In loving memory: Richie and Mattie

Last week’s reflection on small ghosts inspired one of our folk to share about two of his own ghosts, who yet loom large in his life. Wenn writes:

I remember Richie. He was three years old and constantly on the go. He ran everywhere and had a zest for life often seen in young children who believe the world is a wondrous colourful playground put here for them.

Late one morning Richie’s Mum come back from the playschool run and the kids piled out of the car after her. Continuing on into the house and up the stairs to their part of the large Victorian building that we shared, she didn’t think any more about it, except it was time to put the kettle on. The kids would be playing together somewhere, and she had a few minutes’ peace before getting lunch.

An hour or so later, she called her children: Michael, aged 4, and Richie, 3. Michael came but Richie did not. She asked her hubby about Richie, believing he must be with him because he wasn’t with his brother. But he hadn’t seen Richie since breakfast.

Panic began in the pit of her stomach. She went down the stairs and checked with the other three children living in the big house, but on the other side. They hadn’t seen Richie either. Everyone began to look and call for Richie.

It would be two hours later that Guy, my then 10-year-old son, would find Richie floating in the lazy but wide and deep river at the bottom of the escarpment. Guy told Richie’s Dad who jumped into the water fully clothed and retrieved little Richie from the grip of the slow, sludgy river.  

They put Richie’s small, wet and cold body on the tarmac in front of a large tree, outside the front door. Apparently the police had been called and he was not to be moved. I couldn’t understand why he would be left there uncovered while the house wailed and echoed with the pain and grief of Richie’s parents.

I fetched the pink blanket from the single bed and covered him …

The wailing went on for days. Thirty-eight years later, I can still hear it.


Mattie, my middle son, was a very stubborn and willful child that I found hard to tame. Mattie outright disobeyed, fought with and frayed the temper of his parents, particularly me. Mattie found learning hard, but he loved to play the class clown and was a good-looking young man who easily charmed his way into people’s hearts.

Eventually, aged 12, Mattie was assessed as being ADHD. It turned out all my children were, but Mattie was the only one who wasn’t autistic. Mattie was very socially skilled, but it seemed his only way of dealing with his difficulties at high school was to act up. At age 14, Mattie went to live with his Dad. I thought maybe he needed a male authority or man in his life, rather than the seemingly ‘two women’ he lived with, myself then and my partner, Beatrice. I knew Mattie didn’t respect me and that he found my relationship with Beatrice difficult to navigate. This was especially true as he, along with his younger autistic brother Tim, were teased at school for having lesbian parents.

One day I received a call from school that Mattie had thrown a chair at one of his teachers. Mattie was expelled from school and went to a local ‘community school’ for wayward children. At this school in Caulfield the furniture was chained to the floor and doors were locked during recess. The school, however, had a very caring and committed teacher who taught Mattie to play guitar and involved him in the set design for all the school plays. Mattie appeared to excel and do well. Eventually, all my children, Guy, Katy, Mattie and Tim, moved in with their dad.

When Mattie was 19 (Guy was 25, Katy was 23 and Tim was 17), Beatrice and I were returning from the UK with my Mum. It was 7:30am on September 26, 1999. We had moved to Warrnambool on 30 August, and because Mum lived with us, she hadn’t seen her new home yet (we moved while she was overseas). We were all very tired.

My mobile phone had been switched off overnight, but I switched it on as we climbed into the car to come home. The phone buzzed several times, over and over and over. I looked at the list of repeated messages. Mattie had been killed in a car accident. I read the message, then phoned Guy. My eldest son, tearful and stuttering over his words with deep emotion and heaviness of heart, explained that Mattie had died.

‘It wasn’t his fault, Mum,’ he said. ‘Mattie was driving on a two laned carriageway and was overtaking another car on a bend, he wasn’t speeding, but another car was fast approaching in the same lane, towards Mattie and they crashed. They were both killed. The policeman said the other driver was very drunk… Mattie would have hardly had time to blink, it was very quick…’ Guy’s voice trailed off into frantic sobs.

I told him we would be there at his Dad’s place, as soon as we could be. I looked at Beatrice and told her what had happened and that we needed to go back to Melbourne and join the family before we could go home. We travelled in silence back to Wheeler’s Hill, where Mattie’s Dad lived. When we arrived all the kids were there and Katy’s boyfriend, too. There were things to do. Guy said he would go and identify Mattie. I so much wanted to, but was not allowed. It was very, very hard to let Guy go.

So yet again Guy would be the young person to identify death. First Richie with his very bloated little body from the monotonous slow flow of the river; now his younger brother, who had had to be cut out of a very squashed and broken car.

As Mattie’s ‘Mum’ and Richie’s adopted ‘aunty’ I still hold emotions of grief, guilt and all those thoughts of ‘if only.’

But the ‘if only’s’ were not the life experience of those times and, as Alison said last Sunday, we cannot go back. We cannot undo the experiences of our past. But we can trust in our beloved Heavenly Father that he knows all hearts better than anyone and he holds us all with supportive, strong and loving arms. Richie and Mattie are surrounded by love and protected by the angels who watched over them during their earthly lives. There is no better place to be.

I still wrestle with varied emotions, some days feeling nothing but numbness and distance, almost as if that life then belonged to another person. But I hold onto the promise to us all, that one day ‘we will know as we are known’ (1 Corinthians 13:12) and that many mysteries of the past will be uncovered.


Thank you, Wenn, for entrusting us with your story, sharing your burden of grief, and pointing us towards God’s faithfulness in all things. Emailed to Sanctuary 3 November 2021 © Sanctuary, 2021. Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash.

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