Grieving mum fulfils promise to dying son with poignant Australian pilgrimage in his honour
A grieving Bangor mum has flown thousands of miles on a poignant pilgrimage to keep a promise to her dying son to mark his 26th birthday in the spot where he had dreamt of starting a new life.
Joyce Craig, the winner of the Belfast Telegraph Mum of the Year, will stand on City Beach in Perth Australia on Wednesday on what would have been Michael's 26th birthday.
Michael had just graduated with an honours degree in Physics from Edinburgh University last summer and was packing for a move to Perth when he was given the shattering news that he had a terminal brain tumour and had just six months to live.
He was diagnosed on August 11 and died on February 2 this year. Joyce (58) also suffered the heartache of losing her disabled daughter Nicola (26) four years ago. Her third child Christopher (23) has cerebral palsy and requires round-the-clock care.
Joyce had planned to fly to Australia last summer with Michael and stay a month to help him settle into his new home. His aim was to be there to celebrate his 25th birthday.
The family had lived in Australia for some time when Michael was younger.
Before leaving on her emotive journey this weekend Joyce said: "After graduating, Michael wanted to spend a year in Northern Ireland and then go to live in Australia for his 25th birthday. We were making arrangements when he started to get sick and then was diagnosed on August 11 with a brain tumour - a day I will never forget.
"When Michael was in the Marie Curie Hospice towards the end he would quite often roll his eyes back and drift off and one day my brother Kenny asked him where he was going when he did it and Michael smiled and said he was going to 'Michael island'.
"Kenny got his iPad out and got a map and asked Michael to point to where it was and he pointed to Australia.
"On that heartbreaking morning of February 2 when Michael was finally leaving me I whispered to him 'I know you have to go now Michael, but I promise I will be on Michael's island for your 26th birthday' and now that time has come."
Joyce left home on Friday to travel to Australia. Before going she urged friends through her Facebook page to join her in releasing a balloon with her to mark her son's 26th birthday. She was overwhelmed by the support, with responses to her appeal from all over the world.
She said: "As I sit here waiting to start my journey to Michael island I am filled with mixed emotions, one of honour that I can fulfil my promise to Michael and the other of apprehension as I return to a country Michael wanted to call home and which I haven't returned to since we left in 2002.
"The response I have had to my journey has been amazing with balloon send-offs being agreed from around the world, so far Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, Donegal, Turkey, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and America."
Joyce plans to release her balloon at 8pm Australian time (1pm here) and hopes those planning to release balloons in support will do so at the same time. She wants to spend some time travelling across Australia and New Zealand, meeting up with friends to reminisce about Michael who she calls "my son, best friend, my hero".