real life

"I was at home with my newborn daughter when a phone call changed our lives forever."


It was the night that changed my life forever. Hannah, our youngest daughter was just a few weeks old.

The phone rang, which alarmed me because I wasn’t expecting any calls so late. I knew something wasn’t right.

The doctor told me that something was wrong with my husband, Kevin, that I needed to get to the hospital immediately. I just remember hanging up and my mind moving at a million miles an hour.

But before I even had time to breathe, the phone rang again.

It was at that moment I was told my partner, best friend, father of my nine children had passed away.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was in total disbelief. How can this be? We have a new baby, we had so many plans — it was going to be our year.

There I was. Just a few weeks giving birth and I found myself a widow and the mother of nine children, all under 17, without their father.

It was — needless to say — a very traumatic period of our lives, with much potential to crumble us as a family unit. I did go through the grieving process, as we all do when we lose someone; the disbelief, the anger and the realisation of it all.

Listen to Daniella Rule speak to Mia Freedman on No Filter. Post continues after audio.

I was faced with the prospect of doing it alone and the thought of him never coming back was heart-wrenching. I kept thinking, ‘how am I going to get through this?’ It felt okay when we had visitors checking up on us but when they left, I saw the tears, the squabbles, the tantrums, the quiet, and the heartache in my girls. The pain was sometimes unbearable.


Admittedly, I remember being at the cross-roads considered buying alcohol. I thought could numb the pain. Then as quick as the thought came in, it left, as my daughter Angela, who was contemplating deferring her university studies, walked in during one of these episodes and said, ‘Mum, I’m not going to give up. I’m going to do it for Dad’. Tears flooded my eyes and I knew there was no way I would seek comfort in alcohol. I looked at my daughters and made the conscious decision this was not going to break us. I needed to put their needs first because they are my children. I need to love them, support them, encourage them and raise them the best way I can. I didn’t have a lot of wealth but I had a lot of love.

One of the things I did was put their father’s photo up, particularly so Hannah, my youngest, grew up knowing the face of her dad. In keeping his memory alive, I encouraged the girls — as hard as it was — to talk about their dad. It was something Jessica, my second youngest, so often did. One of the hardest was when she stamped her feet and demanded she go to Heaven to see her dad. She was three years old, and I had to explain that she couldn’t go as Mum needed her here. But she wanted her dad. It was this realisation that she would never see him again that aches even to today.

Angela with a painting by her father. Image: Supplied.

Trying to keep things normal had its moments. It was a few weeks after the funeral when Aleisha (number seven) had her pre-primary Mother’s Day pampering. As I was sitting down getting beautified with all the other mums, tears began to fall yet again because of the nature of the day. Aleisha just looked and gave me a big hug, and it reminded me that I was determined to keep moving forward and to continue to do and live every day as normal as possible for my girls' sake.

The first year was the hardest, although overall we tried effortlessly to support each other at times, this was difficult. Each daughter had they’re own challenges, such as their first year at primary school or the first year at high school; finishing high school and studying at university. Education was such a powerful tool for me in terms of stabilising them. School was a safe environment with their friends and learning along the way; it was normal. My continued efforts to keep them in school and after school activities such as netball and modelling helped me with keeping them focused and gave us all structure and routine, which is what every family needs.


Nevertheless, it was still hard in so many ways. Going to our local shopping centre became so unbearable, because it was where my husband and I took the kids so often, so I found myself shopping at another centre. Then I knew I had to make that step to return and one day I felt ready and just did it. I suppose each step forward of my journey made it easier as each new day passed. Although it seems so little, it was a big step to me and ultimately that made it a big step for us all.

Image: Supplied.

I would write my feelings in a diary, which helped me release emotion that I didn’t want to burden anyone with. It also allowed me to release the stress of everyday life. It was personal, just with me and my diary.

Sometimes when I just needed to be alone I would often go in my car, where the kids wouldn’t find me here, and just look at the stars and start talking. It was a big release for me. If I felt like I needed a good cry I'd put on some music and just let it all out. I would sneak back into the house wash my face, lift myself up and continue on with it. My outlook was: I’m allowed to fall, but I need to get up. I always get up.

I accessed a support service that allowed me to be counselled over the phone, which was extremely beneficial for me. Laughter soon consumed my house again and I didn't feel guilty about laughing or enjoying life anymore. My happiness was my daughters, my focus continued with them. I found when my daughters saw me happy, they were happy. My mum and my siblings, family and friends continued to support me by visiting and the phone calls their support was given in various ways. It reminds me how important family is through times.

I sought refuge in prayer. I felt like my strength came from God. My values have been influenced from my beliefs. I didn’t want my girls to grow up to be angry at the world, I wanted them to aspire to be good and do good things for themselves and others. This started at home. Shenika (second oldest), for example, took on a lot of her father's duties in the house, like mowing the lawn and cleaning the yard.

Video by NITV

Music also helped a lot. I would often listen to music to encourage me, to make me smile and to keep me active. Also to remind me how lucky I am. I would always consider other peoples' stories to uplift and inspire me. I began to be thankful for all I have, I began to realise there is always someone worse off than me. Although times were extremely hard I had nine healthy children, a home and a not-so-good car, but one that got me to school and netball. I was thankful.

Making the decision to return to work 16 months later was the best decision I made. I wasn’t, as my mum would, say “moping around the house” anymore. However this brought on new challenges like juggling full-time work and parenting alone. Learning how to balance everything and everyone like drop offs at day-care, school and high school was a challenge, but became easier with practice.

I felt blessed I had the older girls to support me, family, colleagues and a great workplace that allowed me the flexibility to take time off for sick kids. I became busy signing-up to school committees to help support the education of not just my own children, but all Aboriginal children in our schools. I wanted to display reconciliation by being involved in the wider school community and do my part in my community.

Our house is still filled with chaos at times, squabbles, the occasional tantrum and tears, but most importantly it is filled with love and laughter and this is where my ultimate strength comes from — the love of my family and knowing I need to be happy.


Daniella Rule is a Noongar woman, mother of nine daughters and high school Aboriginal liaison officer. She stars in the NITV observational docu-series, Family Rules. Wednesdays, 8.30pm on NITV and is available for catch-up on SBS On Demand.

This post originally appeared on SBS Online, and has been republished here with full permission.

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