REMEMBERING OUR LADS
By Mary Mann
IT WAS just after midnight on Saturday, October 21, 2006 when a car crash near Broken Head took the lives of four teenage boys.
The accident shocked a nation, sparked a fierce national debate about the laws surrounding young drivers, and was the catalyst for the introduction of tougher L and P-plate driver laws.
But one year on, the parents of Corey New, Mitch Eveleigh, Paul Morris and Bryce Wells continue to battle the nightmare they describe as a 'living hell', each struggling to cope with the pain of their loss in different ways.
Some bury themselves in their work, some pace until four in the morning, while others escape with a ride on a motorbike or hide behind a mask of 'togetherness'.
Whatever their coping mechanisms, there is a common thread: The pain does not go away. You just have to find ways of dealing with it.
For Mitch's mum Karen Eveleigh, surrounding herself with pictures of her boy is something she does to try to cope with the pain. She said it puts a smile on her face and helps keep her son's memory alive.
Sitting back in a beige chair in the lounge room of her Goonellabah home, she gazes casually at the photos of her boy Mitch lining the walls.
In some he is pictured smiling with his mates, in others he sports a rock star expression as he clutches his electric guitar.
But Mitch's dad, Robert, finds it hard to look at the pictures because it reminds him of the big piece of him that is missing.
It's a hole that can't be filled," he explains. Karen's job as an emergency nurse at Lismore Base Hospital also helps her keep going. She likes the fact that it allows her to focus her energies into something positive.
She took some time off after the accident and was eased back into her position slowly.
Despite the intense agony of her loss, Karen said it has made her a better nurse because she takes more notice of how little actions can have a big affect.
But the end of a shift is a different story. When I come home I'm just a shattered parent," she said.
Psychologists tell us it will be like this for three to five years. But how can your heart and mind cope like this for so long?
It would be very easy to stay in a cocoon at home. But if you wallow in the sadness of loss for too long it can kill you."
Robert's challenge these days is finding something to occupy him.
Since the outbreak of equine influenza, Robert, the area manager for TAB Ltd, has been out of work leaving him home alone with his thoughts.
He stares off into the distance from the seat of his lounge chair as he attempts to describe how he is feeling.
The sound of a computer mouse now clicks in the study nearby as his teenage daughter, Rachel, plays on the computer
I'm having a hard time at the moment," he said. I'd normally work long days constantly, but now nothing, so there's too much time to dwell on things."
But he knows he has to be strong for his family, so has found ways of distracting himself from the pain when the going gets too tough.
He rides his motorbike, goes for a walk or visits his sister in Mudgee.
There are only so many times you can occupy yourself by mowing the lawn or doing the washing," he said.
The Eveleighs like to think their future looks better than their present.
We can smile again now, and we couldn't do that six months ago," Karen said quietly. It happens in steps."
But for Paul's mum Maria Bolt, the anger still simmers, much of it directed at the driver of the car who is facing court.
She has lost 7kg since the death of her son, and has constant dark circles under her eyes.
Maria cannot rest without taking sleeping pills, and more often than not paces around in the darkness of her Goonellabah home until morning.
It's been a long 12 months," she said, wringing her hands. She is sitting on a bench in Lismore's Spinks Park, her sunglasses partially hiding her tears.
Nothing has changed. I'm still so angry. I've cried every day since Paul died. My mind is just consumed with the crash. It is so exhausting.
I don't go out or socialise with friends any more because, if I have a glass of wine, I end up in a bellowing mess. I don't know how much longer I can hang in for."
The only thing keeping Maria going is her other three sons Jackson, 13, Christy, 7, and Tyler, 5 whom she feels she has to protect now more than ever.
She finds it hard when they ask her questions about their big brother, but she tries to be strong for them.
My five-year-old asks me, 'When's Paul coming back from Heaven?'
And I have to explain to him that God needed an angel," she said.
But I don't pray to God or to Christ, I pray to my son." While Maria is struggling with the anger, Corey's parents Mark and Ann New are grappling with a different problem.
They are trying to stay as busy as possible. Any distraction from their pain, even if just for five minutes, helps them get through another day.
They know their son is dead, but are having a tough time actually believing it. Most nights they cry themselves to sleep.
And these days there is always milk in the New family's fridge, and the fruit bowl is rarely empty.
It never used to be like that. That's not how it's supposed to be," Ann says.
She takes a tissue from her handbag and wipes her teary eyes. She has done this countless times in the past year.
Sunsets are pink. When we see them we say, 'Hi Corey'." Like the other families, the News' work with Southern Cross LADS has become a huge part of their lives and their attempt to keep busy all the time.
And they have found little ways of keeping Corey with them, which also helps.
Mark had Corey and his teenage sister Jessie's names with the stars of the Southern Cross tattooed on his upper arm a fortnight after the accident. A few days ago he got pink roses added to the design, in memory of Corey's favourite colour and to mark the first year anniversary of his death.
He plans to get more detail added every year. But amidst all the grief, Mark and Ann could not be more proud of their son's friends. It shows in their eyes as they talk about them.
Heaps of them came to watch Jessie's soccer grand final because her big brother couldn't be there," Ann said.
Jessie doesn't talk about what happened much, but they make her feel really special.
She's been so strong and has grown up very quickly. She's taken on the protector role in the family."
Over at the Wells' place, putting on a mask is how Bryce's parents, Rob and Jacky, try to cope.
Frustration, anger and sadness bubble underneath, but they put on a brave face to try and reassure the public that they are going OK.
I think we're learning how to pretend to be calm, but what people see is not what's happening underneath," Jacky said.
She looks to the ground as she struggles to describe what she is going through.
We're still waiting for Bryce to come home," she said, not shifting her gaze.
It's raw. And it's hard because our grief is so public. Everybody wants to know how you are but they don't really want to know. It's too much.
People can't tolerate you crying all the time so you just have to try and stay as normal as possible, even though everything is not normal."
Jacky cannot bear to go to Lismore Shopping Square any more because it was where her son used to hang out with his mates.
She expects Bryce to come walking out of Big W with Corey if she goes there.
Day-to-day life is tough, and Jackie describes it as a 'living hell'.
But she and Rob can see something positive has come out of the horrific ordeal.
It has made a lot of people think more about how dangerous driving is, and that it is a privilege, not a right," she said.
If that makes one child think twice about driving ..." But it is cold comfort. They know it will not bring their son back.
While each family and individual struggles to cope with the senseless tragedy in their own ways, they can take some solace in knowing the hearts of their community and the nation are with them.
And they should know that their sons, their 'bright stars', are remembered as the talented, lovable, smart, fun teenage boys their friends and family knew and loved well.