Navy dad lives on in stories
A Navy sailor and father left stories, photos and videos about his life for his baby daughter, so she can know who he was even if she may not remember him.
Ben Revell, 27, died just over a week ago from motor neurone disease, leaving behind daughter Luisa, born in February, and his widow Malia. He died just hours after his daughter was christened on board a Navy warship at Devonport.
Malia says the couple's daughter is her focus now but says life as a single mother will be tough.
"Sometimes I need to cry. I just have to. I leave her in her bassinet and go somewhere and have a bit of a scream and go back and see her and look at her."
Though Luisa is barely three months old, Malia says she will know what her father was like as she grows up thanks to plenty of photos, videos and stories.
"Ben wrote a life story for her, and I kept that and she'll grow up knowing everything about her dad."
A full military funeral was held for the sailor last Friday. Revell had been an able electronic warfare specialist and had worked in the navy for eight years.
He and Malia married last June, four months after the first symptoms of his disease appeared and just one month after he'd received his terminal diagnosis.
Revell had initially gone to the doctor for a sore neck but after a number of tests it was revealed he had motor neurone disorder, which can be a hereditary condition, though his family has no known history of it.
Samoan-born Malia, who has lived in New Zealand for six years, met Revell in a local bar in Upper Hutt in 2008. They exchanged numbers but Malia says she was initially shy around him.
"Every time we were going out, for a coffee, I was too shy, just staring at my toes while Ben's talking to me. I kept looking down at the table and I didn't know what to say."
Three months after they began seeing each other Revell was transferred to Auckland for work and Malia thought that might be the end of things. But within three months he was rostered back to Wellington and their relationship blossomed.
Malia says the couple had been discussing marriage the Christmas before his diagnosis, but decided to speed things up once they realised he didn't have long to live.
They had two weddings - one at a post office in Wellington in June and another in Samoa with both families a month later.
She says it was a special chance for Revell to see Samoa for the first time, and also to meet her grandmother who died several weeks after their wedding.
The night before they flew out the couple got the happy news they would be parents.
"He shed tears and it was the happiest I'd ever seen him and the next day we were flying to the islands.
"The night of the reception we told the whole family we were going to be parents, it was one of those emotional nights. That kept Ben going."
The couple flew straight to Australia's Gold Coast following the wedding where, along with Revell's family, they had their "dream trip".
Malia says after finding out they were expecting their first and only child Revell's goal was to live to see the birth of his daughter.
Earlier this month the wee girl was christened in a ceremony aboard the navy warship Te Mana, but the joyful day was to be Revell's last.
Malia says he started going downhill several hours after the ceremony.
"It was just hours after we got home Ben was coughing so we went to the hospital just like another normal visit.
"Every time we go to the hospital we thought we'll always come back home."
Revell died early the next morning.
Malia says the couple had talked about his funeral before his death and he had explained he wanted a military send off.
"It was beautiful how the Navy organised the whole day. I'm sure Ben had both thumbs up with a big smile on his face."
Daughter Luisa was dressed in a tiny Navy uniform matching that of her late father's for the Catholic Requiem Mass at the Devonport Naval Base.
The ceremony was attended by friends and family as well as admirals, commanders, captains and a cabinet minister and was followed by a military salute from the Funeral Firing party.
The Navy established a fund for Luisa shortly before Revell's death and Malia says the money will go towards her education.
"My top priority is our baby is going to have a good education, and especially, tell her stories
about her dad.
"And everyone that's been part of Ben's life, she'll know them."
* You can make a donation to the RNZN Ben Revell Fundraiser through the Westpac account 03-1514-0408067-000.