Sunsets help grieving family heal after shock death
AS the sun set over the Southern Downs on Sunday afternoon, it signalled the end of a chapter for an Allora woman who was forced to say one final, unexpected goodbye to the father of her children.
It had been three weeks since Sheree Clayton had first driven Nick Mullen to Toowoomba Hospital.
The family man was fencing the paddock of their shared 88-hectare property when he noticed a rash spreading across his body.
Nick's sister Katherine Mullen said the couple thought it was a skin allergy to something in the grass, but to the staff at the hospital, Nick was the sickest patient they'd ever seen walk themselves in.
"It was sepsis from leukemia," she said.
"He had no idea."
Within a couple of hours, Nick "crashed", was placed into an induced coma, and quickly flown to a Brisbane hospital after his condition stabilised.
"They didn't expect him to last that first week," Katherine said.
But against all odds, Nick eventually awoke to spend one final week connecting with friends and family.
Sheree never left his side.
Katherine held back tears as she recalled one of their final conversations, when Nick apologised for making their mother worry and for not being able to walk her down the aisle.
"How do you fit in everything you want to say?" she asked.
Mere hours after his mother and sister arrived from Sydney, Nick passed away in his hospital bed.
"We were talking until about 9pm and then we left him to have a sleep," Katherine said.
"He passed away at 9.30pm while Sheree was with him."
It was a heartbreaking moment for Sheree as she faced her first sunset apart the man she'd loved for more than seven years.
As a roofer Nick often had to travel for work, but no matter how far apart the couple were, they always made sure to share the nightly ritual of watching the sunset together with their phones.
"When we were apart, the sunset was always our connection," she said.
But though Nick was gone, Sheree was not alone.
Katherine posted a call-out on Facebook for members of the Allora community to share their photos of the sun blazing beneath the Southern Downs horizon.
Tears ran down Sheree's face as she scrolled through the overwhelming number of responses, with some neighbours expressing condolences and others sharing photos.
"We were absolutely blown away," Katherine said.
"One showed a bright star and it really felt like Nick was there."
Sheree said she could not thank the community enough for capturing the most important sunset to her.
"Your effort, support and kind words have been nothing short of amazing," she said.
"With what you all captured, I will be forever grateful."
Nick will be remembered by his family as a selfless, colourful character who was full of life and love for the country.
His sister said Nick had finally achieved the life he wanted on the Southern Downs, on their property overlooking the plains with his family, cattle, horses and dogs.
"He was exactly where he wanted to be," she said.
"I just wish he had a little bit longer to enjoy it all."