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"I'll always say three." Kathy Kelly has lost two sons, she won't call herself a mum-of-one.

CONTENT WARNING: This post deals with suicide and may be triggering for some readers. Please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 if you’re struggling with symptoms of mental illness.

The unique pain of losing two sons to homicide and suicide is one Kathy and Ralph Kelly face each day of their lives.

In 2012, their eldest son Thomas was killed in a random one punch attack in Kings Cross, and four years later in 2016, their youngest son Stuart took his own life. He had dropped out of university a few months prior following a hazing prank at Sydney Uni’s St Paul’s College.

Both boys were 18 when they died. Now, their sister Maddie – the only remaining Kelly child – is 23.

Stuart, Kathy, Ralph and Maddie Kelly. Image: Facebook.

On Tuesday night, Kathy and Ralph appeared on Andrew Denton's Interview where they discussed how their lives look now, carrying on as a family whose pain is simply unimaginable.

Pain that has only deepened from the cruel actions of strangers who levelled hateful online attacks on the family, for their involvement in aiding the implementation of Sydney's lockout laws.

"Let's kill off the rest of the Kelly dogs," was one particularly horrible comment Kathy recalls from the early days of the lockout laws.

The family, particularly Ralph, were passionate advocates for Sydney's lockout laws through the foundations they established after Thomas' death - The Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation and the Take Kare initiative. Now, they also run the Stay Kind initiative, in honour of Stuart.

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This, Ralph said, has provided a beacon of hope along the dark path of grief.

"Grief comes over you in the quietest of moments. We carry that grief everyday, but the foundations have helped me through that," he said.

Thomas, Ralph and Stuart Kelly. Image via 60 Minutes.

The lockout laws the Kellys had campaigned for were introduced in early 2014, and required all nightclubs, bars and pubs in the CBD precinct to enforce a lockout at 1:30am (no new patrons to enter premises) and last drinks to be called at 3am. The legislation was highly controversial, with The Keep Sydney Open campaign leading to enormous demonstrations. Businesses argued that the laws were crippling them, and many said it was destroying Sydney's nightlife.

The laws became synonymous with the Kellys, with Thomas' memorial in Kings Cross vandalised, having to be rebuilt more than once.

This was the Kellys' punishment for trying to make the streets of Sydney safer, so no young person would suffer the same fate as their son.

Kathy says the hate didn't stop - even after Stuart's death.

She told Denton in 2017 a story was published about the death of their family pet using an image she'd uploaded to Facebook.

"(A man commented) I thought it might've been something more interesting like the mum or the dad necking themselves on one of the boy's anniversaries," she recalled.

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"As much as you have to turn yourself off from that, it destroys you."

Speaking of navigating their grief and how they've attempted to keep the family unit strong, Kathy says she will always call herself a mother of three.

"The first time somebody asked me how many children I had after Thomas died and I said two. I kicked myself for the rest of the day. Now, when people ask I say three. It keeps the boys with us," she said.

"It would be lovely to remember the boys for who they were, and not have to think about alcohol and violence and murder, and while we're engulfed in that, it's going to be very hard to step away from that."

The Kellys say that making life as happy and full as possible for their 23-year-old daughter, Maddie, is what gets them through each day.

"There are times where I've thought 'I just can't do this anymore'... (Maddie) knew that I felt this way and she said to me: 'Mum if you do something, I'll be right after you.' I can't let that happen, I have to be here to give her some happiness."

"I just want to be able to give Madeleine the opportunity to have as much happiness as she could possibly get from the little diminishing family that we have left."

Kathy knows part of this must come from letting their daughter live her life, despite their fears, and longing to protect her from the dangers of the world.

"You want to wrap them up, you don't want them to ever leave the house. But I just believe we cannot restrict her from being the young woman she wants be," Kathy explained.

This, Ralph adds, isn't always easy given the circumstances surrounding how they lost both their sons.

"She may ask me to drive her into the city and I'm quite literally shaking from fear. You still have this underlying fear... you've lost two children, you don't want to lose a third."

LISTEN: You can listen to the full episode of No Filter with Kathy Kelly here. 

Catch-up on Andrew Denton's Interview on 7plus. Podcast available wherever you get your podcasts. 

You can visit the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation here, where you can volunteer or donate. You can read about the Take Kare initiative, here, in memory of Thomas Kelly. You can read about the Stay Kind initiative, here, in memory of Stuart Kelly. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, please seek professional help and contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If someone is in immediate danger, call 000 immediately.

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