The Hughes Family
We lost my husband Stu on 6 February 2018. He died as a result of a head injury, when he fell from a roof he was repairing. Our children, Harrison and Sienna, were seven and five at the time.
The day he died, it was Harrison’s first day of Year One and Sienna’s second day of Prep. They were both so excited about the new school year and about Stu being able to volunteer each week in their classrooms.
Stu was going to pick them up after school that afternoon. I had tried to contact him throughout the day, but he didn’t answer or reply to texts. I knew something was wrong and arranged for a friend to stay with the kids at school until I could get there.
That afternoon, I returned home with the police to find my husband lying in the driveway. It was harrowing.
But, there is a saying that I have just discovered recently – for an arrow to move forward, it must first be pulled back. And I have to say, there have been many times since those traumatic events where we have been pulled back.
As you can imagine, the impact of losing Stu was massive for my family. The hardest part (apart from losing my best friend) was explaining what had happened to Harrison and Sienna and watching them process the information and not being able to take the pain away for them.
It was also very hard not having my mum around to help me through it. She had died just three years previously and I vividly remember how much I wished she was still there.
I knew that I had to be proactive in helping us all process Stu’s death, but I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it alone. So I engaged counselling and play therapy for the kids, as well as counselling for myself, very early on.
Sienna, from day one was always very good at verbalising how she was feeling, and what she needed. She would often role play and call Stu on her toy phone. She would chat away to him and give him updates on what we were all doing. It was gorgeous to witness, but also heart breaking.
Because Sienna was so young when Stu died, her biggest worry is forgetting him. It’s devastating to me that I am limited in what I can do to help her hang onto those memories and stories. She will often say to me “Mum, I can’t remember his voice”.
Harrison, reacted the complete opposite way. He shut down. He wouldn’t talk. He couldn’t cope with any change whatsoever. He would attend his counselling appointments, but really only played the games and was unable to open up about anything that he was thinking and feeling. As a parent, I was starting to panic. I knew that shutting down and not talking was going to lead to a very bumpy road ahead.
It took 13 months for Harrison to say anything about how he was feeling. After a very long stint of sleep regression, and the kids refusing to sleep in their own beds, I decided to give their bedrooms a makeover.
When we were doing Harrison’s room we had to take everything out. We stacked and piled all his things in our spare room – you can imagine what it looked like – stuff everywhere.
We were standing in the door way starring at the mess and Harrison looked up at me and said: “Mum, see how the room looks? That’s how my head felt when Dad died.”
I was speechless. 13 months had passed and he finally dropped a bombshell. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I was so incredibly proud of him.
Then a few days later he said: “Mum, my head felt like a corrupted computer when Dad died – I didn’t know how to do anything or how to think.”
During the early days of our journey, a friend had told me about seeing Feel the Magic on TV. It was after Harrison’s bombshell that I decided to do some research about it.
I watched countless videos and testimonials about Camp and I remember thinking to myself, if it was half as good as everyone had said, then it would be ok. Harrison and Sienna attended Camp in August 2019.
In the lead up to Camp, Harrison was adamant that he wasn’t going. That it was pointless and it wouldn’t fix anything. Sienna was a little more welcoming, but still had reservations.
I was determined that they had to go. Call it a mother’s intuition, call it exhaustion, call it stubbornness – they were going! There may have been some bribery thrown in too.
It turns out that Camp Magic is one of the greatest gifts you can give to a grieving child.
To put some perspective on how life changing Camp was – after Stu died, I had seen Harrison cry twice. Once was at our private viewing of Stu before the funeral, and then the second, was when he said goodbye to his mentor and friends when he left Camp!
Harrison has made connections and bonds that have changed his outlook and his life. I know that sounds a little dramatic, but honestly it’s true.
When Harrison returned home, he was able to see positives and was finally open about sharing them with Sienna and myself. It was such a massive step forward.
He shared that on the day Stu died, he is now grateful that he was able to say goodbye to him that morning at school. He is open and he has a positive view on life. His growth has been exponential. He is playing his violin again and has even been invited to join the junior strings program at school.
When I asked him what was the best thing about Camp? Harrison said: “knowing that other kids have lost their Dad too and we’re not the only ones.”
Sienna enjoyed her time at camp too, but because of her age when Stu died, she found things a little challenging. She was still engaged and learnt a lot, like breathing techniques that she still uses nearly every day. She also learnt about her “emergency meter” and when to ask for adult support if she can’t regulate her emotions, she learnt about self care and the different “seasons” of grief.
She especially loved the memorial bonfire where she was able to write a letter to her Dad and send the message to heaven.
I’ve changed careers since Stu died to pursue a career in education. I have also started studying to become a counsellor myself – majoring in grief and loss.
I don’t believe that Stu had to die as some kind of cruel destiny to take me to where I am today. I’m not someone who believes that everything happens for a reason. What I do believe, is that when bad things happen, we have choices, and those choices define how we live the rest of the days we have left.
And so now, the arrow has been released and we are all moving forward!