I’ve never been one to wish time away. I try to always live in the present moment, but I have to say… I’m actually looking forward to 2014 being over.
It started out ok and full of promise as most years do… Fireworks, sparklers… champas with dear friends… happy kids running around with glow sticks. But it will be forever marred by 2 heartbreaking losses and with that, a reminder about what’s most important in life.
Told in 2 parts, this is part 2. You can read about part 1 here.
The circle of life, part 2: Maddi’s Daddy
On our way home from Hawaii we stopped over in Fiji for the wedding of the year.
We arrived and met all our friends for sunset drinks. You know that feeling… You’re in a foreign country with your mates, no work, no mundane responsibilities of home where everyone is super happy and carefree. Yep. That!
The next day was the wedding. An idyllic intimate ceremony with Fijian singers followed by the reception in the sand. We made new friends, re connected with old friends, sang, ate, drank and danced.
Our mate Ash was a groomsman in the wedding and his wife Jayne (Jay) was almost 33 weeks pregnant with their first baby. They were as loved up as always, excited about becoming parents.
Their relationship wasn’t like others. Sure husbands and wives love each other but not like these two. They just adored one another. At the wedding Jay was telling us how proud she was of him and how lucky she was to be his wife. He was just one of those good guys… always looking out for everyone else. His students, friends and family meant the world to him. And he always had a smile on his face. ALWAYS! Even when competing in an ironman event only weeks earlier.
We had a recovery swim the next day and said goodbye to our friends by the pool before we headed to the airport to fly home. We hugged and kissed them both, gave Jay’s belly a rub and told them that next time we see them they will have a little person and that their lives would change completely.
Little did we know what was to follow after that moment by the pool was a series of events no one could have ever predicted. Nor did we realise it would be the last time we would ever see Ash.
Only hours after we said our goodbyes, Jay went into labour and delivered baby Maddi in the back of a taxi en route to Nadi hospital, 7 weeks early. We woke the next morning at home in Sydney to a text from a very proud new daddy…
“ITS A GIRL!!! Gorgeous little Maddison Jayne Cazna Wren popped her head out in a taxi at front of Nadi hospital. Dad Ash cradling the head. Jay was amazing. V tired now. But both doing well under the circumstances. Here wiv my 2 angels”
He was so so proud. We were worried, as Maddi had arrived so early in a foreign country, but so thrilled that these two beautiful friends who had longed to be parents, finally were.
After 3 weeks of travelling to Nadi hospital every few hours for feeds, taking Maddi’s progress day by day, Ash and Jay finally flew their little bundle home with a paediatrician and oxygen tank and were transferred by ambulance to hospital in Sydney where Maddi was checked and observed, having all the normal tests newborn babies have when born on home soil.
They finally spent their first night together as a family in hospital and were over the moon. Maddi was thriving and they were ready to be discharged, to start their new life as a family. I wish this is where I could end telling this story.
But sadly only days after arriving home with Maddi, Ashley had a heart attack and tragically passed away. He had spent just 27 days with his precious baby girl.
I was at the playground with my kids when I took the call from a frantic friend that sunny Friday morning in June. My first thought was that something had happened to Maddi so you can imagine the disbelief when I heard that Ash had died.
The next hour was a blur. Thank goodness the kids were busy playing. I was on the phone trying to get hold of my husband and calling our close friends to break the shocking news. I had lost all 4 of my grandparents, but this was different. This was a young fit, healthy 41 year old and he was our mate. How do you even deal with losing a close mate?
The crew gathered at our place Saturday night. We didn’t know what to do other than just be together. We drank Ash’s fave brand of beer and told stories. We laughed through tears and said cheers to our mate in the most appropriate way, with a drink on our heads. It was his party trick and not once did I ever see him drop one!
His funeral was attended by over 700 people including his former students. His favourite song ‘Change the world’ by Eric Clapton was played as a slideshow of his life in pictures played.
Jays sister sang Amazing Grace, the same song she sang at their wedding just shy of 4 years earlier. Hard to believe that just 4 years earlier these two love birds were planning the rest of their lives together. Now Ash was gone! Beyond un-fair!
Beautiful tributes and eulogies were read and he was carried out by his best mates wearing Manly scarfs whilst Eagle Rock played. There was not a dry eye in the place.
Ash would describe himself as quite an ordinary guy but he was actually quite extraordinary and had a huge impact on so many people. From the kids he taught, to the homeless people he gave food to, he was just one of those great guys. Taken way too soon. A teacher, a mentor, a mate, a brother, a son, an uncle, an ironman, a husband and a very proud father.
The absolute light of our friendship group. How can his light not be shining anymore?
How can this person with the permanent sunny grin not be there anymore to smile and light up our days? Our daughter called him ‘Uncle Ash’. It just doesn’t seem right, fair or real, even 4 months later.
Maddi & Jayne Fundraising Event
The boys felt it was their duty to look after Ash’s girls, so a few of us got together and planned a fundraising event. With a new baby to look after while grieving the love of her life, Jay was in no position to return to work anytime soon. This was something we could do to help.
It was 8 weeks of intense organisation and the event was a sell out with 240 guests attending. Dan Ewing from home and Away fame gave a moving tribute to Ash (Ash had coached him in soccer as a youngster). Des Hassler (ex manly now bulldogs coach) Ash’s former teacher also shared a video tribute. And former Wallaby Phil Waugh and Australian Cricketer Mitchell Starc shared some light-hearted stories.
Jessica Watson OAM told her inspiring story of sailing around the world solo and John Maclean OAM (paratriathlete, rower and motivational speaker) came along to share his incredible story. He was a hero to Ash, inspiring his ironman training. Johns accident happened on the 27th June, Ash had died on 27th June. Goosebumps! Because of this, John felt compelled to come along to share his story. As he was introduced, he stood up out of his wheelchair and walked to the stage. It was incredible.
After returning from Fiji, Jay and Ash had discussed their desire to give back to the Fijian people who looked after them so beautifully and helped Maddi survive and thrive in those first precious weeks.
Through Jay’s story appearing on the Today Show, she was contacted by Karen from Fiji-oz Foundation. A registered non profit organisation that supports schools, hospitals, orphanages and villages in Fiji.
As part of Ash’s legacy, Jay has since been busy channeling her grief by gathering donations and packing boxes bound for Fiji, working with Fiji-oz to get the word out to secure corporate support to help with logistics and shipping to Fiji.
She’s hoping to one day put together ‘Maddi’s Daddy’ packs with everything new parents need after giving birth in Nadi hospital. And she hopes to take Maddi back for her first birthday to thank her ‘Fijian family’ and show them how much Maddi has thrived. It was something her and Ash had discussed doing and she’s going to make it happen.
Out of sadness comes love and strength
Things have changed in our friendship circle. We’re all telling each other we love each other, even the blokes in their blokey ‘love ya man’ kinda way. We’ve had the biggest reminder about what’s important this year and we’ve seen that out of sadness comes love and strength.
Monday mornings don’t seem so bad anymore. Because I’m here. Here to live it and lucky to live it the way that I do. I’m a little more inspired to run or get through a grueling workout. You just have to think of him, his smile, his energy for life and he inspires us all.
Grief is a strange thing. For many of us, the routine of everyday life goes back to some kind of normal. But for Jay, things have changed forever. Not only is she adjusting to life as a new mum but she’s doing it without the love of her life by her side. And that precious teeny tiny piece of Ash is what gives her the strength to get through the sleepless nights, the weeks, the days, the hours. She’s an incredible mumma, somehow managing to smile through the tears and we are all so proud of her, and know Ash would be too.
Maddi will always know how incredible her Daddy was.
She will know about his energy for life, his famous smile that could light up anyone’s day, and one day when she’s old enough… She will know about her daddy’s famous party trick.
With his favourite song in mind… Ash, whether he knew it or not, did change the world.
And he was the sunlight in our universe.
RIP Maddi’s Daddy xx
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