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Remembering Angus

Grateful community: The community of St Carthage’s Church, Gordon Park, gathers with Andrew Burke and Zara Weedon after the couple presented an icon to the parish to honour their son Angus; and (below) Andrew and Zara with the icon, which now hangs to one side of the altar. Photos: Alan Edgecomb

Grateful community: The community of St Carthage’s Church, Gordon Park, gathers with Andrew Burke and Zara Weedon after the couple presented an icon to the parish to honour their son Angus. Photos: Alan Edgecomb

WHEN Andrew Burke and Zara Weedon arrived at their new Lutwyche home in 2009 the world was at their feet.

Both were doctors at the Royal Brisbane Hospital.

Zara was about to have their first child. Their love was strong and for the former Gregory Terrace and Lourdes Hill students, their faith was strong as well.

Yet just over three years later, this faith and love would be tested to the limit by the unthinkable.

Their little boy Angus (pictured below), the apple of their eyes, would be killed, crushed by a tree in a freak accident in a park about 50m from their family home.

“It was a tree we’d walked by 500, maybe even 1000 times, without incident over the years,” Andrew said.

The tree also crushed Zara, who was walking alongside Angus. Andrew with their other son, Joseph, then one-year-old, could only look back in horror.

Zara was rushed to hospital in a critical condition and Angus, in the world just three years, died later on that terrible day, January 28, 2013.

Now, several days before the first anniversary of Angus’ death, I’m sitting on the verandah of Andrew and Zara’s home within view of that fatal walkway along Kedron Brook.

Andrew is showing me an icon he commissioned from West End-based iconographer Valerie Fjellstrom. It only arrived the previous evening.

At Mass the following Sunday, he and Zara were to present it to the Gordon Park parish of St Carthage’s by way of thanks for the community’s support.

Andrew and Zara with the icon which now hangs to one side of the altar.

Andrew and Zara with the icon which now hangs to one side of the altar.

The icon – of the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist – would also later be revealed by Andrew to have a profound link to Angus.

My as yet unasked questions are many. How have the couple kept going with the double tragedy of Angus’ death and Zara’s ongoing recovery from severe injuries?

What possible meaning in life can be left after such a seemingly random and horrific event?

How is it possible to continue to live in their home, filled as it is with so many reminders of their son’s death?

Andrew and Zara’s answers are hope-filled.

“After the accident people were very good to us in the broader community … we felt the prayers of a lot of people,” Andrew said.

“A lot of people, patients of mine would say: ‘We’ve been praying for you and your family’.

“Other people with links to religious communities would be saying they’d asked Franciscans in Galway, Ireland, to pray for you and others would have asked some nuns in a closed community in Sydney to pray for us.”

Zara shares one special memory at this point.

“Do you remember when we went to Pomona … that church there?” she asks Andrew.

“We went there last September for a holiday.

“These two people – a lady and a man – came up and said: ‘What’s your names?’ and Andrew introduced himself, then said: ‘And this is Zara’.

“And the lady said: ‘Oh Zara. We’ve been praying for you.’”

Andrew said the people probably heard the unusual name of Zara and saw the head injury “and put it all together”.

“We didn’t even know them or anyone else in the Pomona church,” he said.

“So all these moments are special you know.”

The couple’s struggle in the months leading up to that September visit to Pomona was intense.

His faith was “everything” in the dark months following the accident, Andrew said.

“It’s been a lynchpin really,” he said.

“I’ve never felt – even with Angus’ death, as tragic as it is – I’ve never felt devastated.

“My main prayer for my boys was that they would always get to heaven.

“I’d once worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Frontiers, a humanitarian-aid non-governmental organisation).

“I saw a lot of kids die in New Guinea and later Africa where I worked.

“So I’d seen that the dreams parents have for their kids don’t always work out that way … but you always hope they get to heaven eventually.”

Andrew also had to deal with Zara’s life-threatening injuries.

“I’m not sure you could say what happened with Zara – this accident – was part of God’s immediate plan,” he said. “But I guess part of God’s plan is to lead us to him through this process – we see God’s love at work in those around us.

“Every day last year when I was walking up to hospital to visit Zara I would say: ‘Jesus, walk with me today’.

“I was always fairly hopeful Zara would make a reasonable recovery and her life be worth living, which would be more than we would have dreamed at the time really … how well she’s coming along in a relatively brief time.

“She was very close to death in the first month and if she did make it, would she be able to talk? Would she know who we were? Would she be able to walk?”

“Yes, I think most of my memory’s come back,” Zara said. “When I was living in the brain injury unit, I realised there were a lot of people who were a lot sicker than me … and they had problems that were not going to go away.

“One man has got three children and he doesn’t remember the youngest one.

“That’s a terrible thing to come away with.”

Zara’s words reminded Andrew of one of his happiest moments after the accident.

“When I first took Joseph to see Zara in intensive care, I didn’t know whether Joseph would know his mother because she was very badly disfigured,” he said. “I didn’t know whether Zara would recognise Joseph.

“But when I took him in to the ICU, she smiled and said: ‘Joe’. And Joe said: ‘Mummy’.

“And I knew, look, something good’s going to come of this – Joseph will have his mother back.”

As for Angus, he will always be a profound part of the family’s lives, living on in their memories.

The icon Andrew and Zara presented to the parish of St Carthage’s, Gordon Park, on January 26 will play an important role in this remembering.

“It reminds me of the day of Angus’ own baptism when he was about three months old,” he said. “Fr (Ken) Howell who married us … he baptised Angus at St Mary’s (South Brisbane) shortly after he’d taken over management there.

“I remember that day as I was buckling him into the car, I said: ‘Angus, today’s the defining day of your worldly life’.

“Of course, at that age he couldn’t understand what I was saying but it was just a very special moment that I had with him.”

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