Goodbyes hurt the most when the story is not yet finished and the book has been closed forever…

I have been asked each day, sometimes many times a day over the past year by those close to me – How I am?  How I am doing? …I admit to having little to no idea.

Losing Coop has left me devoid of any ability to self-assess.  In fact, Cooper’s passing has stripped me bare of emotion as I once knew it.  Each day is simply survival, and with it, a thinly veiled attempt at making every day count as Coop always did, despite the appalling hand of cards dealt to him.  I never lose sight of the blessing I have in Mitch and Colin, who are the only ones that truly understand the depth of this pain, that rarely eases, and never leaves.

Cooper’s passing took our breath away.  There are days one year on, where we still feel it is nigh on impossible to breath, and panic attacks are common.  It is that moment that can strike anywhere, usually prompted by complete unpredictability, where the gravity of this situation will, without notice, hit hard.

The only means I have been able to find to articulate how each of us feels daily, is for those who are parents, to picture that brief but unplanned separation from your child in a department store, in the street, or indeed in any populated and public place.  Your child leaves your side, in that blink of an eye when you looked just the second before, and they were there.

We can each identify with that swift feeling of all consuming terror.  The nagging pit in our stomachs.  The unfiltered fear. The heart that beats out of your chest.  The pure angst which brings with it an inability to breathe, and the cold sweat – until your child is finally back by your side, and you allow yourself to slowly breath again…The feeling of sheer and utter relief you feel cannot be articulated nor replicated.

From the moment I open my eyes each morning, there is a split second where life is perfect again, and Coop is asleep in another room of the house – the way it was always meant to be.   Then reality sets in, and the terror and angst of twelve gut-wrenching months of separation is ever present, until relief finally comes in the form of sleep, and the pain is once again gone – albeit temporarily.

I became a different person when August of 2018 came around – counting each day, as the 24th drew closer.  Each day represented a day closer to the day we lost our precious son and brother, and each was associated with its own bitter sweet memories of the last two Augusts, since the nightmare began.

Each day I wonder what I missed, or I what could have done better.  I ask myself why I could not find the answers.  Parents are fixers.  They fix the problems in their children’s lives.  When the stark reality hits and you cannot fix a dire situation despite your best efforts, the helplessness and complete loss of control is palpable and debilitating, and you live with the guilt on a daily basis thereafter.

People often speak of turning back time in an effort to make each moment count.  Thankfully, we did just that – we lived in the moment, led by the courageous and fearless young man who bore so much pain throughout his brief life, and despite this, fought hard to leave his mark.  The problem is, it is never enough – no-one never wants the moment to end. No-one ever expects it will.  When you are the parent of a gravely ill child, you live with hope, and you never give up. Giving in is not an option.

This form of grief is similar to living two lives – one is where you publicly pretend you are doing well, and the other is where your heart silently screams out in pain.

We have been blessed with wonderful friends and family, as many who walk this road do so alone.  Random acts of kindness from those we have never met, have melted our hearts along the way.

Conversely this journey can be a sad revelation of the strength of true friendship, and it is fair to say there have been some insurmountable disappointments along the way, but very, very few.  It is a sad reflection that even in the depths of despair, people will form ill- conceived judgments about your journey, and how you deal with what comes your way.  You find yourself feeling sorry for those who do this, and often wonder how they would cope given the same hand of cards.

Cooper used the analogy of a train full of passengers pulling out from the station, and by the time it arrives at its final destination, a number of passengers have disembarked – this is the way he saw his treatment, and his declining health, with regards to those close to him.  He knew unequivocally, who his real friends were, and he ensured we knew also.  These friends were by Cooper’s side throughout, and there until the end of his journey.

To those people who have wrapped their arms around our family from afar, and walked this road with us, we are humbled, and will never be able to adequately and properly thank you for your love, thoughtfulness and kindness, the absence of judgment, and the endless support you have provided.  We are truly blessed for your presence in our lives, and each of you knows without doubt, who you are. If I could, I would name each of you individually, but it would take me days, if not weeks to do so.

With the next twelve months looming, we will continue to place one foot in front of the other, all the while, attempting to each day place our best foot forward.  We will make mistakes, we will often be difficult to read, we will sometimes withdraw, we will forget things – often birthdays, but we will never for a moment forget the love and support we have received over the past year, and how blessed we were to have Cooper in our lives, albeit so briefly.

The absence of Cooper’s larger than life presence, his courage, and the very essence of who he was, has created an enormous void for those who loved him so very much.  It is a void that can never be filled.  Our hearts remain broken, as we are forced to once more contemplate life without him.

Cooper will live on in our hearts, and in all we do in his name, for eternity…

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!

 

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.