COVID’s cruel blow to family mourning son
The family of Navar Herbert should have been back home in New Zealand, marking one year since the loss of their 22-year-old son to a cancerous brain tumour on June 25th, 2019.
Under traditional New Zealand Maori custom yesterday should have been the day Navar's parents Cameron and Vanessa unveiled his headstone, surrounded by family and friends to mourn and celebrate a life cut far too short.
Instead the Herberts mourned in isolation, more than 2,000 kilometres away from the North Island town of Otorohanga where Navar was born and his body laid to rest.
COVID-19 has robbed them of that opportunity, with closed borders preventing travel and restricting their access to Navar's wife Maia and their grandson Kyrie, two-years-old in July, who had returned to New Zealand to heal.
The Herberts had every right to be bitter at the cruel hand fate had dealt them but chose to reflect and celebrate Navar's life on their own terms instead.
"Emotions have been running hot and cold all week but yesterday was extremely tough," mother Vanessa said.
"Yesterday was the day he passed away and the day before was the day he married Maia.
"It's even harder because normally we'd be unveiling his headstone in New Zealand but we can't get back.
"We're going to have a COVID-safe get together on Saturday at the Nerang Bulls rugby club, where there's a big 20-foot mural of Navar."
The mural depicts Navar holding his son after his birth, with sunflowers added as a symbol for sarcoma cancer awareness.
Herbert was a talented junior footballer in both rugby codes who made friends easily, thanks to a cheeky nature and affinity for practical jokes.
His sudden death, five months earlier than doctors had predicted, sent shockwaves throughout the tight-knit sporting communities at Nerang Bulls and Roosters and his old school, Keebra Park.
"He was a loveable guy but a cheeky little s---," Vanessa said.
"He went through a rough time in his teens but everyone loved him because he was always having fun.
"To be diagnosed with brain cancer at 21-years-old, and he'd just had a baby, it was pretty horrendous.
"Although we had had support prior his wedding brought out a huge outpouring of emotion."
Footage of the wedding went viral online, attracting tens of millions of views, which helped a GoFundMe page launched for Navar's young family amass $130,000 in donations.
Vanessa says she still can't bring herself to watch the video but is thankful for the support it has inspired for her grandson and daughter-in-law.
The family have postponed the unveiling of Navar's headstone until March next year, provided international borders are reopened in time.
Until then, a small service at Nerang Bulls rugby club will have to do until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted again.
Originally published as COVID's cruel blow to family mourning son