"Elijah's drowned. Elijah's gone.' These are the words that David Fisher allegedly greeted his wife Lauren and their four daughters with when he returned from taking seven-month-old Elijah for a walk at Brisbane’s Logan River Parklands almost a year ago.
The story made headline news at the time with the death of a much loved and wanted baby boy (allegedly at the hand of his father) provoking shocked, saddened and even angry responses from thousands of people who read about the tragic loss. But not from his wife Lauren. She decided many years before her son’s death to “deal with the parts of myself that are not lovely”
And this month Caroline Overington brings the story to light again with an astonishing (and beautiful) story in the February edition of The Australian Women’s Weekly.
Lauren and David were not your regular 9-5 suburban family. Both coming from religious Christian backgrounds they had left behind the trappings of a fixed address and work when their third child was born and in addition to a life on the road had chosen a free-range parenting style – instead of directing and ordering the children to do things, they would simply let them make their own decisions. The kids are also “unschooled” meaning that they aren’t sent to school but rather learn from the world around them.
Caroline writes for AWW: “Lauren had also been reading The Party’s Over – it was one of the first books to argue that the West has already sucked too many resources from the earth and that future generations will need to live more sustainably – and she says, “It had a profound effect on both of us. But I had begun questioning other aspects of our lives, too”.
It started with the children asking, why? “Often when you try to explain why we do things the way we do in our lives, it makes no sense,” Lauren says. “I was the kind of mother who liked to dress the children very neatly and all the same. Then, one day, Brioni came out in three types of stripes, none of them matching, and I said, ‘Oh, Brioni, you can’t wear that!’
“She really liked what she’d chosen and she could not understand. And I had to ask myself: why can’t she wear that? I was forcing them to conform to an arbitrary idea of what looks good, what’s acceptable. I was saying, you can’t wear that because I imagined that if my children were well-presented, it would say something about the kind of mother I was. “In the process, I was cajoling them to do it – to put on their shoes, to not wear their pyjamas when we went to the shops – but why? It was false and it was about me wanting people to say, ‘Oh, you’re such a good mother!’ ”
The Fishers live in their van, there is never anywhere they need to be. They camp by rivers and bathe in streams, grateful to farmers who occasionally come by with fresh produce to sell. Their life would seem to be ideal except for “that “incident in June last year.
“Police were called when Elijah fell and, after a series of formal interviews, David, then 38, was charged with the murder of his almost seven-month-old son. He is currently awaiting trial, having entered no plea as yet and made no application for bail.
Elijah’s body was found the next day, caught in reeds on a scrubby bank of the Logan River. The task of identifying him fell to Lauren. “I foresaw Elijah’s arrival, but remained oblivious to his premature death,” she says of seeing his cold body in the morgue. “But even if I had known that I would hold him for less than seven months, I wouldn’t have done much differently. I have no regrets about not holding my son enough.”
Some of Lauren’s friends and some family believe that Elijah’s death should have been a catalyst for change in her life, that she should move back into her house and put the children in school.
They want her to forget David, too. “I know some people find it hard to forgive,” she says, and she knows that some people “assume that the way we live means that we must be crazy. Therefore, what happened to Elijah must be the result of the fact that we are crazy.” Lauren shrugs. She knows she can’t control the opinions of other people. What befell Elijah could have happened had they lived in a house. “I remember how I used to be, how judgmental I was,” she says. “How I feared people who looked different.”
She considered staying in Queensland to be closer to David while he awaits trial, but the children are not generally allowed to visit him “so to stay, to sit and look at the four walls, I don’t think that would have been good for us. To go back on the road was to re-establish what was normal.”
There’s a bumper sticker on Lauren’s van that says, “Be the change you wish to see in your children”. Never did Lauren imagine that she would have to live that mantra – unconditional love, absolute forgiveness – in circumstances quite so real and raw.
“It is so painful,” she says, but she believes that she must be able to withstand the loss, “or else this experience would not have been given to me.”
She understands that there are people who will never understand her approach to life or to her son’s death. Why is she not angry? Where is the rage? The answer, at least in part, is that Lauren decided many years ago to “deal with the parts of myself that are not lovely. I sought a life more loving, kind, generous.” She seeks to promote peace in others and will give one of her bumper stickers to anyone who wants one.
Read the full article in this month's copy of The Australian Women's Weekly on sale now