Out of all the kindness and sympathy John received after a blaze tore through his Rozelle home nine years ago killing his wife Bianka and their 11-month-old son Jude, it was a practical gift of love from his brother, Anthony, that helped him take the first steps towards beginning again.
Anthony went out and bought all sorts of essentials, and packed them in a suitcase, and sent them to John, 42, who lost everything in the terrible arson attack, and was too numbed with grief and pain, to even think about what to do next.
“I always think back to what happened to me in the first few days and remember what help I got – and that was the big one,” he says. “It’s little things like that which give you your independence back, and I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to do anything for myself.”
It was that simple suitcase that kickstarted a grief-stricken John, and it’s that simple suitcase that led him to set up a charity earlier this year, Jude O’Brien Fund, named in honour of his son.
“He is the forgotten victim out of all this,” says John.
“I thought if I name it after Jude, it would give him a legacy. I’m creating a legacy for him that he couldn’t do himself because he never got a shot, and that way he can be remembered. It’s been a long time coming.”
John, who has worked at Amazon Australia as a Senior Reliability Maintenance Engineering
Technician at the robotics fulfilment centre in Kemps Creek since June, found love again with wife Michelle, and the couple are now share six-year-old Abby, three-year-old Milly and 12-month old Max.
And he hopes the little brother they never got to know will live on through the charity he established in January this year in Jude’s name to help other victims of fire, who he says often feel a sense of violation and abandonment.
John and Michelle devote what little spare time they have with three young children to raise, to the charity, which has already helped about 30 victims of house fires.
They idea came about after talking to Roger Mentha, a Fire and Rescue Assistant Commissioner, and family friend, who thought it was a great idea to deliver practical help and advice to victims of fire in the immediate aftermath.
“The main part is the shock, it’s so debilitating, you don’t know what to do when you’ve lost everything in a fire,” John says, explaining that he packs each suitcase with essentials, including everything from toothpaste and soap to children’s toys and clothes and an envelope with food vouchers and all the Service NSW documents you need to replace IDs.
“If someone had of come to me in the first day or two and said ‘I’ve been through this myself and this is what helped me’, it would have been really uplifting. It’s been a battle but I’m definitely getting to the point where I’m focused on the future and not looking back so much.”
You can find out more about John’s amazing charity and make a donation at https://judeobrien.com.au/