If life had gone as it should have done, August 20 2018 would have marked Lily Headland’s seventh birthday.
As she always did, her mother Anatoria bought her little girl a card.
‘To my darling daughter, Happy Birthday my beautiful princess, Love always, Mum,’ she wrote. She got a chocolate cake too and lit seven candles.
Then, fighting back tears, Anatoria stood in the red dirt of Perth’s Midland Cemetery and sang Happy Birthday to her daughter’s grave – a grave she shares with her little brother Dre.
They lie there, side by side, because their lives were brutally taken by the person who should have been their protector.
Their own daddy, Jason.
‘He seemed such a nice guy when we met,’ Anatoria sighs.
‘I thought he was funny and kind. I was a barmaid in Perth and he was a FIFO worker.’
The couple had Lily in August 2011 and Andreas – Dre or DreDre to his mum – in November the following year. Then they married.
‘Lily was clever, bubbly, a chatterbox obsessed with Frozen,’ Anatoria tells New Idea. ‘Dre thought he was Spiderman. Climbed over everything, always on the go. He looked up to his bossy big sister. We all loved to garden together. That was our thing.’
Jason wrestled with Dre and watched Frozen on a near continuous loop with Lily.
‘I thought he was a devoted dad,’ Anatoria says. ‘He missed the kids a lot because of work, so I offered to do FIFO for a while to give him a chance of being a stay-at-home dad. Marriage isa partnership, I thought.’
Anatoria got a well-paid cleaning job at a gas plant in Onslow, 1400km north of their Perth home.
‘I called Jason and the kids every night,’ she says. ‘There wasn’t much to do afterwards, so sometimes I went for a drink with my crew.’
When she posted photos of herself and her new friends on Facebook, Jason bombarded her with questions about the men.
‘Over the next few months it became aggressive and then abusive. He was convinced I was up to no good,’ says Anatoria.
‘I stopped going out as much, even offered to swap roles again. Nothing reassured him. Finally, I said we needed time apart. I thought a break might calm him down.’
But Jason convinced himself Anatoria was going to ‘steal’ the kids, then aged five and three, from him.
On October 20, 2016, it was his turn to have them.
‘He rang that evening and said: “I’m going to break your heart into 50 million pieces.
Say goodbye to your kids. This is the last time you’re going to speak to them,”’ Anatoria remembers. ‘I thought he was going on the run.’
He let her speak to the children. ‘They sounded happy,’ she says. ‘I told them both I loved them, then said: “Bye my darlings.” They replied: “Bye Mummy.” And Jason came back on. ‘So that’s it,’ he said, giggled and hung up. I went to the police.’
Jason dodged officers that night. Then he did something unimaginable. He gave Lily and Dre sleeping tablets and suffocated them while they slept.
Afterwards, Jason made a half-hearted suicide attempt. ‘When the police told me, I didn’t believe them,’ Anatoria says candidly. ‘When it sank
in I started crying and I couldn’t stop.’
Dre was buried in a Spiderman-themed coffin, while little Lily’s casket was decorated with scenes from Frozen.
As the coffins were lowered, side-by-side, Let It Go from Frozen was played.
‘I wanted to be in that grave with my babies,’ Anatoria says.
Jason admitted to Lily and Dre’s murders, but claimed he had no memory of what he’d done or why. He was jailed for life with a 31-year minimum.
‘I knew why,’ Anatoria asserts. ‘I rejected him, so he killed our children to punish me.’
In the wake of the murders, she craved the touch, feel, smell and sound of her kids. ‘It was a physical ache. I wanted to feel Dre’s sloppy kisses and to hear Lily singing Let It Go,’ she sighs.
Visiting their gravesite became her only solace. ‘They were there. I felt close to them,’ she says. Not much grew in the red dirt around the graves, so Anatoria took plastic flowers to decorate it.
‘That reminded me of the fun we had gardening. Sometimes I took toys they liked or books from the Little Monsters series. I would read to them.’
Family and friends dropping by left gifts too. ‘I liked seeing other people had visited,’ Anatoria – who later returned to FIFO work in a bid to distract herself – says. ‘I’d been visiting the cemetery twice a week, but I couldn’t when I was working away. I missed being with the kids, seeing who’d visited, what they’d left.’
So, in March last year, she set up Lily & DreDre’s Garden – a Facebook memorial page she built as she searched to find a way to cope with her grief.
‘I could log on and see who’d checked in or tagged themselves, left a toy or made a comment.
I left messages for the kids too, telling them how much I loved them,’ she says.
The site has been a big hit among Anatoria’s friends and family, and she says it will remain a permanent interactive memorial to her children.
‘I’ll never feel their touch or hear their voices again, but at least through their page my babies will never be forgotten.’
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This article originally appeared on New Idea.