Through pain and tragedy we grow

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In June 2009, a disability support worker left a young boy with autism unsupervised at Yarra Bend Park. He went missing for three days and on the third, his body was recovered from the Yarra River. Felix was my little cousin and he was only 14 years old when he passed away.

I remember the moment when I found out he was missing. I was in year 11 and had just received the highest grade in my vis-com class. My teacher said it was the best work he had seen in years and I was chuffed. That evening I sat in my room for hours, just admiring my own work. It was pretty embarrassing when my mum walked in, so of course I gave her attitude for not knocking beforehand. I was so annoyed, it took a minute for me to process what she was actually saying. Felix is missing and we have to leave right away to help search for him.

The sun had set and it was already dark when we left the house. As we drove along the winding road of Yarra bend, the sight of SES volunteers combing the surrounding parklands etched itself forever in my mind.

My plans to become a graphic designer deviated that day and I spent the next decade of my life dropping in and out of every TAFE and Uni course.

I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt when I tried to do anything that fed my ego, and as time passed by without feeling like I had achieved anything, my mental health deteriorated and I started to question my own self-worth.

I couldn’t understand why the passing of Felix effected me so much. We didn’t get to spend much time together as kids, and truthfully, I didn’t know him that well.

I just knew that he and his family deserved better and thus began my own journey into support work.

That path lead me to Victoria People Solutions last year and I couldn’t be more proud of the connections I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had so far.

Twice a week I see a man who is non-verbal. He’s never spoken a word to me but we’ve had conversations about life, loss and aspirations. He likes to DJ while I drive and we bond over INXS, New Order and Taylor Swift.

In the last year, I’ve seen the relationship of two brothers grow. From cutting the cords of each others TV’s to sharing the newspaper and making each other cups of tea.

It fills me with joy to nurture positive interactions and cultivate a safe space for these brothers to grow, and to move on from the harm caused through years of abuse.

Their mother wont be able to care for them soon, but she feels at ease knowing that people like myself and my team will be there to take care of her boys. We are family.    

I only wish my aunt could have had the same trust in her support workers.

Nonetheless, through pain and tragedy we grow, and I am ever-so grateful to have learnt the power of self-satisfaction through helping others.

I try my hardest to give the best care that I can to the people who deserve it the most and am lucky to be surrounded by likeminded people who continue to inspire me daily.

Disability rights and services have grown vastly in the last few years with participants able to access services like never before. With that, comes a wide range of support workers with varying degrees of experience and dedication. I strive to lead by example in setting a standard of excellence in care for all participants.

As a community, we owe it to each other to lift each other up and reach our highest potential.

This week marks 11 years since Felix passed away and I feel closer to him now, more than ever.

Thank you Felix for leading me on this beautiful path of fulfillment.