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Teen's zeal for life remembered in death

opinion

By Jehan Casinader

Published: 7:06PM Monday June 11, 2012 Source: ONE News

Pahaoa Station is rugged and remote. At the end of a long, winding road is an old cookhouse, which has been turned into a family home. Smoke puffs from the chimney. The house is surrounded by hills and farmland, not far from the sea.

This is the home of 16-year-old Robbie Cameron. I've come to visit Robbie, but when I arrive, he already has guests. Some of his school mates are hanging out in his bedroom. Grungy music blasts from his speakers. It's the middle of a school day. But these boys aren't wagging. They have permission to see Robbie. Because Robbie won't be going back to school. He's lying peacefully in his bedroom in an open casket.

A few days earlier, Robbie died in his sleep, in the same bed. He had been drinking beer with his older brother the previous evening. Having vomited during the night, it appears Robbie choked. He had no medical history, and his family is waiting for a pathology report to confirm Robbie's cause of death. They believe it was an accident.

On Close Up, we have covered many tragic teen deaths linked with alcohol. But Robbie's story is different. His family and friends say he didn't drink often. He was a country boy; a boy who didn't go to parties, preferring instead to hang out with his four older siblings and his close cousins.

The Camerons told me they want Robbie to be remembered for his zeal for life. He was a keen skiier, archer, builder and computer whiz. Robbie was learning to hunt, and shot his first stag just a few weeks ago. He had talent. He had mates. And, just like other teens, he had dreams.

The Cameron family is grieving, but they are tight-knit, and they are strong. His mother, Sue, says she has no regrets. She spent as much time as possible with Robbie, who was educated by correspondence until he went to Wairarapa College. Sue says the family does not blame themselves for Robbie's death. Their pain is punishment enough.

Robbie left his mark on this community. The Carterton Events Centre can hold 350 people, but by the time the service begins, the seats are full and the stairwells and foyer are packed with mourners.

"Mourners". Would Robbie use that word? Probably not. There are tears at this funeral, but the speeches are interspersed with clapping rather than silence. As Robbie's casket departs, the metal music he loved echoes around the auditorium.

School students form a guard of honour as Robbie's casket is placed in the hearse. From here on, perhaps some of these teens will think differently about drinking. But there are many more lessons to be learnt from Robbie's death. Lessons about the value of family and friendship; the fleeting nature of youth; and the sometimes unavoidable grip of tragedy.

It was incredibly brave of the Cameron family to share those lessons with Close Up. A photo of Robbie is now pinned to my desk. Although I only met him briefly and in terrible circumstances, I won't forget him in a hurry. I believe we can all learn something from Robbie Cameron.

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