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The Other End of the Rainbow

The period from late March through to early May 2020 was, on reflection, a watershed chapter in my life after Ben.

Those of you who live in New South Wales will recall that this was the period of a hard lockdown in Sydney, set in place in an attempt to address the concerning spread of COVID 19 – or the Coronavirus as I seem to recall it was more popularly known at that time. Linda and I had fortuitously made a decision just before the lockdown commenced to travel to our alternative accommodation near Port Stephens; and as the inevitable decision by the government loomed we persuaded Tim to join us. He having done so, and those movements having preceded the introduction of the stay-at-home health orders, we were fortunate enough to be able to remain where we were while the city, and indeed the nation, held its collective breath.

By the time we, as a community, exhaled – prematurely, as it turns out – my life was heading down a new path. And although that path remained rocky, with the potential for unforeseen landslides around almost every corner, it felt like somehow The Beniverse had become a reliable beacon of light and hope.

To explain: During those lockdown weeks I wrote stories about life with and after Ben almost every day. Stories that helped me to process what we had lost, but also to reassess and re-appreciate what was still available to me – including the material things; but more importantly the people around me, as well as the choices, and the ongoing opportunities that many on this planet would give their eye teeth for.

And when I wasn’t writing, or thinking about writing, I was able to share some of the most blissful moments imaginable with my family in and around one of the most beautiful places I know of.

Extracts from my journal during that period reflect the positivity I was feeling. I was sleeping exceptionally well, enjoying outdoor activities on a daily basis in an idyllic environment, and it seemed like almost every day something would happen that was “the best ever”.

The most beautiful sunrise ever

The best stand-up paddle session ever

The best bushwalk ever

The glassiest possible wave conditions

The best bay swim ever

The best corned beef ever, and the best home-made hamburgers ever!

And then in early May 2020 Tim and I, over two successive days, enjoyed the best joint surfs we have ever experienced together – swapping back and forth between wave ski and SUP as our moods and energy levels dictated. It is hard to explain how that felt, sharing the crystal clear water, and set after set of perfect 2-3 foot rollers, over a couple of hours, with no-one but each other. Moments like that don’t come along very often as a Dad, but when they do, you wish you could box them up, carry them away, and unwrap them whenever you next feel the need. Which, if I’m being frank, is pretty much all the time.

The second of these two days – May 8 – was a particularly special one. That date is the one Ben had cheekily suggested a couple of years before ought be adopted as our national day, in the face of growing opposition to the continued celebration of January 26 – or Invasion Day as it is known by some. Why? Well, he argued, what date better reflects our national character than May 8? May eight. May-ate. Maate. Mate. Get it?

My own view, for what it’s worth, is that the date for Australia Day should, and will in time, change. And it would suit me just fine if May 8 was the new nomination. Not least of all because it will remove all conflict and mixed emotions we (Ben’s family and friends) currently feel about what January 26 should be remembered for. Just as our indigenous countrymen and women find it impossible to glorify a day when they lost something precious they once imagined would be theirs alone forever, so too it will for us, for evermore, be the day we lost our son, brother, grandson, cousin, nephew, companion, workmate, classmate, playmate, soulmate. How do we celebrate that?

According to the recently completed 2021 National Census we Cordners are a household of three. Just as we were for the Census of 1996. Not so, of course, for all those censuses in between.

Which got me to thinking recently about the time in our lives before Ben arrived; back when it was just we three the first time around. In particular I reflected on an extended family holiday Tim, Linda and I spent at Byron Bay in August-September 1997, only a matter of weeks before Ben’s arrival.

I look back on that holiday as some of the most serene days of my entire life. If you had asked me then whether I could ever have imagined being happier, I suspect I would have found it inconceivable. It felt as if we were as close as three people could possibly be.

Most of all though, I remember it as the time I fell head over heels in love with my first-born son; a state of privileged joy that has remained with me every single day for more than 24 years since.

Of course I had loved Tim from the very moment he arrived. Apprehensive and unprepared as I had been about assuming the responsibilities of becoming a father, and dubious though I was about whether or not I could possibly develop into a worthy parent, Tim made all those misgivings and insecurities dissolve away into the ether almost immediately. Principally because, from day one, he was the sort of child any parent would envy, and that no parent could complain about. He was intelligent, calm, obedient (mostly), conscientious (always), and just generally a pleasure to be around. That said he was a typical boy too in so many ways. He loved being active, he was very social, and he enjoyed games and challenges of all sorts – both physical and mental. What’s not to love?

But that trip to Byron Bay was when I fell in love with him. Up to that point Linda had been the sort of hands-on nothing-is-too-much-trouble mother, wife and homemaker that has characterised our married life, and made us the family we are. But being then in an advanced state of pregnancy, and suffering from the tiredness and relative immobility that state brings with it, I was fortunate enough to have Tim to myself for concentrated periods over the course of that fortnight in a way that I probably never had before.

Now don’t get me wrong. The three of us still enjoyed a host of shared activities together. And we were equally content doing very little at all. Just we three, occupying each other’s space and time in the most pleasurable way possible.

But at those times when Linda’s impending confinement confined her to quarters I was provided with the opportunity to completely monopolise Tim’s company and attention. Leading to a series of memorable visits to the beach and to the park, as well as time shared together inside – playing games, or huddled up on the biggest, most comfortable sofa you have ever seen, just watching a video on TV. One of my fondest recollections is of the hours we spent playing on the pool table – yes, this place had its own games room! - using our hands rather than a cue, and with Tim perched upright on a chair that I would move around the table as needed.

But with Linda and Tim regularly coinciding their afternoon naps, there were moments of reflective solitude too. Occasions when I could almost inhale and smell the gratitude I felt for what life had delivered to me.

One of these occasions will live with me, I hope, forever. It was our last afternoon before the holiday rental period expired, and we would be forced to pack up our things and head home to face the daily grind once again. Frustratingly, the first half of the day had been overcast and inclement, culminating in rain around lunchtime. It made sense, in the face of such conditions, for the youngest two in our party to inspect the insides of their eyelids for an hour or two after our midday meal, while I tried to soak in our surroundings for the last time - attempting to save those mental pictures, along with some sense of that recently acquired grateful peace, for our impending journey back to reality.

As I reflected, and they slept, the skies above us parted, giving me the chance to enjoy one last swim in the warm, clear waters off Clarkes Beach, as I had hoped. It being a weekday in September, and the weather having been uninspiring to that point, it was probably not surprising to find myself alone on the beach in the mid-afternoon. Which meant that the fully formed miniature rainbow sitting above the surface of the water of the bay, barely a stone’s throw away it seemed, was mine, and mine alone, to enjoy.

Although it is of course impossible, even with a rainbow as small as this one, to work out exactly where its ends meet the horizon, I swam unfazed to those apparent points of intersection. At each, in turn, in the time-honoured tradition, I made a wish. Only this being the most perfect of rainbows, cloaked in a spiritual atmosphere that made all things seem possible, I took my time, and ensured they were big ones.

The first is an ongoing wish, and has been granted to me, to this point in my life. I dare not risk jinxing that state of affairs by revealing it to you.

The other? It was this: Please ensure my son to be - whose sex we by then inadvertently knew, but whose name we had yet to agree upon – is born healthy and safe.

You know of course that this second wish was granted. What you may not know is that there were moments when we were uncertain about that outcome. That is to say, following Ben’s birth there was a period of hours, which rolled into a day and more, when we were unsure whether he would survive the breathing difficulties he was then dealing with.

After a nerve-racking and unpleasantly lengthy amount of time spent in the Hospital’s ICU we were finally advised the danger appeared to have passed for Ben, and that the second and last of our offspring was expected to recover fully from his initial health challenges.

And he did. Indeed, in my far-from-impartial assessment, apart from some asthmatic symptoms in his early years, he would, in time, grow into one of the two finest male specimens I have ever encountered.

Had Ben not survived those first perilous days I might never have known what we had truly lost when he passed away in the Emergency Department of that same Hospital just over 21 years later. But rather than reflect on that loss, may it not be better for me to now simply give thanks for a perfect rainbow, and a special wish granted? And for that precious unforgettable time when three became four as a result.


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