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Sunday 23 August 2015

'Doujon's Heart': Rosemarie + Oliver Zammit Interview, '60 Minutes' Story

You've likely just watched the incredibly moving story of the Zammit and Gribilas family on '60 Minutes' and were knocked for six with all the twists and turns in a story that just keeps pulling at the heartstrings. You can't quite believe what all four of these beautiful people have gone through.


And an additional EXTRAS CLIP HERE.

Doujon Zammit, and Rosemarie and Oliver Zammit: Screenshot from '60 Minutes' Australia, from photo supplied by Zammit family
Josie's Juice spoke with Rosemarie and Oliver Zammit earlier today on the eve of the book launch honouring their late son, Doujon Zammit. The book is titled 'Doujon's Heart', and is written by Greg Callaghan and Ian Cuthbertson. It will be released on August 24 (the cover is below).

Today, I asked Rosemarie how she felt when she first held the book in her hand.

"That's a good question! There were a 100 different emotions," she says.

"I was, I suppose, happy because I had visualised it [the book], you know, that voice inside me said, "Do this. Do this", and it's happened." We made it happen. it's a sense of accomplishment, relief.

"But then, you know, the sadness comes into it as well, of course, because the book is our journey with the loss of Doujon, so there is a huge weight that comes with it as well.

"But you know what, I'm proud as well. There are… a whole lot of emotions, Josie." (The Zammit family and my family have known each other for years - my husband has known Olly and his brother Joe since he was a child).

I suggest to Rose that this book, to tell this story, and to give this message to the world has come at an incredible cost.

"Yes, it has. But, can I tell you, I feel like it could have been a different story. You know, we could have been really angry, and bitter, and… our whole lives would have been different. Our boys (Olly and Rose's sons, middle son Zeake and and youngest son Laurent) could have been bitter.

"I know, in my heart, that Olly and I made the right choices. Not only for ourselves, but for the boys, and their future. And, you know what Josie, that's not who we are anyway. It would have been, it would have been a horrible thing to live with, you know, that anger, that bitterness, that hatred, you know… and that consuming feeling would have ruined our lives, so I'm really grateful that we've chosen to go the other way, and good things have come out of it, you know, with Doujon's decision of organ donation four people have a second chance of life.

"We've chosen to not harbour the anger and that bitterness, and we put that focus on a different energy. Gratitude is one of the things that got us through, I suppose, hey Ol," she says to her beloved husband.

"Just being grateful that we had Doujon… I think once we've spoken to you about this: that one day Olly just said: "Let's be grateful that we had Doujon for the 20 years that we were given with him."

"You know that one thought changes your whole outlook on everything."

To hear Rose say that they chose not to harbour anger and bitterness makes me believe that they have in fact changed the course of their sons' lives, and their own lives, and I express this to her.

"But… We have. We have. I know that. I felt… when we went to Greece with '60 Minutes' [in 2008] Josie, I remember… one of the days we went to Mykonos and I was so bitter and angry, and I remember Olly saying to me: "If you stayed like that, we're not going to stay together."

"Because, this anger is a horrible, horrible emotion. It's probably the worst emotion. And I'd never been like that before. I can honestly say that was probably the first time I was ever like that, hey Ol," she asks Olly, who has been through thick and thin with his beloved wife. The couple know each other inside and out, and to witness their love is to see a deep and unbreakable love which is as rare as it is heartwarming.

"It was horrible. Horrible. It's consuming. It's just… and it's really sad for people that have to live with that everyday, because it would just be horrible not to be to have control of yourself, and [not be able to] let it go. You know, not to find peace."

I ask Rose how she views their friendship with Kosta and Poppy over the years. So, when she first met Kosta, when she first touched Doujon's heart in Kosta's body, when Kosta and Poppy's baby was born, and when, tragically (as viewers discovered tonight in the TV interview) baby Konstantina died at age eight months. (The couple have since set up the 'Konstantina Angelique Gribilas Foundation' - you can 'like' and support them on Facebook here).

"I have to say, it was a really hard road for me, as I imagine it would have been for Kosta and Poppy. Because it's not… it's not the norm, Josie. You know… and the four of us can understand why, because it is a hard road, you know, for the [donor organ] recipients. Kosta and that sense of guilt… and for me, I was consumed with sadness. That was my main emotion. Losing Doujon, I was just so… sad.

"We had a lot of other things to deal with. Like, legalities, you know [the court case in Greece with the perpetrators of Doujon's death]. That was very early in the piece when it all happened. There were a whole lot of things that we had to deal with.

"So, meeting Kosta brought on all these different emotions. So yes, it was a hard road.

"But the thing is Josie is that they're [Kosta and Poppy] such beautiful human beings. You know, they're really good people and… one day, they were in the courtroom and I remember thinking to myself: you know, they don't really need to be here. This is after the first major court appearance on the island. And, they were there the whole time with the boys and us, and that was hard because Kosta had to actually listen to what happened to Doujon, and how he received his second chance of life.

"But our friendship has evolved because we all have respect, we have huge respect for each other. And with respect comes love. I think without respect you can't love someone."

Rose recounts how she was asked to be Godmother to Kosta and Poppy's baby Konstantina, which she says, "To me, was a huge honour. Because, as you know Josie, babies bring so much joy. I knew how much happiness she brought them. She was beautiful. This beautiful little baby. She was gorgeous. And they just absolutely idolised her. Like, we do [our children], you know. She brought them so much happiness, it was like… you know… this angel had come into their lives.

"You know, for me, I was so grateful because they have such a huge family, and friends, so to ask me was a huge honour. And I was 'ready' at that time, my emotions, I felt… you know, I felt like I was able to, with my emotions… I was in a lot better place, that I could deal with it all a lot more."

When I met up with Rose and Olly at the beginning of last year, baby Konstantina had just died. And I reminded Rose today that she'd said to me at the time how, sadly, Kosta expressed how he now truly understood their grief even more, and differently.

"Yes, definitely. He said to me that he thought he understood what we were going through, but until you lose your child, you can't possibly understand.

"Like, I can't say to you that there are words to describe the pain. There's nothing, is there? There's nothing [that compares]. I can't say to someone this is what it feels like, because there's nothing bad enough to explain how it feels to lose a child. Because there is nothing I have ever felt that comes close to that.

"And you know, my poor mother, I lost my mother six months after Doujon died, and…", Rose trails off. I know from my previous conversations that she felt overwhelmed with grief and that almost didn't grieve her mother in the way she'd imagined or hoped.

I ask Rose what her coping mechanism was in the early days, with all that raw emotion.

"I learnt that I had to… I learnt I had to, quiet my mind. That was probably one of the biggest things for me. I had to get this peace in my head.

"I was saying this Liz Hayes when she interviewed us [in 2008]: I used to visualise Doujon being bashed, especially when it first happened, it was horrible. And I knew that I couldn't stay like that. It was just really, really bad. And I had to learn to put that in the back of my head, and I learned to meditate on my own. I had to learn to quieten my mind down, and listen to the birds, and all the things that are usually in the background.

"And, I'd pray. I prayed a lot. I prayed for strength all the time. I used to pray for strength. 

"And also: Olly was a huge rock for me. All our friends, our family, were wonderful. We just had an amazing network. I call them my 'earth angels'", adds Rose with a sweet laugh.

I ask what kind of space does she feel she's at now, and if it varies each day?

"It does, especially at the moment. So many emotions come back. By tonight, for example (when the '60 Minutes' story screens), Olly and I will be exhausted. By the time we watch it… like, even talking to you… it's very draining, Josie. Because you're talking about your life and all your emotions, and everything that's happened to your child."

I express to Rose that I think that social media will be helpful to her and Olly after the program screens, where they can draw from the kind words offered up by others. She agrees.

Rose admits she hasn't read the book excerpt published yesterday in the 'Good Weekend' liftout magazine in 'The Sydney Morning Herald.' (Read a backgrounder and find the link to the whole story here).

"I haven't read it. I couldn't read it. I started and then I thought, 'No. I can't read this.'

"And, like I said to the boys: 'You know, we've lived it, so it's okay to not read it now. I don't need to read it. It's okay - they started to read the book but they couldn't get through it. And that's exactly what I had to say to them: 'It's okay, if you can't read it, don't. You lived it. So, it's fine. It's all good'".

For his part, when I speak to Olly earlier in the day, he says that he read the book across two days, and that at times, it was definitely hard for him to continue reading it, but he persevered, and says that he reached out to Doujon's spirit and asked him to give him a sign, in order to continue reading.

Later that day, Olly recounts, he meets someone who shares his late son's birthday. That was his sign. He continued to read the book until he finished it.

Rose says that, of course, she has read the book in its entirety because "I had to proof-read it. So I had to go through it. But that was so hard. Oh. As much as I wanted to read it, it was so hard."

"And I don't think I would have been the person I am today had we not gone down the path we did.

"I think the four of us have learned so much about life that we wouldn't have learnt had we not  gone through this tragedy, this loss, you know."

If she could crystallise into one sentence what she has learned, how would she say that, I ask Rose? In addition to the huge life lesson of letting go of intense anger.

"I think I look at life differently, I have a much deeper appreciation to life. You know, some people look at life very much… on the surface of it. But there are so many layers to it. Not everyone gets that, Josie… as you know. All those little things that really matter.

"You know, a tree," she says with her trademark Rosemarie laugh. "I look at a tree now, you know, the roots, and you think, wow, how beautiful, and just… there's a different appreciation to life.

"We are more grateful. Lots of lessons in our book, and what we've learnt, so… I hope people get it [those lessons]."

I offer up: the story is a powerful, moving one - but if you look beyond the story, the lessons can be absolutely life changing.

"Yes. You know the power of the human spirit is underestimated also. Like, we don't realise how powerful we are. And then, with everyone helping us, you know, our family and friends, we're very powerful."

Details on the book and how to pre-order it - it is released in September - are here.

You can see the new '60 Minutes' interview trailer here. 

You can read the Josie's Juice interview with Olly and Rose on king-hits here.

You can read how the Zammit family are involved in the 'Unite Against Violence' walk here.

And you can see the 2008 '60 Minutes' Australia Liz Hayes interview transcript with the Zammit and Gribilas family here.

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