By Camilla Hullick
Dearest Mark, I'm sitting here on my veranda after a distracting day at work, reminiscing about you, as I often do.
It's been three months since you left and I still cannot believe that I will never see you again in this lifetime. It's just so surreal and heart wrenching. In my mind, I see you as clear as day, and I hear your familiar voice just as always. I guess that's why I'm having such difficulty accepting your passing. Spontaneous triggers constantly happen, and I find myself engrossed in wonderful, now precious, memories. I laugh at flashbacks which come to mind. I laugh, then I cry, remembering you're gone.
I still vividly remember meeting you for the first time. Anthony and I had dropped into the Tarwin pub for a quick drink. The year was around 2009. I remember you were tall, slender, clean shaven and quiet. You seemed to be on your own in the corner, as you leaned against the bar with a drink in hand. There weren't many patrons in the hotel and I recall Anthony and I were talking with bar staff. You joined in on the conversation and I couldn't help but think how polite, decent and interesting you were.
I didn't meet you again until the desalination plant project was in full swing. Many tradesmen had moved into our little community. You were one of those. In those days I still frequented the pub and that's where our friendship blossomed. You hilariously began calling me 'Stunner', which stuck. You continued to call me “Stunner” throughout our friendship and I miss hearing your voice speak the word. A while later, you bought your impressive beach house in Venus Bay, as you'd decided you loved the area. Early mornings I would often leave home-made treats at your house and then text you, to check outside your front door. I loved leaving you little surprises, even if sometimes my baking skills weren't up to scratch.
In the early days of our friendship we would often bump trolleys while shopping in Safeway, and we would swap 'specials’ information. That was amusing and always a nice surprise, and as I'm an op-shop queen, you asked me to keep an eye out for warm knits because you struggled with the cold during the harsh South Gippsland winters.
We shared so much over the years, Mark. You drove me to Traralgon to see your beautiful house. When your mother passed away, I attended her funeral to show respect and offer you my support during that sad time. One of my happiest memories is our amazing bike ride. For years I had been asking if you would take me for a ride on your motorbike and the only answer you'd ever give me was 'one day'. Because you were fearful something might happen and thought Anthony would never forgive you, that “one day” didn’t come … until Anzac Day weekend, 2011.
Mike, Lindy, Theresa, Nick, you and I were having dinner at the pub one night. After a few drinks, I asked you again if a ride might be out of the question. I guess because you were half smashed, you agreed, and I was to come over the next morning at 8 a.m. which I promptly, and excitedly, did. I found you on the couch nursing a painful hangover. You weren't a good sight, however you did finally rise to the occasion and, after a shower and a coffee, you were fit to go, although feeling a little seedy. It was a fantastic day! I absolutely loved it. It was sensational weather and we rode all morning around beautiful South Gippsland, stopping wherever we wanted. We ate a delicious lunch at an old country pub we discovered along the way, before heading home. It really was a magical day.
Then my wedding day neared and I asked if you would do me the honour of escorting me on the back of your bike to meet Anthony and the wedding celebrant at Venus Bay's Beach No.1. You accepted. The celebratory event arrived. I had rented a holiday house in the vicinity of Beach No.1 to spend the pre-wedding afternoon with my gorgeous friend, Conny, who had flown over from Germany to be my bridesmaid. You and Conny had a mutual admiration for each other. During her stay, you went out of your way to make her feel at home, and I was grateful to you for that.
After Conny had been picked up from the beach house to leave for the ceremony, you arrived on your bike. Finally, we received the call that all guests had arrived and it was time for us to make our way to the beach setting. I remember us sitting there on your bike, ready to go. It was a beautiful summer's night with a lovely warm temperature. The sunset was perfect and would be magnificent for the photos. It was a special, memorable moment and I was so thankful that you were a significant part of my wedding. Writing all of these wonderful memories down, I'm right back there again, reliving every moment. You were such a unique, extraordinary friend. God, I just can't believe you're gone!
Distressingly, over the last couple of years, you began to feel unwell. Not only did you experience unpleasant physical symptoms, you were also emotionally drained and frustrated as you sought answers that no professional was able to provide. Eventually, you underwent a complicated operation in the hope that you would once again regain your health. I remember you telling me that, while spending time in rehab, you had motivating thoughts of purchasing a camper van and taking off travelling around Australia, stopping wherever your heart desired. It sounded fantastic and I was happy for you. But you didn't get well! Instead you were diagnosed with the despicable, unforgiving Motor Neurone Disease: the aggressive type.
I was devastated for you, Mark. It took a little while to digest the news and have it sink in. All that kept rotating around in my head was, what could I do to help you and how can I fix this? There wasn't much I could think of besides attempting to emotionally support you as best I could, and to donate regularly to MND in the hope that a cure would be found sooner rather than later.
You know, the last few months of your journey seem like a complete blur to me now. I can no longer pinpoint everything that eventuated time wise. However, I do know for a good four months, I texted you each every morning and evening, whether I was overseas or not. I would try and send you different uplifting words. Initially, you always replied however, after a couple of months, you responded less frequently. I knew you were struggling and I was struggling to find appropriate words to continue to comfort and motivate you. I felt so useless.
Your brother Steve and his wife Carol graciously and unconditionally took you in when you were physically no longer able to look after yourself; such amazing people. You were so frustrated and kept saying it shouldn't be this way. Steve was your older brother and you should have been there for him when he needed you, not the other way around!
As you now lived a couple of hours’ drive away, I came to see you less often. On each visit, I noticed how your health was declining, although your quick, witty sense of humour stayed sharp. I had shared with you my spiritual beliefs that when we leave this world, our souls venture 'home' to be joyfully reunited with all of our loved ones who have passed before us, and we return to complete health, feeling light and free. Initially, you thought it was a load of crap, but I was so pleased to hear you talk of going 'home' as your passing drew near.
The very last time I saw you, I visited you in hospital on my way home from the airport. I entered the four bed hospital room and initially couldn't spot you. I nearly wandered back to the nurse's desk until I saw you were sitting in a chair with your back to me. It took all my might not to cry as I knelt to surprise you. You looked so frail and were struggling to breathe. It was horrific and heartbreaking. You asked me if I thought you were a good person, as you believed good people don't get dished out this sort of hell. I remember reassuring you that you were the most amazing, witty, smart, selfless, caring, lovable, protective gentleman I'd ever had the pleasure of knowing. Were you a good person? Yes Mark, you were one of the best!
I didn't stay too long that day. You were tired and I was mindful of your energy levels. It took all of your strength and concentration to keep breathing. I don't remember our parting words. I was numb as I left you and drove the two hours home to South Gippsland in a daze. Six days later I woke to Steve's message advising everyone that you had peacefully slipped away during the night. My heart sank. The struggle was over and you had gone – just like that. On the morning of your funeral, the news headline that day read 'Major breakthrough for MND patients'! Sadly, too little, too late, for you dear Mark.
Your funeral was monumental. They came from everywhere to respectfully bid you goodbye. You've left such a hole in our community, impossible to replace. Magnificent photos of you hang proudly on The Cavity and Tarwin Hotel walls now, so you will continue to remain fresh in peoples' minds, while new patrons will curiously ask who that guy is, which we will proudly answer.
I miss you so much, Mark. I miss our bear hugs that spoke a million words. I miss your cheeky face trying to gain my attention through the PBE real estate window when you walked past on your way to The Cavity, and I miss our regular texts. I stare at your beautiful house now looking so forlorn, and I imagine you sitting on the couch in front of the television, being warmed by your cosy fire.
I desperately need to upgrade my mobile phone, but I still have precious texts from you which I'm not able to let go of just yet. Since you’ve passed away, I still pick up my phone to text you morning and night – until I remember the awful reality.
I could go on. I'm not even sure why I'm writing you this letter! Maybe it's for my own healing, or maybe it's to keep our memories alive. I guess, quite simply, I feel close to you when reminiscing and reliving our story. If my love for you could have saved you, you would have lived forever.
Be happy, be free, my dear friend, until we meet again.
Always in my heart,
Your Stunner xoxoxox