Fergie, the local policeman on duty the day of the accident told us that his one driving force that night was to return Rowie’s body to his family. The coastline around The Chaslands is notoriously unforgiving and he was afraid that Rowie’s body would be taken by the tide before the rescue helicopter could lift him. The tide was lapping his arm as they managed to take him from the beach. Fergie heaved a sigh of relief. Albert, a member of the local Search and Rescue was with Rowie on the beach as the sun set. He sent Rowie a message on Facebook :
Rowan, you know me im tiffany and toms dad, you are on my friends list and i am on yours ummm im a fire man with the papatowai rural guys and some how that let me be in charge sometimes, anyway im not sure you will know this but i was with you last night and you and i and the tokonui paramedic shared the most amazing sunset on chaslands heads together before they took you away that was my hand on you shoulder as the then big red sun slide into the sea , it was one of the most beautiful catlins sunsets i have seen, tonight in not a fireman just a dad and my tears flow freely for you and your family”
After the inevitable post mortem Rowie was returned to us. We were so lucky to be able to see him again and to say are farewells to him in person. So many people aren’t that lucky. Christmas and New Year will never be the same again; he died on Boxing Day, we forgot Chris’ birthday on 30th December. We said our final farewells to Rowie at his funeral on New Year’s Eve and Francis and Maree’s second wedding anniversary on 1st January was sadly another casualty of the tragedy.
Chris and I made a very selfish decision; we had Rowie cremated so that we could hold on to something – his ashes – his last wordly remains. When we picked them up from the undertakers I felt an enormous relief at having him back. As I picked up the box two things hit me; firstly the weight of the box. For some reason I thought it would be light. Secondly I felt an energy, Rowie’s energy and I held it close all the way home. They sit on his beloved piano among the candles and owls that keep multiplying at an alarming rate! These ashes have been very cathartic for us and we hold on to them still. They have caused certain times of angst though. We (perhaps I should say I) now live in mortal fear of something happening to those! When we went on holiday this year he went to stay with Karen and Murray (I believe he might have spent some time locked up) – we thank you both XX
Christmas holidays over Chris, Francis and I head back to work. Something we had been dreading. Chris dreaded his first night shift; alone with his thoughts. Francis dreaded his first early morning trip to work; alone with his thoughts. I dreaded my first trip down the coast past The Chaslands. A large part of my job as District Supervisor for Census 2013 was covering the area between Owaka and Invercargill via the coast; recruiting, training and then supervising my 17 collectors. This road had become Rowie’s final journey and it was a road that held horrors for me. Maree helped me with my first journey by keeping me company and talking non-stop there and back; thus leaving herself drained and hoarse at the end of the day; God bless her!
Anyone who has lost someone close will know that it is “the firsts” that hurt the most. We have 10 weeks left of “firsts”. Hopefully we will then begin to smile again as anniversaries come around for the second time.