A night on the town after an All Blacks victory left a man dead when he fell down a bank in what is believed to be a freak accident.
Matt Caldwell, 25, was found dead in Auckland on August 8 last year after seemingly misjudging the ledge of a bank near his accommodation and falling to his death.
Widow Bonnie Caldwell, speaking exclusively to the Herald, has since gone viral on social media after her dark joke about Matt’s death was viewed by more than 8 million people, attracting attention from international media outlets.
“One day, I woke up and there was like 10,000 likes on [the video] and I [said], ‘Oh that’s random’, and then it just kept going and going,” Bonnie said.
After being flooded with positive feedback from people mourning their own loved ones, Bonnie hoped her experience would encourage others to be confident in their grieving processes.
“Don’t hide your grief, because you’re allowed to feel however you want to feel.
“Do what feels right for you.”
In August, Matt and some friends had travelled from Cambridge to Auckland to watch the All Blacks take on Australia in the season’s first Bledisloe Cup game at Eden Park.
Having celebrated the 33-25 win over the Wallabies, the group retired to their accommodation. Bonnie, not at the game, spoke with Matt that night before heading off to sleep.
The next morning, the builder with a passion for rugby was found dead, having fallen off a bank at some point during the night.
Bonnie, waking up a bit jaded after a big night of her own, had sent her husband a message in the morning, telling Matt she loved him and was looking forward to seeing him.
Hours went by and she received no reply. A gut feeling told her something was wrong.
“I really wanted to text his friends, but I think the knowing something was wrong stopped me because I just didn’t want to know what was going to come back,” Bonnie said.
Not long after, she received a text from her brother-in-law, telling her to come to Matt’s parents’ house.
“I literally flew to my car and I thought the worst, but I was holding on to that small glimmer of hope that it wasn’t as bad as I thought,” she said.
“But when I turned into their driveway, there were all these police and … everyone was bawling.”
Officers started to explain Matt’s journey that night, but Bonnie urged them to say what they were clearly dreading.
“I was like, ‘Is he dead’, and they were like, ‘Yeah’, and then I obviously broke down.”
Bonnie, 26, will never know what happened to Matt in his final moments. There were no witnesses and no footage.
However, pieces of evidence – along with Bonnie’s extensive knowledge about her husband’s habits – do paint a picture.
Matt was found late at night, having fallen down a bank which was near his accommodation. His phone, playing golf videos, had been found on the grass.
Bonnie immediately knew Matt had gone to relieve himself -a common habit of his even if he was only steps from his front door.
Bonnie suspected her husband had either tripped or misjudged the bank’s ledge before falling to his death.
Initially, the nature of Matt’s passing prompted feelings of frustration and anger.
“We were just like, ‘You idiot, why did you not just go to the toilet [inside]?’,” Bonnie said.
“Some days I do still hate him, some days I’m actually like really shitty at you for that.”
However, she’d since reasoned with those impulses, acknowledging what was out of her control.
“All those things go through your head, but I learned very quickly that thinking about that stuff wasn’t going to help me because I would never fully understand.”
In accordance with Cambridge’s small town reputation, Matt’s death was keenly felt by those he had known.
“I think the community was hit so hard, it was a big shock but the support was great, there was always people there offering,” Bonnie said.
The days afterward were tough for Bonnie, constantly faced with looks of sympathy from people with the best intentions but unaware their pity was becoming repetitive
“I know it’s hard for other people to understand … it was so nice when people just treated me like Bonnie and not ‘Bonnie who’s lost Matt’.”
Fortunately, Cambridge went into lockdown a week after Matt’s funeral, meaning Bonnie was afforded the time to grieve on her own.
Normally a bright and bubbly person, Bonnie struggled with how Matt’s death had impacted her.
She would often resort to dark humour to pull her out of low moments, videos of people falling over often elicited a chuckle.
It was that dark humour that prompted her to make a TikTok in March this year, poking fun at what was an awful tragedy.
Following a popular trend, Bonnie’s video opened with a comment how she had been “shitty” her husband was on a boys trip and hadn’t responded to her messages, before revealingin the next message he had died.
Appreciated by friends who shared her humour, Bonnie thought nothing of it until she woke up to find her video had been seen thousands of times.
It has now had an incredible 8.6 million views.
To her delight, many of the 6400 comments were positive, supporting her choice to grieve in the way she saw fit.
It also provided comfort to those also in the throes of grief.
“When people said, ‘I lost my mum last week and this made me laugh’, that helped me,” Bonnie said.
“A small laugh in my day when I was feeling terrible helped me so much, so if I can give somebody a laugh in their day then I’m totally okay with that.”
When her video was picked up by the Daily Mail and the New York Post, Bonnie was nervous Matt’s parents would consider the joke in poor taste.
Instead, they too were proud of her for sharing and noted Matt would have approved of the humour.
Bonnie and Matt, together seven years, had married in March last year. Under blue skies and surrounded by loved ones, they professed their love and commitment to each other.
Now, in her new job as a primary school teacher and renovating her home, Bonnie was taking each day as it came.
She knew Matt would still remain tethered to her, regardless of where life took her.
“He’s forever going to be my first husband, that special person and I get to keep that no matter what.”
Bonnie’s journey through grief had taught her there was no one right way to grieve and she hoped others would learn from her experience.
“Nobody should judge anybody for how they’re grieving,” she said.
“Until you’re in it, you actually have no idea how you’re going to respond to something like that and I am grateful that I am able to process it and get through it using humour as a coping mechanism, but I know it’s not for everybody.”
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