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Christmas without Grant

Isabella Kirby chats about her Dad as any girl in her last year of primary school, might.

"He's a very, very nice man and everything, but he's a bit lazy, like Maddie."

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The Fallen - Part Five

In the fifth part of our series, The Fallen tells the story of Grant Kirby, killed in Afghanistan, through the words of his family and friends.

"When he wakes up, he takes a while."
Isabella is 12. Her sister Maddie, or Madeleine, is 10.

In fact, they haven't seen their Dad since April 2010 when he left Brisbane for Afghanistan.

Four months later, a hidden bomb exploded near where Private Grant Kirby's Bushmaster vehicle had stopped in the Baluchi Valley. The 35-year-old father and a colleague Private Tomas Dale, 21, died instantly.

"He's the best," Isabella says of her dad, and in a nod to the good times she remembers with him, "It's always close to holidays whenever he comes home."


For an outsider, it's unsettling. She talks of her father as though he could arrive home any minute. Then casually - and unprompted - she explains.

"Whenever I talk about him I always say that he's here because I still feel like he is."

"Even though I know he's not alive or anything, I feel OK."

For all the cruelty of the blow dealt her two years ago, she is a model of strength. She deals with missing her dad and emerges poised and happy.

"This is his army hat," Maddie says, and then wears it as she shows other memories of her dad. "We've got some pictures here from Movie World." She laughs. "That's him with his thumbs up on the ride."

Maddie and Bella - as her father knew her -  are an especially acute part of the anguish thirty nine families across Australia feel for the loved ones they've lost in the Afghanistan war; children without their dad.

Lauren Kirby remembers her instincts after the phone call in August 2010 to tell her she had lost her oldest brother.

"I just wanted to go and see the girls." She shrugs. "I guess they were my concern because they were Grant's everything."

The girls' grandfather, Gary Kirby, remembers the realisation that someone would have to tell Grant's children he was gone.

"So we all met together with Edwina (the girls' mother) and Maddie and Bella ... That was probably the worst."

The 'heartbreaking' memory of Bella's face still brings Lauren to the edge of tears.

"I sort of ran up to her. There was nothing really to say. I just wanted to comfort them and that was it."

Grief is still there as the Kirbys face a third Christmas without Grant, but the role of his two girls is now quite different from the youngsters that needed protecting in the eye of the storm back in 2010.

"They're just the most amazing little ladies now," says Lauren. "They keep me going."

"They're perfect and so strong, and seeing them helps me to keep that strength as well ... I always want them to be part of my life."

Among the small things that remain as links to their dad, is a letter. "Dearest Bella. Hello sweetheart." Isabella reads the note Grant Kirby wrote as he waited to fly from the United Arab Emirates into Afghanistan.

"We have been delayed going into Afghanistan because of snow. When it snows the airfield closes and no planes can land."

She finishes. "... lots of love always, Daddy" then lifts her head from the letter and beams with an unqualified smile.

"I think he would have been very proud of us for what we have done. Especially because now Maddie's in year four and I'm in year seven and it's my last year of primary school. I think he'd be very proud of what we've done."

No doubt he would be, perhaps most though for their strength in helping the family go on without him.