It was the trip no-one wants to make. Traveling to comfort a loved one in a time of grief is not the sort of traveling anyone likes doing, to see people we haven’t seen in far too long for all the wrong reasons. But when I heard the tragic news that my nephew Mason had passed away suddenly and tragically, getting on the next flight to Las Vegas to be near to my sister Holly was the only thing I could think to do.
The ‘other side’ of Vegas: stark beauty near Red Rock canyon…
Holly and I have the same Father (who has passed away). He had two kids from his first marriage, Holly and Justin, who are American, while my other sister Rebecca and I are Australian. We didn’t all grow up together, but Holly and Justin lived with us in Australia for a year when I was about 3 years old. My memories of that time are vague, though I distinctly remember Holly taking Rebecca and I to the park one day and making us turn around while she kissed a boy.
Funny the stuff you remember!
Holly and Justin returned to live in the states, my parents divorced, and since our Dad was no longer a part of any of our lives, we lost touch. Life went on for everyone, though I would occasionally receive a post card from Holly in beautiful curly handwriting, from an address in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In 2004, on a trip to Vegas with my friend Kelly, I remembered back to the postcards, and though I had not seen Holly in over twenty years, decided to open the phone book (yes, the paper one!) just in case she was in there, knowing the chance of her still being in Vegas, or even being listed, was pretty slim.
But sure enough, my sister who still had the same last name as me was listed in black and white next to her home telephone number, which I dialed. When she picked up, I said something like, “Hi, it’s Sarah, your Australian sister,” to which she replied, “Aaaaaaaaah!” in an excited, rather than terrified (!), tone. She then came to see me at the hotel I was staying at while her then five year old son, Mason, slept soundly at home, being watched by a friend.
Over the course of the following nine years, Rebecca visited Holly in Vegas once, and Holly and Mason visited Australia twice. We all spent Christmas together in 2008 and got to know the bright, polite and sweet-as-pie little boy Mason. He completely threw Tyrhone off guard by immediately calling him ‘Uncle Tyrhone’, and since he’d never been anyone’s uncle before, Tyrhone was equally freaked out and flattered. I’d never been anyone’s aunt before either, yet here was this little boy who hardly knew us making us feel like the family we were, however unconventional.
My brother-in-law Mark, Mason, Me and Holly, messing around…
Our time together was spent laughing and joking around; Mason had a mature sense of humour and a mischievous appreciation of the absurd – a true Chamberlain.
Us practicing the sign-language symbol for ‘holidays’ …
He called my Mum ‘Miss Pam’ and she was equally beguiled by his charms, sleeping outside in a tent with him one night so he could have an Aussie camping experience.
My Mum holding Mason like a baby, because… ya know…
The recent news of Mason’s passing at just 14 years old was shocking and heart-wrenching to say the least, but for no-one more than his ‘Mom’, my sister Holly. Everyone who knew her knew he was the center of her universe, and the pain she would be feeling was simply unimaginable. The only thing I was grateful for was being close enough to jump on a plane to Las Vegas to attend the memorial service and support Holly in any way I could.
I am now home in Mexico again, processing the emotional whirlwind of the last week. I am absolutely astounded and humbled by the love I both witnessed and received, as Holly (yes) and her wonderful friends welcomed, loved and supported me during the saddest times of their lives.
Me and Holly (right) still who still lights up the room with her smile…
Mason’s memorial service was a celebration of a life well lived. He was funny, original, loving, and made everyone around him feel special (like his uncle Tyrhone!). He didn’t care what people thought of him and he was loved and respected all the more for it.
There are so many lessons I have been privy to in the last week, which will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I have witnessed the power of faith and its ability to heal in the most wretched of circumstances, as well as the power of love, particularly Motherly love, which is simply unbreakable.
Holly and Mason on their recent trip to the UK…
But most of all, I have been blown away by the life force that is my sister, Holly Chamberlain. She wrote a speech for Mason’s memorial, because even in his death, her Motherly instincts to honour her baby were greater than her pain and grief. No-one knew him like her, and no-one could speak about him like she could.
And if you knew her, you’d know there was simply no other way.
She sat down twice to write the words for her speech, and after the second sitting, she read them out to a small group of us, asking for feedback and suggestions.
When she finished, “It’s perfect,” were about the only words we could get out through our tears and blubbering.
“Surely something has to be changed!” she said to us, slightly annoyed that we had no advice to offer. We had nothing, because the truth was, the words we had just heard were utter perfection.
As Holly spoke to the packed-to-the-brim church at her son’s memorial service, there was only one thing I knew for sure. I was experiencing true greatness, unlike anything I’d ever witnessed before. Like the concept of ‘Darshan’ in the Hindu religion, whereby divine energy is transferred to another by simply being in the presence of an ‘enlightened one’, I was receiving healing and love by being in Holly’s presence in a moment of true divinity.
“We are foolish to think we are guaranteed any number of days on this earth… Mason’s death was accidental and tragic. His life was purposeful and beautiful…
He flipped me off daily and I LOVED it…
14 years ago, I took a blood test and while waiting for the results, I prayed so hard for God to give me results that read ‘not pregnant’. He didn’t listen to me. He could have, but he didn’t. I’ll be forever grateful for that because Mason was the most amazing gift I have ever received. Getting pregnant was the biggest mistake of my life… But a funny thing happened… God turned the biggest mistake of my life into the best blessing of my life. That’s what God does. He makes all things good for all those who love him and are called to his purpose.
We struggle to understand God’s love in times like this because our nature is to become angry… I prayed so hard for God to save my boy… God could have saved my boy. He chose not to. Who am I to question that? Who am I to tell HIM what to do or be angry when he doesn’t do things my way?
Believe me when I tell you this. God will make this good. If I can say this in my grief and bewilderment, you can believe it is true.”
– Holly Chamberlain
In the last week I’ve been privileged to see what true greatness looks like, what community means, and to learn that love has the power to heal all, without exception. I wish I hadn’t learnt these valuable lessons this way, but I’m forever grateful for them. Thank you Mason, Holly, Tina, Jen, Taunia, Kevin, Tina, Badina, Mel, Lisa, Karen, Remi, Teri, Donna, Christina, Laura, Connie, Jen, Joe, Jason, Autumn and the rest of Holly’s EPIC (!) family who have humbled me with your love, humour and hospitality.
300 balloons were released into the sky to honour Mason’s greatness…
Mason’s life will forever serve to inspire all who knew him, and I know Holly’s unbreakable spirit will continue to touch and bless countless lives, as it has mine.