We will remember them

By Lynley Bilby

When Kylie and Glenn Perry married, Kylie wore the pendant containing the ashes of Charlie. Photo / Supplied
When Kylie and Glenn Perry married, Kylie wore the pendant containing the ashes of Charlie. Photo / Supplied

It had been a long time since busy mum Kylie Perry had taken a day off work to stay home with her pair of boisterous pre-schoolers.

Four-year-old James and Charlie, 19 months old, were playing outside on an early spring day in August 2008. The pair would disappear from view for just a few minutes - but that was all it took. Little Charlie died on the way to hospital, unable to be revived after accidentally drowning on their rural property.

In the five years since the tragedy, Kylie and her family have found a way to keep their "fantastic" boy they affectionately called Charlie Brown close to them at all times.

Each family member selected a special piece of cremation jewellery containing his remains. Mum Kylie's is a heart-shaped pendant with glass stones; Dad Glenn has a palm-sized pewter heart which he carries in his vehicle and elder brother James has a cylindrical pendant.

Kylie always has the precious keepsake around her neck. "I wear him everywhere," she says. "I feel lost without him.

Kylie is one of many New Zealanders looking for new ways to remember their lost loved ones, and to keep them close. And, as a nation, New Zealand is looking for ways to remember its war dead, ahead of next year's centenary of the beginning of World War I.

Before dawn on Anzac Day, New Zealanders will gather at many of the nation's 450 public memorial sites to remember those who died in conflict. The concrete and stone war memorials, seen in main streets throughout the country, provided a pivotal community focus nearly a century ago as the nation collectively grieved for a generation of men lost in battle.

Now, no longer limited to epitaphs on cemetery headstones, New Zealanders are coming up with beautiful ways to keep memories alive. Some take their tribute on the road, adorning vehicles with memorial decals on windows. Others use their body as a memorial canvas.

A growing number are choosing to keep their loved ones sealed inside cremation
jewellery. Rather than interment, the cremated body is deposited in keepsake charms and worn by bereaved family members. A handful are even turning to advances in science, immortalising loved ones' remains in gemstones.

The challenge is to find new ways to remember the 18,000 New Zealanders who died at Passchendaele, Gallipoli, Flanders and beyond.

Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand, unveiled a large, white National Cross of Remembrance on Thursday. It is the first cross in a wider project for people to erect their own crosses - 18,000 will be brought together in Wellington to create one field of remembrance on Remembrance Day in November 2018, marking the end of the war.

It is often said the WWI veterans did not want to speak of their wartime experiences but oral historian Jane Tolerton says that is wrong. It is just that they weren't ready until the final years of their life, in their 90s.

Tolerton spoke to 84 veterans in the 1980s, as part of an oral history project culminating in the publication of An Awfully Big Adventure this week.

"Many men had never spoken in any depth about the War before but they were happy to go on the record and speak candidly late in their lives," she says. "Let's not make the same mistake with World War II veterans, of which there are about 12,000 still alive. If they're ready to talk, we need to write them down now, before it's too late.

"It's important to get together the material by which we remember our loved ones - the photos, the interviews, the medals and mementos."

Kylie Perry has found her own way of remembering 19-month-old Charlie, sealed close to their hearts in jewellery. When she and Glenn married in 2011, on the third anniversary of their son's death, he was there inside the jewellery to share their special day.

Kylie says Charlie is never far from their thoughts. They have a specially lit tree on their property and set off fireworks on special anniversaries to remember their "brightest star".

A century on from World War I, monuments are an important way for communities to remember their dead - but can we find new ways to keep those we have lost close?

- Herald on Sunday

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