Mixing a bottle of baby formula during an interview with WHO, Gareth Arena reveals he is still coming to terms with life as a single dad after the tragic death of his wife, Bec, last year.
“There are very mixed feelings,” admits Gareth, as his baby, Rixon, sleeps in their home in Townsville, Queensland.
“I don’t think I would be coping as well as I am today if I didn’t have Rixon to care for.”
In a story that swept social media and touched two nations, Gareth, 30, lost his wife, RSPCA worker Bec, at the age of 30 to cystic fibrosis on Sept. 3— four months before their baby boy, Rixon, was born to surrogate mother Jessica Brockie.
Brockie, who was Bec’s childhood best friend and is the wife of New Zealand soccer star Jeremy Brockie, had offered to be the couple’s surrogate due to Bec’s crippling and incurable illness.
“I don’t have Bec here, but it would be a lot harder without him,” says fitter and turner Gareth of his boy. “I’ve just got to get on with it.”
One month after the birth of Rixon, Gareth shares with WHO a letter he wrote to his baby boy:
Just before your mum passed away in hospital, I was able to tell her we were expecting a baby boy. Bec wasn’t able to communicate by then, she was too sick, but she had a big smile on her face.
She always said she didn’t care what sex you turned out to be, but I knew secretly she wanted a boy for me to hang out with and take fishing and camping and stuff, but she never let on.
That was Bec! No-one who knew her would ever have a bad word to say about her. I just loved everything about her. She was the kindest, most genuine person who would do anything for anyone. And animals, of course. She was always willing to help, no matter how sick she was.
Bec ran the RSPCA fostering program here in Townsville and at one stage we had 18 foster kittens at home, plus a couple of mothers, because Bec could never resist an animal in need.
We met each other through a mutual friend and eventually started dating a couple of years later. It didn’t take long to realise how much I loved Bec so I proposed during a trip to Hamilton Island. We took a helicopter to Whitehaven Beach, and that’s where I asked your mum to be my wife. Luckily, she said yes and about a year later we got married.
In her speech at the wedding on Oct. 17, 2015, she told everyone how much we wanted a baby one day and said a lot of nice things—how she hoped you would inherit my loyalty, stuff like that.
But I hope you inherit her strength. I think the best part of Bec was how positive she was about everything. She had CF but she never whinged about it, she was never defined by it. She kind of hid it from everyone. She never cried, “Poor me!” She was so strong, amazing. She wouldn’t say she was sick and wouldn’t complain but every six to 12 months she would spend two weeks in hospital, or in hospital care at home, with a tube in her arm pumping her full of antibiotics to combat infection. Then there was the daily physio—I used to help with that—to get the mucus off her lungs.
It was pretty awful and it meant we couldn’t do some of the things we liked, but that never mattered. We always loved taking our dogs Diesel and Chutney to the beach, just hanging out together. Your mum named Chutney, she always had a way with names. Like with Rixon, I have no idea where she got that from. I didn’t like it at first, to be honest, but it grew on me.
I used to tell people, ‘You’re never going to guess the baby’s name because Bec chose it!’ It was never going to be a common name, with Bec involved, and I guess the start of your life wasn’t that ordinary either. But you were born out of love and friendship, and that’s what mattered most to your mum.
To donate: gofundme.com/becarena
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Gareth was photographed for WHO by Rosana Kersh Photography.