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Real Life

REAL LIFE: These two horses made one dying mother's final wish come true

There's no better medicine than the power of animals.

By As told to Take 5

Robert Parnaby, 40, from Newcastle, NSW shares his tribute to a very special mother:

As we stood by my mother, Rita's, bedside we watched as she took her final breaths.
I started to tear up.
It'd been a long time coming.
She'd been battling lung cancer for two years, in and out of hospice care.
I held her hand. Nothing will be the same again, I realised as I watched her.
She'd told me so many stories from her life.
At 17, she'd joined the police force and Grandad – her dad – was strict.
Under his roof, things had to be done by his rules.
Mum wanted out, so she signed up to the cadets.
From a young age, Mum always loved horses. (Image: supplied)
A few years later, she was asked to join the mounted branch and was the first female British mounted officer.
One day, Mum was called to an important event and she borrowed a horse she didn't know particularly well.
"You're meeting the Queen Mother," one of her bosses told her.
Mum was trotting up to the Queen Mother when the horse stopped in its tracks and made a mess on the ground.
Everyone had to wait for Mum, and when they finally trotted up to the Queen Mother, the horse tried to eat the her cuff when she patted it!
"All I could think was, just my luck," Mum said when she told me the story.
The day Mum met the Queen Mother. (Image: supplied)
My mother was, what they call, good people.
She was always there for us, and contributed to our community.
We were evacuated in the 1994 fires and after that she volunteered with the Rural Fire Service in the communication department.
She worked there for 15 years.
In addition to raising my brother Philip and me, she looked after 60 foster kids, most with disabilities, over 20 years.
Some stayed for a few weeks while others were with her until early adulthood.
No matter what happened, she was always there.
Mum as a volunteer for the Rural Fire Service. (Image: supplied)
When we moved to Australia from England with our stepfather, money was tight but there was a meal on the table and at Christmas and birthdays Mum always made sure there were memories we'd treasure forever.
Later, she told me that after bills and rent there was only $2 a day for each person in our household.
I don't know how she managed, but she always did.
As she got older, lung cancer gripped her.
It was bad, as much as she tried to fight it.
But, as we sat in a cafe interviewing a personal care assistant to help Mum with household things and ensure she was safe when showering, we talked about final wishes.
"I'd like to pat a horse one last time," Mum said to us. "That's all I want."
I should have guessed.
Lorna, who owned the cafe, overheard our conversation.
She didn't know Mum but wanted to help.
So, she, my brother and I came up with a plan.
Philip (left), Mum and me. (Image: supplied)
"I might try to ring the mounted police unit. Leave it with me," Lorna said.
She rang them on International Women's Day and she immediately had a resounding "yes".
It wasn't something normally done by the NSW Police Force, so it was very special.
Next day, the police sent Constable Nicole Harvell and Senior Constable Graham Lovett with horses, Hollywood and Don, from Sydney to Newcastle.
Mum was wheeled out in her hospital bed and gasped with excitement as she saw the stunning animals before her.
The officers sat with Mum for an hour, as she smiled and patted the horses.
She was often exhausted after 10 minutes of socialising but this was the most lucid I'd seen her.
"Thank you so much," Mum said to my brother and me.
She continued to chat to the officers and answered all their questions about her experience with horses.
"It was another lifetime," she said.
It was Mum's dream come true. (Image: supplied)
"It was another lifetime," she said.
Just over 24 hours later, Mum passed away.
Thankfully, it was peaceful.
Mum was a friend to just about everyone she ever met.
One of my cousins in the UK has now started a hashtag within the family #LiveLikeRita.
It basically encourages us all to live life to the fullest and give as much as you can.
Mum was always happiest when she was helping people.
This's how we all plan on honouring the woman who had such an incredibly big heart.
I miss my mum every day, and I'm set on trying to live life in a way that would make her proud.

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