to be reckoned with as a national u19’s cricketer. I am certain neither dad would remember the gesture, nor had they remembered Coop, yet both had taken the time to record a special message for him, a message that would elicit joy at one of his lowest points. This gesture was completely unsolicited, and put simply, a very pure gesture by both, and one that brought a smile to Coop’s face when reasons to smiles were few and far between.

I have learned so much from my son over the past years – we all did.   We learned from his ever present humility and the grace during times of extreme adversity, and we learned from the way in which chose to help others by the inception of his Foundation, especially when his work would be unlikely to change his trajectory in any way. Cooper chose to use his currency wisely.  He chose to rise above the feelings of uncertainty, angst and fear, which went hand in hand with his cancer, and attempted instead, to make his very brief life count.  In doing so, he unwittingly began to once more, follow in the steps of his cricket idol.  Glenn and his equally impressive family, have used their currency wisely for many years, having risen above the grief, the adversity and the tough times, and have made the world a better place for those walking the path of the inspirational Jane Mcgrath.

As our family is left to contemplate life each day without our precious son and brother, together with the void his absence has left in our lives, it is always good to look at those, such as the Mcgrath family, and what they have managed to achieved for the greater good, rising above all else.

  Congratulations on your ten-year anniversary today. The team at CRBF are greatly inspired by your work, and your success.  We aspire to significantly improve the lives of young sarcoma patients over the next ten years, as you have done for those suffering from breast cancer.

 Photo courtesy of  The Telegraph

Truly appreciating the moment

December 25, 2017

25 December, 2017 seemed to be a perfect forum to put pen to paper, and to share what I have been secretly dreading for months – facing the reality of waking on Christmas morning without one member of our very small, but close knit family. Not because he is exploring the world, or at his new partner’s home for the Festive Season, but because medical science failed to find the answer to one particularly rare, and aggressive cancer.

Waking this morning, was like no other Christmas morning as the magic had disappeared. Despite the boys this year being 18 and 21, Colin and I had always attempted to provide an element of childhood magic, for every Christmas. With each passing year, this attempt ran the risk of falling horribly flat. Stockings full of random filler gifts which were deemed to be underwhelming, the forced expressions of appreciation, the odd humorous aside to one another after opening these gifts, family breakfast, and then the fun really began. The onslaught of sheer madness that came with the quest for that perfect day. I was always hell-bent on overseeing the perfect Christmas Day, while ensuring some Christmas magic along the way.

Today, it is difficult to say how I truly feel. I have not known the answer to this question for four long months, and I’m almost too afraid to explore it. What I do know is today for Mitch and Colin, must feel special as it has done for the past 21 years. I do however, think the usual mayhem might serve to ease some of the pain. So, today I must put my best foot forward, as Coop did for almost two years, whilst facing his own adversities. He taught me so very much about humility and grace.

For the three of us left behind in the wake of Cooper’s recent passing, nothing will ever be the same. We navigate life daily in a heavily altered state, and there exists an unspoken daily balance, to ensure no-one in our inner sanctum is left feeling second best, disenfranchised or alone. This is the first Christmas Day without our precious brother and son, so this is unchartered territory. It simply does not feel in any way right, and my aching suspicion is, it never will.

When you lose a child, your world changes irreversibly, as it does when your little brother is no longer by your side. Things that were once important, are no longer. Christmas has always been a challenge for me, since both my mother and father passed away on either side, and I harboured an internal sadness which I fought hard to ensure was never evident to my family nor to the outside world. To compensate for this, I, like so many others, strived for the perfect Christmas day for those around me. With the benefit of hindsight, all who choose this path, set themselves up to fail. I am the first to admit, I am no Martha Stewart, nor am I particularly good at choosing “the right gift”, to add to this, my skills at decorating are severely lacking, but that didn’t stop me from trying. With each passing year came the challenge of doing better than the year before.

I look back on those Christmas days and marvel at the degree of mayhem one mother can cause, in the quest for the perfect day. I suspect however, I was, and am not alone. I have few regrets in my life, but right at a time when my world as I knew it has changed forever, I so, so wish I had just enjoyed the moment more, and ceased driving my family to distraction with the perfect menu, the perfect gifts, and the perfect table decoration. At the end of the day, as Cooper would always say, “nobody cares”, and after a few glasses of Christmas bubbly, nor do they remember.

I have selfishly chosen not put up a Christmas tree this year. Previous years, have seen the boys, admittedly under duress, choosing a colour scheme for our tree, and it would be decorated on December 1 as a family. The expectation was for everyone to clear their diary for our family tradition, and one I so looked forward to. December 1 came and went this year, and yet it somehow just didn’t seem right to do what we have enjoyed as a family for 21 years. Apart from fairy lights on the balcony, there is not a hint of Christmas in our home, because the idea of December even remotely being, as Andy Williams so aptly put into song, “The most wonderful time of the year… “ is so far removed from the place we find ourselves this year, and I suspect, each year hereafter. I have a pile of unopened Christmas cards in a drawer which I cannot bring myself to read, and the selfishness of this act is not lost on me, as I know each person who has taken the time to send these, did so with the purest of intentions. I do know however, there will be cards in that pile from those who do not know Cooper is no longer with us, and confronting those well- meaning words at Christmas is far too painful.

This year, there will be the three of us for Christmas Day in Melbourne, which is the way we want it if Coop cannot be with us. We have sensibly opted to work with disadvantaged members of our community, where no one knows us, and we can channel our grief into something more positive, whilst being together. Perfection will not be something I am personally seeking this year, but just maybe, some peace of mind will come in the form of helping others less fortunate, through this impossibly lonely time of the year. The meaning of joy is now something which for the greater part eludes me, but what I do know is, it is always associated with my family, helping someone who is in need, being with close friends, and very little else.

Cooper is forever present in our memory, and I speak for the three of us when I say he is in our thoughts from the moment we wake, to the moment our heads touch the pillow, and Christmas Day will be no different. He is and always will be, that larger than life part of our lives, that will never fade. My guess is however, for a great number of you reading this, you may also feel his absence in your own way.

I am so very grateful I have Mitch and Colin by my side today, as so many people are forced to negotiate these life -altering tragedies solo. I am acutely aware of the fact so many family and friends this year, have also walked the road, Colin, Mitch and I find ourselves traveling. My nephew was tragically taken from us in an accident earlier this year. He was only four years older than Cooper. Colin’s mother passed away suddenly weeks prior to Cooper’s passing. We understand all too well the pain associated with this time of the year, when you are desperately missing someone you love. So today our extended family unite with others in the commonality and brutal acknowledgement of that empty seat at the dinner table.

This Christmas day, I would urge you to make a stand to push back from the festive season madness and get back to basics. Put down the turkey baster, and take a moment to look up from the Donna Hay Christmas recipe book. Yes, your university aged kids look like they have spent the night in a wheelie bin, but hey, they are there with you, stop readjusting the table decorations…they are just fine. Take time out to stand back and savour the moment with a glass of whatever takes your fancy, and learn from my mistakes. The family you see before you is perfection, in whatever form it takes, and it is not until one of those you see before you is no longer there, that you will truly understand the gravity of the moment.

I would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the outpouring of love and support you have provided our family over past years and months, and I can assure you, your generosity of spirit has not gone unnoticed, and for each of us, has made a world of difference. These individual gestures have provided us with great comfort in knowing we do not walk this unspeakably difficult road alone.