The "official" rugby season ended last weekend. It was a fucked up season. Delayed due to COVID, boys both lost their dad and coach in one hit, and despite me believing sport was going to be their emotional saviour, it took everything they had to even find the motivation to play.
Rugby has had such a huge impact on our lives that I felt overly compelled to write a blog about it. Usually I have everything I want to say all in my head, and it all just kind of comes out without much thought or planning - nothing special on my part - it comes from five years of writing philosophy papers in uni.
But not today.
Trying to articulate how I feel about rugby, what it meant to Duncan, the role it plays in our lives, and how I can't imagine where I'd be without it, turned out to be one big jumbled mess. To the point that I was pissed off and started again. This is my second attempt. But there are no guarantees it will be any better than the first. Hoping this pink gin gets me in good form.
Even now after trying five times, I still can't seem to get the first sentence going. There's just too much that I want to say. Maybe I'll try starting with how a Canadian girl from a hockey-playing farming community in northern British Columbia, Canada, got to love rugby. But really, I don't want it to be about me. My love and appreciation for rugby and the community it has given me actually has nothing to do with me. Its about Duncan. And the kids. And our friends. And the clubs. And their teammates. And their teammates' parents. So where the fuck do I start??
I'll start in 2003.
Duncan was back in hospital. In a quarantined room actually. I'll admit, he's been in and out of hospital so many times over the years that my memories blur and the where/why/when/how tend to all cross over. I'm thinking he was in his own room in semi-isolation (from the neuro ICU ward, not from visitors) because after one of his earlier surgeries, he developed meningitis. He was in Kempsey with his mom, I was in Randwick working, and he ended up being flown back to Sydney by the Royal Flying Doctor Service to get taken care of.
It was the 2003 Rugby World Cup. I'm pretty sure Duncan was able to see a game or two with his Dad and possibly Auldy (too far back, I can't remember) before being back in hospital. He had his own room during the final - England vs Australia. Somehow Australia defeated the All Blacks to get there, however it was not to be, with England winning by a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal (nice to look at but all he could do was kick). We lost but the game was exciting enough to make me a fan forever.
Duncan and Rugby
This too has so much to it I don't even know where to start. I could do a blog post just on Duncan and his love of the sport. It played a huge part in Duncan's life. He loved it. So much that he surprised me when one day during the Ashes I asked him if he could only choose one sport to watch ever again, would it be rugby or cricket, and he chose rugby! (we must've been down a few tests in that Ashes series) (for non-cricket lovers, click here to learn what the Ashes are). (For the record, I love cricket, too, and have a lot of great test, one day, and T20 cricket memories with Duncan).
Most of Duncan's longtime friends are his rugby mates from school and university. I'm pretty sure nearly everyone he played with in Lismore and/or school came to his funeral, and if they didn't, its not for lack of trying. I was lucky enough to meet all of them within the first year of dating Duncan, when he brought me to Australia for Stumpy and Sarah's wedding. All those families are a huge part of my life now, too.
His beautiful X Rats bought Alex, Max, and Oscar Wallabies jerseys as gifts after he had passed. We even at one stage considered holding the wake at our boys' rugby club but instead ended up holding it at Newstead Brewery, where our friend is the owner and huge Reds supporter and sponsor (we met when his son and Maxy were on the same team). Duncan would have loved every single thing about us holding the wake there.
Max and Oscar started playing at our first club in Kenmore. It was a good starter club. We met some amazing families (ones that I would consider some of our closest friends), the kids got to learn the sport, and Duncan got to coach. He was such a good coach. After a few years though, changes to the club made it time for us to leave. We started with a new club in 2019. We moved to Wests in Toowong (for anyone who doesn't live in Brisbane this will be irrelevant to you so just skim past). Duncan coached the under 8s Harlequins (Oscar's team) and toward the end of the season helped coach Maxy's under 10s team. He was meant to coach both of their teams again in 2020.
I could go on. And on. There's just too much. But I won't.
Oscar's Team - U8 and U9 Harleys
When Duncan and I first moved to the West Bulldogs, it was a big step. We'd known all of our Kenmore players for years, had developed amazing friendships with both Max's team and Oscar's team, and to be honest were a bit emotionally attached. But for all our own reasons, we left.
Duncan put his hand up to coach and me being the ever introvert knew I'd never talk to anyone if I didn't force myself, so I put my hand up to be team manager (I figured a 17 year successful marriage should translate into a decent coach/manager relationship so why not!). Best move we've ever made.
Fast forward to an undefeated season (the last game outside regular season at the carnival doesn't count!) and creating friendships with the most beautiful families I've ever known. Anyone who has kids that play team sport (or anyone who plays team sport) knows there's always that "one" family -the shitty one that ruins it for everyone else who's awesome. Not this team. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. ROCKS (and I'm not just writing that because I know they'll read this).
The families on this team were heartbroken to hear of Duncan's health. They all texted, called, made meals, offered to take the kids (all of them, not just Oscar!) so we could get a break, organised a working bee to get shit done at the house that I didn't have the energy to do (and remember this was all during COVID lockdown). And not only once. Repeatedly. One of the lovely moms STILL brings me food (and far out its brilliant) - Uncle Marty was always pretty stoked when "Barbie brought food"!
They all came to the funeral. It wasn't even an option. There was no way they weren't coming. And making sure they were included in the limited guests due to COVID was a must. Again, a non-option. I can't be thankful enough that these people are in our lives. They love the kids, they love me (clearly they don't know me well enough!) and they LOVED Duncan. Its what makes family that isn't blood. And we have been so lucky that we were all together again this year - and to make it even better (even when you think it couldn't be) our favourite family from Kenmore joined Wests and Oscar's best friend (another Oscar) is there too (and his older brother is Maxy's best friend so win-win all around).
The first training session back after Duncan passed away was hard for all of us. I was scared, Oscar was scared. I didn't want to talk to anyone. Ever. And they all knew. I didn't have to tell them. They all just gave Oscar a high five, and me a hug. Words weren't required.
I love you, Harleys.
Max's Team - U10 and U11 Green
Its a different story with Maxy's team. And not in a bad way or anything negative at all, they're all lovely and beautiful people, and I am incredibly proud to be part of their family too. All of their boys had been playing together a lot longer when we joined the club. Many of them go to school and play school ruby together, as well. We were lucky to learn that one of the boys on the team played cricket with Oscar the summer before so it was good to know at least one other family there. There are some good people in the world. And a lot of them are on this team.
Duncan helped coach the backs toward the end of the season last year (see how I made it look like I know what I'm talking about when I say that?). He did a great job. So great, that they asked him to coach the team this year. He was so looking forward to it. So was I. But he couldn't. Wasn't even able to get out for pre-training. It was too hard to walk.
I was so disappointed that I couldn't invite everyone from Max's team to the funeral. COVID kept us on pretty tight restrictions. In an ideal world, 1. Duncan would have never died and 2. since ideal worlds don't exist, all and everyone could have come to his funeral. Not in COVID. While we're grateful we were able to have as many people as we did, it was still so disappointing to have to say "no" to others, and in this case, not even bother telling the funeral details because we knew there'd be no room in the restricted space.
Despite all of this, all the parents were so welcoming and supportive when we came back to training, and so thoughtful and considerate with both Maxy and me throughout the rest of the season. You all know who you are. It meant the world to me.
Max's coach and manager from the team came to the funeral. It was so lovely of them. Duncan got on so well with them, and for a man who doesn't blow smoke up people's ass, he had nothing but great things to say about both of them. He was always such a good judge of character. Bernie (manager) and Adam (coach) (both with awesome boys on the team, Oscar and Tom) not only came to the funeral, but came up to the mic and spoke about Duncan and Max and were AMAZING. It was like a funeral pep rally! And they made Maxy feel like he belonged to a family outside of ours. The rugby family Duncan had been talking about for so long. Adam and Bernie, if you read this, please know everyone I talked to thought you were incredible for speaking and what you said brought smiles to everyone's hearts.
Not only did they step up at the funeral, but they brought me to tears at their end of season talk. This year we had deal with a weird season with lockdown and COVID safe procedures and no tackle for the first few weeks, and one family in particular lost their dad and husband. Thank you Adam and Bernie, for keeping Duncan on the team, even if he's not here.
My seven minute blog has now turned into eight. Probably a bit more after I finish up this last part.
Oscar and Max struggled to get back into the last few weeks of rugby. They're both amazing little players. But losing Duncan made them lose their spark. It broke my heart to see them on the field not wanting to be there. They were sad and uninterested. I wanted more than anything to tell them it would all be OK and just to play like they used to. But it would have been a lie.
It wasn't me who got their heart back into the game. It was our rugby family. Everyone. Max's team, Oscar's team, friends from our old teams. All of you.
This was the rugby family Duncan had been talking about for so many years. Those that take care of you outside of rugby too From his friends in uni who check up on us frequently to the friends we've made locally, so much love to you all.