The Craig Family
When Jessica Craig was on her first date with her future husband, Peter, there was no mistaking what he valued most in the world.
“He asked me that night when we would have kids,” Jessica says.
“Peter was so keen to have them because he lost his father two weeks before he turned six years old when a drunk driver hit his car, and he always wanted to be the father he didn’t have growing up.”
Peter’s dream finally came true seven years later when his and Jessica’s baby boy, Jaxon, was born in May, 2016.
“To bring Jaxon into the world was the most exciting and happiest thing for him,” smiled Jessica about her husband, who was a sailor in the Navy.
Thanks to his shore posting, where Peter travelled to and from a Sydney Naval base located near their home each day, Jessica fondly remembers how “hands on” her partner was through her pregnancy, at Jaxon’s birth and amid every sleepless night in those tough newborn months.
“He said ‘goodbye’ and left on his Harley.”
The day before Jaxon turned nine months old, Jessica was immersed in her usual nightly ritual of doing the dishes when Peter got a call from his best friend asking if he would like to go out on a motorbike ride.
“It was a weird experience,” she soberly recalls. “That night when he left I was in the kitchen loading the dishwasher and he came in and kissed me goodbye. As he walked around the corner I had this out of body experience and I blurted out, ‘You’re not coming home.’”
“I don’t know where it came from, but it came out of my mouth, it was so weird. As he walked towards the door, I said, ‘Are you going to say goodbye to your son?’ and he said, ‘Of course I’m going to say goodbye to my son’.
“He went over to Jaxon, who was in his bouncer and he said ‘goodbye’ and left on his Harley. I remember it being loud, roaring up the street.”
“My heart sank. I knew…”
Despite being exhausted by the day’s work-and-parenting-juggle, the 30-year-old could usually be stirred by the return of Peter’s Harley up the driveway.
But that night, what she heard instead was her phone ringing beside her bed.
“It was around 11 o’clock and Jaxon was asleep next to me when my sister-in-law called,” Jessica painfully recalls.
Not wanting to disturb her son’s slumber, Jessica ignored the call at first.
“Then I thought I’d better answer because Pete’s grandmother wasn’t well at the time and maybe something’s happened to her and they can’t get a hold of Pete, so they’re calling me,” she explains.
“So I picked up the phone and took it into the living room. I called my sister-in-law back and she said, ‘Jess, are you OK?’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’
“Then my heart sank. I knew … She said, ‘Pete’s been in an accident’. I just collapsed and was crying. Then I heard Jaxon wake up from my crying and cry, too.”
“I’d never felt so much pain in my life.”
The man she planned to spend the rest of her life with had turned a corner on his motorbike too tightly and, trying to correct it, collided head-on into an oncoming car.
“I just couldn’t believe it had happened… Peter was experienced and so safe on the road. He never went out on the bike to take risks. His son meant everything to him. It was one of those freak accidents.”
Jessica rushed to phone Peter’s best friend, who witnessed the accident.
“I asked him, ‘Is it serious?’ and he said ‘Yes’.”
The frantic mum bundled up her baby and made her way to Sydney’s Liverpool Hospital, convinced that she would find her husband badly injured in a hospital bed.
“I didn’t think he was dead. I thought about getting ramps if he was to become a paraplegic, things like that. You never think the worst is going to happen to you.”
Jessica pushed Jaxon in his pram through the emergency ward, trying to see if her husband was behind one of the curtains.
“Instead I was taken into a room with his brother and best friend,” she remembers emotionally.
“Two doctors came in and said, ‘Pete’s been in a serious accident and we have to inform you that he has died.’”
Her husband was just 34 years old.
“I’d never felt so much pain in my life,” she said as her voice quivered.
“It was actual physical pain, like someone had got their hands into my ribcage and broken every rib. It was excruciating at that moment. All I could do was pick up Jaxon and start cradling him. None of us were expecting it.”
It was too much to fathom that the life Peter had so patiently waited for had ended so tragically and out of the blue.
“In one split moment, everything you planned in your life is ripped away. We’d planned to have one or two more kids. We’d bought a house. We were set in the dream of being a family in the suburbs. I was in shock for a long time trying to process everything.”
Help came knocking at her door in the same week of Peter’s death – through Legacy.
Jessica was protected by her family in identifying her husband’s body but bravely faced her worst fear before his funeral, seeing his lifeless face in an open casket.
“I was carrying Jaxon into the room and as soon as I saw him, I collapsed with Jaxon in my arms. I had to be picked up – it was pretty horrific.”
Amid her inconsolable grief, Jessica had to face the uncertainty of becoming a widow and sole parent to a nine-month-old overnight.
“I was just so scared,” said Jessica, who had gone back to work when Jaxon was five months old.
“I didn’t know how I would pay my mortgage and I just wanted everything to be OK for Jaxon.”
Help came knocking at her door in the same week of Peter’s death, through Legacy.
“We’ve had wonderful support from the Navy and Legacy since it happened,” Jessica, who joined the Navy herself in 2018 and is now one of its public affairs officers, says.
“As supportive as your own family and friends are, they haven’t been through it. Being able to talk to other people normalises the feelings you have. As Jaxon gets older, he can see other kids in the same situation as him and he will be able to relate and talk to them and have that same support network.”
“It is so important they can keep [helping] anyone who needs it.”
She said she would have been lost without Legacy’s contribution, which has paid for four-year-old Jaxon’s daycare fees since Peter’s passing.
“Many people don’t know how much Legacy helps families of those service men and women who have lost their lives,” Jessica explains.
“I was in a military family my whole life and I only ever realised it when they offered their help, and it’s so important they can keep doing that for everyone who needs it.”
She couldn’t be prouder that little Jaxon will grow up surrounded by those who appreciated and understood the sacrifice her late husband made for his country.
At home, their beloved husband and dad is never far from their thoughts.
“Jaxon wears his dad’s Navy medals; one for his first four years of service and another for serving in Operation Manitou in the Middle East,” Jessica says proudly.
“I’m really open with Jaxon about talking about his dad and want him to know why Pete was so important and special. He will tell people, ‘My daddy’s in heaven.’”