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'I will not conform to society': A lesson in acceptance.

By Sophie Scott.

“Accepting and celebrating your true self is not easy.

“It is a journey that few expect or anticipate, and a journey that nobody should have to experience alone.

“For those who are lucky enough to find self-confidence and achieve self-acceptance, it’s the most important journey you can take.”

These words were from my 19-year-old son Billy, writing about something no young person should ever have to experience.

The day after Christmas, my son got an emergency call to go to the intensive care unit at our local hospital.

His best friend, Cooper, was clinging to life after a drowning accident.

The details about what happened were sketchy.

All we knew was that while on holidays, he had been found in a hotel swimming pool in Fiji, underwater for several minutes before he was revived and flown back to Australia.

A brilliant dancer, Cooper had been living with our family in the weeks before Christmas, working part-time in my husband’s cafe.

I had enrolled him to start a university preparation course next year.

Billy and I both began shaking when we got the phone call.

I didn’t know how to prepare my son for something like this. There is no guide book. There are no words to say.

My own feelings were swept aside in an instant.

“You are all so precious to us. You have no idea,” I said hugging my children and my husband’s children.

As we sat by Cooper’s bedside with his family, we caressed his beautiful face, his tanned skin. His eyes were shut but we talked to him, lovingly as though he was right there with us.

Our tears splashed over his face, as the ICU nurses quietly did what they need to do. They were comforting, discreet and respectful.

We held the beautiful boy’s hands and ran our fingers through his perfect hair.

There was so much love in this room for that child. If love alone was enough, his eyes would spring open and he would breathe on his own again.

As parents, our job is to keep our kids safe, to wrap them with love and say I will love and protect you — no matter what — so they feel connected and like they belong.

That’s what Cooper’s family had done.

When trauma happens, something innate happens.

I go into organiser mode, so Cooper’s devastated mother can focus on being with her son.

I get a second opinion, call my physician friends for advice, and make a contact list of everyone gathered by his bedside.

I gently put my hands on the small of Cooper’s partner’s back to support him, while my family and friends do the same for me.

There are no words of comfort. Nothing anyone can say or do to soften this blow.

We all know this sleeping boy will never wake up.

We will never see him dance again, or hear his laugh or feel his spirit and energy.

The doctors and nurses leave us so my son and I can say goodbye, then we let Cooper’s last moments be with his loving family and partner.

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In his short life, Cooper taught us what it means to be authentic and the importance of accepting who you are.

My son Billy wrote:

“Cooper never struggled to accept and celebrate his true self, a gift that would change my life forever.

“Without Cooper’s confidence, charisma and infectious energy, my adolescence and adult life would have been laden with anxiety and struggle.

“Cooper taught me that normality is subjective, and that sexuality is something that should be embraced, celebrated and never hidden. For that, Cooper, I am eternally grateful.

“Not only have you changed my life forever, but even in your absence, organ transplants are currently underway that will save the lives of a number of young adults.

“Your legacy will live on. I love you so much my darling. French champagne won’t ever be the same without you.

“Rest peacefully my angel.”

I have written a lot about living an authentic life, a life of meaning.

But this is the purest example I have ever seen.

Cooper gave us so many gifts. But his most important legacy was teaching my son to be brave and true to himself.

Cooper lived his life for his passions, giving his all to dance and never apologising for who he was, and how he chose to live his life and who he loved.

At his memorial, we heard how as a toddler, he dressed up in bright costumes, and sparkly dresses.

Aged just seven years old, he grew his hair long and wore it however he liked, sometimes with a red sequinned hairband, given as a birthday gift by a girl at school.

He told his family: “I will not conform to society and get my hair cut.”

Maya Angelou wrote: “When we are gone, they won’t remember what you said or what you did. They will remember how you made them feel”.

Cooper made my son feel loved and accepted. That’s all any parent wants for their child. And in losing him, he has taught me the fragility of the world and how everything can change in an instant.

Tonight and every night, I will hold my own babies closer and never let them go.

Sophie Scott is the medical reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Her blog on health is atwww.sophiescott.com.au.

Cooper Cridland Hayes studied with the Australian Ballet School and San Francisco Ballet School.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


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