Hummingbird House children’s palliative care portrait exhibition explores love, grief and lives cut short

The image is haunting.

Two figures lie entwined on the ground. One is clearly an adult, the other a child.

The black and white stillness is jarring.

Viewers might wonder as to the picture’s meaning but for Kaitlin Cole, its purpose is very clear.

It forms part of her new role as guardian of her late son’s memory.

Ms Cole and other families are part of a new exhibition called My Little Sunshine Stories, a collection of photos and audio gathered by artist Navin Samuel Regi over four years of working with families and staff at Hummingbird House, Queensland’s only children’s hospice.

Tree decorated with material, toys, photos
The Remembrance Tree at Hummingbird House children’s hospice.(Supplied: Navin Samuel Regi)

A short life lived well

Ms Cole describes her son Rory Bakker, who passed away in 2019 aged 12, as her “red-headed, little delight”.

“He was the child who always loved to smile. He loved to live, even though he couldn’t do everything that everybody else could do in life,” she recalled.

At 26 weeks pregnant, Ms Cole had symptoms of an infection and high blood pressure.

Ms Cole told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Loretta Ryan that a scan showed her baby had suffered a stroke.

“He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, he had chronic lung disease, and the expectations were that Rory would not come through this.

“We were then referred to palliative care a couple of years later. I think we got officially referred to Hummingbird House as one of the first clients in the house.”

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Hummingbird House is Queensland’s only children’s hospice and provides specialized paediatric palliative care for babies, children and young people with a life-limiting condition.

Families can choose to spend time at a purpose-built home in Brisbane, or in their home or community.

Red-headed boy with tube from nose
Rory suffered a stroke before he was born and had many health problems in his short life.(Supplied: Kaitlin Cole)

Spotlight on death, palliative care

Ms Cole was hoping for some “really nice family photos” and when Mr Regi asked if she would be part of his project, she “jumped at the chance”.

“I will admit when I first walked in the [exhibition] space I burst into tears and kind of lost it a little bit,” she said.

Woman standing with sheet over face and body
Ms Cole wants to highlight the importance of after death care in Australia.(Supplied: Navin Samuel Regi)

That haunting black and white image of Ms Cole and her son is her favorite piece in the exhibition.

“I was given the opportunity after Rory passed away to have a vigil for him outside,” she said.

Toy mower with child's hand pointing to it
Photo of a toy mower and child’s hand from the My Little Sunshine Stories exhibition.(Supplied: Navin Samuel Regi)

“It seemed like every bird in Brisbane came and said goodbye to him. And there’s a photograph of him and I on the ground.

Artist’s privileged job

Young man with dark hair and beard
Mr Regi says it is an honor to work with Hummingbird House families.(Supplied: Navin Samuel Regi)

When Mr caring he began to register the death of someone he said to “question my reaction to my own grief”.

He said the Hummingbird House project offered him a precious insight into the experience of death.

“Rather than me telling people what to do and you know, putting cameras in front of their faces and taking a photo, it’s really a collaboration,” he said.

“It’s about telling stories, trying to figure out the best way to tell that story through a single image and an audio recording.

“And that’s an incredible honor to be in that space and to be trusted with that story.”

Woman's hand with braclet touching coffin
Mr Regi spent four years meeting and photographing families for the My Little Sunshine Stories exhibition.(Supplied: Navin Samuel Regi)

The name, My Little Sunshine Stories, came about when two of the families featured spontaneously starting singing the Jimmie Davis tune to their children.

The content of Mr Regi’s exhibition is something Fiona Hawthorne sees every day, but the photography and sounds still took her breath away.

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