We took out the Christmas decorations today. On top was a light up ‘F’ for Freddie. He wasn’t there today but he continues to light up our every moment.
It’s been a month since Freddie’s day. A whole month since the most beautiful, orange filled, snow leopard spotted, exploding with love celebration of Freddie’s life. We opened the invitation wide and you came! You came with leopard spots on, with bunnies on and with orange blazing. Thank you doesn’t cover it. If you weren’t there we missed you and if you were there…….i just hope you managed to get a sausage roll (they were the talk of the town).
As November the 8th dawned, Martin, Arthur and I waited patiently in our finest outfits for Freddie to pick us up. He arrived, resplendent in his wicker casket, laying on an orange blanket, adorned with wild flowers. His chariot for the day was Winnie; an awesome grey, split screen VW camper van.
As Martin popped an orange pocket square in his jacket, Arthur and I greeted Freddie with his snow leopard and rabbit friends and tucked them in around him. We then began our last journey as a family of four; tearing up the roads of South West Hertfordshire, flying through the sunlit, orange tree lined roads to meet our Team Carpenter, ready to celebrate the short but sweetest life of our first born.
That journey was brilliant. Arthur snuggled in, Martin held onto Fred’s basket and I drank in those last bittersweet moments together. We laughed and we chatted but most of all we felt so proud. We felt so proud to be Freddie’s parents and so proud to be telling everyone just how excellent he was. This love and pride for our beautiful boy carried us through the rest of the day, which was both magical and heart wrenching in equal measure. But the best part has to be that very special journey, our final adventure all together; me and my boys.
Arriving at Greenacres, we were met first by an impressive array of cars. It was then I realised just how many people had come to show their love and support. It was overwhelming but completely elevating. We stepped out of the van to cheers and a sea of faces all willing us on, earnest and kind, where to start? The children showed us the way, they swarmed in to see Fred in his van, touching and looking, inquisitive and totally at ease. He was all tucked in, with his friends, with his family, enveloped by a cloud of love. The crowds of people were feasting on orange soup, pesto pasta and hot chocolate, topped off with carrot cake for afters. I imagined Freddie there with all of us, eating his top favourite foods and darting in and out of the trees and adults like the other children. Bubbles filled the air and the sun shone down on nearly 400 people, it was truly more then we could have ever hoped for.
Freddie, our guest of honour was carried in first by a team of our nearest and dearest. Then as the first song “Luckiest” played, the crowds flooded in. Children on blankets surrounded Fred in his casket, people piled in, filling every nook and spilling out into the courtyard. Time flashed by and stood still. Freddie was everywhere but nowhere. We began to speak and tell the world about our Freddie Miles Carpenter-Best One Ever. I wasn’t present in the room, but Fred was, right there holding our hands. He told me what to say:
To use your words, we are all boiling sad.
Not just me and daddy and Arthur but a huge bunch of people, some of whom you’ve never even met. We are so sad you’ve gone away but also so sad that more people won’t be able to experience having you in their lives. This is because you were pretty awesome to say the least, as you once introduced yourself, you were Freddie Miles Carpenter, best one ever.
We actually named you Alfred; meaning elf counsel, pertaining to being wise, a sage, emanating old peace. We couldn’t have given you a more apt or appropriate name, as you have been our most intuitive, astute and greatest teacher. In life you guided us and in death you will continue to be our North Star, our mentor, our guru and our exemplar for living.
The first lesson you taught me started very early in your life. This was all about being brave. It’s amazing just how brave you can be when you have a little Pioneer in your belly and you greatest champion willing you on from the side lines. Through your birth you showed me not to fear the pain of the squeezy contractions, but to breath through them. Then to laugh and grow my way through the expansions, not worrying about what might come next or how long it will last. This lesson I will carry with me always through the contractions and expansions of everyday life.
You went on to show me your bravery in everything you did. Although cautious by nature you showed adventurousness rather than recklessness in the way you approached life. You always settled well to new situations and settings, cautiously but courageously giving it everything you had in your own quietly brave way. But then you always had your sidekick and ally, Rufus at your side. Together you could do anything. Freddie and Rufus against the world.
Your bravery reached new heights when you became ill. As daddy says, you gave your illness no respect. Life was too exciting to worry about hospitals, they were just a speck on the landscape of the adventure which was your life. You learnt quickly to get the bad stuff out of the way, leaving more room for endless games of top trumps, yellow car, the animal guessing game and oodles of Rufus stories. As I said, you made us brave. Thank you Fred.
The second lesson you gifted us was love. This shone through in everything you did. You practiced this through your powerful ability to be kind, to share, to make connections and to make people feel special. As a tiny baby, I was blown away by even in the early days, the way in which you communicated love through the way you gazed at me. I remember answering you in the most natural way, “I love you too Fred.”
You continued to be ever so generous in your love, telling us many times a day how much you loved us. In the last weeks of your life, you told us your were the happiest boy in the world because you had me, daddy and Arthur. The last time we spoke of love, we lay in my bed and we drew mazes in the air with our fingers, it was a journey on a map of your love.
The amount of meaningful friendships you had at the age of 5 is a testament to your ability to love Fred. This is because you were so good at sharing. Sharing your games, your ideas, your time and even your ice cream. Whatever you were doing would always be made better if you were doing it with another. Perhaps this was why you included all your teddies in your family, referring to them as your friends. This was why you and Rufus were such a formidable team. This was why you impacted so many, through your gift of making others feel special. Thank you Fred.
Finally, I wanted you to thank you for the adventure we have been on together. Of which, the beginning and ending have mirrored each other more than I could have ever believed.
As you came into the world you started off inside of me, as close as two people can be. Daddy cut your cord and you came to by breast where I fed you. We went to my bed and we held hands and gazed at each other. Endless notes about feeding, left boob, right boob, dirty nappy. First bath in the sink, first bedtime story. People at our house, sending messages, meals on the doorstep, flowers and cards. Then you were on my lap, playing at my feet, running through our house and out the door to nursery and school.
Then at the end, you returned. You could no longer could manage school, you came to the sofa next to me, on my lap and then in my bed. People at our house, sending messages, meals on the doorstep, flowers and cards. Endless notes about meds, this syringe, that syringe, been to the loo. We went to my bed and held hands and I gazed at you. Last story, last breath, last bath, we cut your line. You came back inside of me, to my heart. I will carry you there, although it is heavy, with honour and pride and with bravery and love.
I love you to rabbit world and back Fred.
Afterwards James read his love letter to boyhood, a poem he had written about playing with Freddie:
I know! Let’s build a pirate ship! You can be the pirate! Come on! Rufus can sail on it and protect us from the deep sea monsters! We will have to watch out for the squid! Look out here comes an octopus that has really, really huge tentacles! Pkow! Pkow! Pkow!
I know! Let’s make a machine! Let’s give it claws! Really big claws!! And big tyres! Bigger! Even bigger! Bigger still! And a grabber! And a saw! And a hook! And a skid plate! ‘A skid plate?!’ Yeah – you know! A skid plate! Lets build it! Rufus wants to ride it!
I know! Let’s build sandcastles! Let’s build a car in the sand! Let’s make it fast let’s make it slick! Let’s turn it into an Alligator! Let’s get in and cross the galaxy! Rufus knows the way! But we’ll need power, more power, more power and let’s cross that galaxy again! Again? Yes! Again we need to cross the Galaxy again!
Next, Freddie’s head teacher and class teacher reported on his life at school. We heard about his antics, his chatting, his friends, his love of learning, his kindness, his respectfulness, his humour, his resilience and did I mention his love of talking? Once again, I felt proud but also happy that Freddie had loved school so much and this had been a little bubble of gorgeous normality for him.
After this, Ali read the book, ‘A Lion Inside’. This was a special book for Freddie and Martin and in Freddie’s final days he explained that this was a book that he loved to share with his daddy. Freddie always had a way of making something feel special when you were with him.
Finally, Martin spoke:
I’ve known I’d be making this speech for a long time, but for a long time I’ve gone round and round in circles trying to figure out what best to say. Over the last few weeks I’ve been repeatedly told, there are no words to describe what’s happened. Which is really useful, when you’re trying to think of some words to describe what’s happened. In the end I thought I’d just tell you a little bit about what I think about when I think of Freddie.
Freddie used to make me laugh a lot. Back in 2016 we went on our first family holiday. Arthur was 6 months old at the time and Freddie was 3. It was our first proper family holiday and, if I’m honest somewhat unrepresentative of holidays to come. We were staying in a five star resort in Mauritius – a place wildly beyond our means. One evening we were eating dinner in the restaurant. Natalie had gone off to the cheese counter and I was left at our table with the boys. The restaurant was very busy, Arthur was throwing food about and Freddie was complaining because he needed the toilet and I’d told him to wait – or words to that effect.
I was cleaning Arthur’s face when I noticed Freddie had gone very quiet. I looked at him and he was sat still, slightly red faced, looking at me, one hand on the table, the other hand, clutching his willy, which was on display for all to see as his trousers and pants were now mysteriously on the floor. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me I’d told him to do it. I looked at him and he said “you told me I couldn’t go to the toilet and just had to hold it, so that’s what I’m doing.” As I said, he made me laugh. Although not always intentionally.
As you probably know, Freddie loved animals. I feel partly responsible for that. As many of you will know, part of a parents job is to try and force your own interests on your children. So if you know me, you’ll understand why Freddie liked animals. He had his favourites though. If I asked you Freddie’s favourite animal you’d probably say a snow leopard. With good reason. However that wasn’t actually the case. Earlier this year Freddie sat me down and told me he had something to tell me. He had his serious face on, because, as he told me, I wouldn’t like this news. After much consideration, Freddie had decided the snow leopard was no longer his favourite animal. The elusive, majestic, ghost of the Himalayas, had been toppled from it’s podium. By the humble rabbit.
Freddie had a spacial relationship with rabbits. The sort of relationship that can best be described by talking a little about Freddie’s third favourite animal. The honey badger. For anyone who doesn’t know, the honey badger, despite it’s relatively small size it is one of the most ferocious animals in Africa. One of our last trips back from Great Ormond Street, Freddie was talking to us about honey badgers. He was explaining how, in Africa they worked with a bird called the honeyguide. The honeyguide would lead the badger to a bee hive and the honey badger would attack the hive. Afterwards both animals would feed on the honey. This was, Freddie explained, using these exact words, a good example of a symbiotic relationship in the animal kingdom.
It’s embarrassing when you have to google a word your 4 year old uses. Symbiosis, for anyone else who doesn’t know, is a relationship between two or more animals of different species. One animal may benefit greatly from this relationship whilst the other is not helped but equally not harmed by it. And this brings me back to rabbits. One particular rabbit. A rabbit by the name of Rufus.
Rufus was Freddie’s little cuddly rabbit. Rufus came into our lives when Freddie was just a few months old and in the 5 years that followed, he barely left him. If you see a photo of Freddie, chances are, Rufus is there too. In Freddie’s mind, Rufus was strong, brave and fearless. He could do anything. To us he was just the thing we lost 20 times a day. Strangely, Rufus’ life mirrored Freddie’s somewhat. Shortly after Freddie had a tumour removed from his brain, Rufus’ arm fell off. The surgery was less complicated for Rufus, but together, their wore their stitches with pride.
Rufus is with Freddie now. That partnership will live on. A symbiotic relationship in every sense of the word. Knowing exactly where Rufus is brings me a sense of peace. I know Freddie would have wanted Rufus with him and I take some comfort in knowing Freddie isn’t alone. I’m also extremely happy I’ll never have to turn the house upside down again looking for that little rabbit.
We spent some time picking out the music for today. I wanted to take a couple of moments to explain one of our choices – a song called the luckiest, which played as you came into the room. That might seem an odd choice under the circumstances, but the more I think about it, the more appropriate it feels. A couple of months ago, after Freddie’s relapse, when we knew how this journey would end, Freddie was sat at the table at home, and said to me and Natalie “I have the best life. I must be the luckiest boy in the world.”
Under the circumstances, it seemed unlikely. However the more I thought about it, the more I wonder if maybe he had a point. Statistically of course he was wrong. Freddie was, medically speaking, very unlucky and I’m not taking anything away from that, but happiness isn’t measured by statistics. There’s no getting away from the face Freddie was happy. Almost always and nothing can change that. He loved life. He loved his friends and his family. He loved going to school, he even loved going to hospital, especially if he was having a general anaesthetic. Freddie manage to extract joy and happiness from everything he did. And when you consider just what he did, that’s quite an achievement. He saw the best in people and made the most of every opportunity that came his way. And if we all did that a little bit more, I suspect the world would be a better place
Ultimately though, I don’t know if lucky is the right word to describe Freddie.
But I do think lucky is probably the most appropriate word to describe anyone who knew Freddie. I asked Natalie a few weeks ago if she could go back in time would she change anything. Without the slightest hesitation, she told me she wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t either. You’ll have your own memories of Freddie. But when I think of Freddie, I think of a little boy full of life, exploding with happiness. Braver than anyone I’ve ever met, yet overflowing with kindness. And the fact that little boy was my son, even for just a short time, makes me think I’m the luckiest man in the world.
Last week I sorted photos of Freddie from his birth until until his death. When put together in chronological order we ended up with a beautiful montage that visually told Freddie’s life story, far more emotionally than I could with words alone. I think sharing that with you seems little a fitting way for me to finish.
So I’ll leave you with this. 100 photos that tell the story of Freddie. It was an incredible adventure. Thank you for being a part of it.
This was followed by a montage of 100 photos documenting Freddie’s 5 years. This was something that always reduces me to tears every time I watch it. I think I have watched it over 50 times, but on this day, I didn’t cry, I just felt lucky. You can rewatch the video by clicking (here) if you like. The password is rufus
Fiona, our lovely celebrant explained to the room about our wishes regarding remembering Freddie. Along with the order of service we had included a postcard to send Arthur to record memories of Freddie. We also invited people to perform a random act of kindness in Freddie’s name, and included a small business card to leave once you had done this. We hope that in this way Freddie’s energy continues to be out there, making good things happen, bringing smiles to people’s face and making them feel special.
Our last act was to say good bye to Freddie and we did this by each placing a snow leopard spot on his casket. Arthur, Martin and I started this process, but this didn’t stop us popping back once again, for one last look. If it was possible, Freddie looked even more mighty than he had when he arrived, covered in the love of nearly 400 people’s good wishes and love. The snow leopard reigned mighty that day.
The celebrations continued at Café in the park. Here, the best sausage rolls ever were converting vegetarians and vegans by the minute. The gin, wine and beer were flowing and children were being entertained by a magician with a real rabbit (kudos from Fred). Love, magic, healing, remembering and sadness ran through the room. I cannot tell you how mind blowing I found the whole event. It reflected Freddie in every way, and I loved every minute. I think I am still processing all the faces, messages, people, smiles, hugs, kisses, laughter and love.
Freddie remains at Greenacres, where his ashes will be placed in ‘The Stumpery’, a little haven of beauty within the forest. Here, he will find his home under a tree with the nest of a Red Kite (a bird which was part of our daily family conversations), under a carving of a butterfly. We hope to visit him often. Although he runs through the fabric of our house, where he was born, where he lived and where he passed.
Freddie Miles Carpenter, truly the best one ever.