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Damien's Habitat...

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It has taken me a long time to sit down and write about my favorite memory of Damien, partly because I still find it hard to accept that he has passed and partly because it’s hard to choose just one favorite memory because I have so many.  I thought instead that I would write about my personal journey with Damien and his family.
 
When I first found out that Mandi was pregnant with Damien I was jealous, happy for Mandi and Dale, but jealous because I so desperately wanted a child of my own. 
After I got used to the idea I got really excited for them and couldn’t wait for their new arrival.  When Mandi went for her first ultra sound I couldn’t wait to here how it went and what it was like to see, but that all changed when Mandi rang and told me there might be something wrong with the baby.  This wasn’t how it was meant to be.  Everything was meant to be happy, but now Mandi had to undergo more tests and endure the agonizing wait for the results.  After she had the CVS done they said that it wasn’t Down syndrome like they first thought and would most likely be something like a hole in the heart.  We were all somewhat relieved, because at least these days, holes in the heart could be fixed right? We knew that it would be a struggle and there would be some hard times ahead but I don’t think any of us actually realized just how tough things were going to get.
As the months went by and Mandi’s belly grew we sort of put all the bad stuff at the back of our minds and enjoyed feeling Damien kick inside Mandi.  It was so exciting to see our two close friends beginning their family together.  I will never forget the night that Dale rang me with the news that Damien had entered the world albeit very early.  He sounded shocked, happy, scared and very apologetic that he was calling so late.
 I said that it didn’t matter how late it was. From that somewhat frantic call I found out that Mandi had had an emergency Caesar and that she was resting now and Damien although small was doing ok.  I said that I would be down in the morning to see how every one was and hung up the phone.
When I got to the hospital the next day they took me into the special care nursery to see Damien for the first time.  He was so tiny, but also amazing. This special little boy made by my two best friends.
 Over the next few months bit by bit he grew stronger and amazed all of us.  He gave me a lot of strength and courage; you see I was going through the perils of trying to conceive using fertility drugs.  The IVF clinic was right next to Monash where Damien was. So Mandi and I would drive down there together, I would go to the clinic and do my thing while Mandi was in seeing Damien and then when I was finished I got to go in and visit too.  Whenever I would get down about why I couldn’t conceive naturally and how it wasn’t fair, I would go and see Damien and remember just why I was doing all this, to get my own little miracle.  I thought that if he can fight so hard to live then getting pregnant doesn’t really even compare.  I remember the nurses letting me give him a bottle on one visit and he threw it up all over me.  But I didn’t care; I was growing to love this little boy, even if he was someone else’s.
Then came the day that he came home, he’d made it.  We all waited patiently to have a cuddle and knew that we didn’t have to ask a nurse if it was alright. By then I think that I had found out that I was expecting in the following May.  Everything was right again.  Better that right it was great. I was there when he had his first bath at home.  Mandi offered me to do the honors as she said that I would need the practice, but I couldn’t take that honor away from Mandi and Dale. So I stood there and watched.  I was a regular visitor and every time I would arrive, Mandi would place Damien in my arms along with a bottle, letting me feed him, burp him and pat his bum until he’d fall asleep in my arms.  We discovered that he had a really cheeky but gorgeous smile.  As he grew so did my tummy and I would often find myself being kicked from the inside and the outside.
He had a funny fascination with my husband Rob who was also his god father, and cracked up every time he saw him. We think that this was because of his beard but weren’t really sure.  He liked to wrap your hair around his fingers so you couldn’t put him down once he fell asleep.  One day he was crying about something and had a fist full of my hair, and I said go on pull it if it makes you feel better,  I very quickly regretted saying that as he understood exactly what I had said and gave it the hardest yank ever, then looked up at me and smiled.  It hurt like hell but it was still funny.
For Damien’s birthday Mandi and Dale threw him a big party. It was so good and we were all so happy.  It was more special than a normal first birthday as he had gone through so much already in his short life and come through it, and that was something to celebrate.  It was a great day, and Damien never stopped smiling the whole day.  He knew it was all in aid of him and love having all the attention, as he got passed from person to person for cuddle after cuddle.
Mandi and Dale bought him in to see me at the hospital when I had my son Josh. Shortly after, we went to visit them at home.  By this time Mandi was pregnant with Adrian.  I was sitting there with my new baby in my arms while Mandi with a swollen belly sorted out clothes that Damien had grown out of to give to Josh.  Rob and Dale were over the other side of the lounge talking between them selves while Damien made funny noises on the floor.  I remember looking around the room and feeling so lucky and so happy. To have such goods friends and all be at the same stage in our lives, such a happy time in our lives.  That day as Mandi and I chatted while having a cup of tea, Damien discovered he could make a new noise with his mouth.  He kept that noise up for at least an hour, and he was soooo happy with himself.  We laughed every time there was a lull in the conversation and realized that he was still happily making the same noise.
Not long after Mandi went into hospital and Damien’s younger brother Adrian was born, in the same hospital as I had had Josh.  I didn’t think that I would be back there so soon, but as all the Franklin boys, he to decided to come early.
Just after Mandi came home Damien had to go The Royal Children’s Hospital to have an Angiogram done and they wanted him in the day before for pre-admission.  Dale couldn’t take the time off work so I offered to drive Mandi in and spend the day with her.  That Day was the beginning of a nightmare.  He was put through test after test. For one of them I had to walk up and down the hall with him in my arms to rock him asleep so he would stay still enough.  Mandi couldn’t carry him as she was still recovering from having Adrian.  He went through so much that day but as we were to discover, it was to be just the beginning of a long battle.  They told us that day after one of the test that they would like to keep him in over night as they didn’t like the results of his last blood test.  Mandi burst into tears as I think that she knew it was the beginning of the end.  I told her everything will be alright and in my heart I honestly believed this was true.  I drove Mandi home to get some clothes and to tell Dale what was going on.  I came home that day emotionally and physically drained.  I cried and cried for all of them and prayed that they would all be strong enough to come through all this.  I also felt really lucky and grateful that we had a healthy child.  The next day I went back in to the hospital to sit with them to wait for the results of the angiogram.  The results weren’t good to say the least  but we were all hopeful that he would be alright.  Now it was time for me to take a step back and let them deal with this as a family.  They knew that I would be there for them, we both would, both Rob and I, all they had to do was call.  I tried calling Mandi a couple of times, but I didn’t like to take her away from looking after Damien, so I would usually leave a message and wait for her to call me and let me know how things were going.  I would also look on his website every morning and night for updates that Dale would leave, so I could follow his progress.  I would go in a visit when I thought they needed me, it was hard being on the outside looking in, as I love Damien as my own but also new that Mandi and Dale and Damien needed time to be together as a family and I didn’t want to encroach on that.
Mandi rang one night and told me that Damien was going to have to go on an artificial Heart and Lung machine.  Rob and I dropped everything that night to go and be with them to wait out the operation and make sure he was alright, and to give them some moral support.  He came through that night ok and was off the machine a few days later.  He just kept on surprising us and the doctors at how much he was willing to fight. I was even more amazed when I rang Mandi to see how things were and she told me that they had bought him home from hospital just a few weeks later.  Just a few days before they bought Damien home Mandi had told Rob and I to go in and say our goodbyes as things weren’t looking so good, and now he was home.  The last time I saw Damien alive was on the Wednesday at home, just two days before he passed away.  Just before I left I dropped everything to give him a hug goodbye, little did I know it would be our last one. On the Friday morning Mandi rang and all she said was “He’s gone Sal.” I’ll never forget those three words for as long as I live.  I felt like my heart had been ripped right out of my chest.  It wasn’t damn fair, but at least now he was at peace. For me the grieving was easy compared to watching Mandi, Dale and Damien go through what they did. He was a beautiful little boy and I will hold his memories in my heart forever.  Although knowing him was an absolute roller coaster ride of emotions, I’m glad that I had the privileged to have known him, and I am grateful to Mandi and Dale for letting me share in their journey.

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