By: Georgia Free
January 6, 2014. Michelle McLaughlin was excited to be on holiday with her husband, children and parents-in-law, on NSW’s Central Coast. Little did Michelle know, an afternoon trip to the beach was about to become the worst day of her life.
A parent’s worst nightmare
Michelle and her family decided to go for a late afternoon swim and began the short walk from their accommodation down to the beach. Michelle’s four-year-old son Tom was especially excited to try out the new boogie board he’d received for Christmas.
But they never got to the beach.
On the way there, Tom took two small steps off the curb – and was hit by a 4WD, travelling at 50 km/h.
Upon hearing the screams, Michelle rushed down the driveaway, where she was tending to her youngest son Hugh and was confronted with a sight she will never forget.
“I [looked] at him… being worked on… and really did have that epiphany moment that this was it,” Michelle said.
Seventeen minutes later, the ambulance arrived, but a heartbeat was never found. Tom died at the scene.
Every parent’s worst nightmare.
The early days of grief
Tom’s death left Michelle and her husband David with more questions than answers. They were a hypervigilant family, who had taught all of their children the importance of road safety.
For Michelle, it was difficult to reconcile the way Tom died.
“I remember my husband David and I just sitting in the back of that ambulance [after Tom died] and thinking how did this happen?” Michelle said.
“How can we be in this situation?”
“How can we be in this situation?”
Grief brought Michelle and David to their knees – but they had to remain strong for their seven-year-old daughter Sophie and one-year-old son Hugh.
“It was a terribly traumatic experience for our family,” Michelle said.
“[But] as a parent, you have to put your feelings down a little bit, trying to suppress some of those emotions.”
But Michelle refused to give up. She channelled her grief into something that would not only change lives but honour her son, Tom, in the process.
At the end of 2014, Michelle launched The Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation – a not-for-profit which aims to improve road safety for children and families.
Partnering with local councils across Australia, Little Blue Dinosaur has developed trademark colourful signage – reminding children and families to stay safe on the road.
They also run campaigns around holiday time, partnering with schools and holiday parks to educate families and communities about road safety.
Additionally, Little Blue Dinosaur has launched Road Trauma Grief Support Packages, which offer financial assistance, such as grocery vouchers and babysitting, to families who have lost a child through road trauma.
Although Michelle’s grief journey has been long and arduous, she has been comforted through her faith in God – in a time, where platitudes and empty words from others, often hurt her.
“People used to say that we’d be OK, that we were strong. You don’t feel strong at all,” she said.
“I would’ve given my own life for Tom’s to be spared.”
But Michelle kept seeing signs of God in little moments.
“Nobody asks for terrible things to happen to them. But I always felt [God] was putting strength into me to help me cope,” she said.
“He couldn’t take it away. He didn’t cause it.
“But I think He’s very much with us in our suffering.”
- If you or someone you know is struggling or needs a compassionate listening person to talk to, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.
Feature image: Supplied