Real Life

How one brave Aussie mum forged hope out of tragedy after her two teen sons were killed in car crash

What she did next was nothing short of extraordinary.

It was nine years after losing both her sons that Michelle Davis found herself on top of a Nepalese mountain range, surrounded by goats and staring blankly at the soaring Himalayas spearing out of the ground in front of her.
Several foot-slogging days into a nine-day trek through the Annapurna range, a still grief-stricken Michelle was again trying to crawl out of the darkness that had enveloped her since July 14, 2005.
At 4.15pm on that terrible day, her two boys, Brendon, 19, and 16-year-old Mathew, died after Brendon lost control of his car "on a road they drove every day" at Morpeth in NSW's Hunter Valley.
He was doing 120km/h in a 70km/h zone when he failed to take a bend, killing himself and his brother instantly, and injuring seven people in an oncoming vehicle.
Nine years later on this cold and cloudless day in 2014 – and in the middle of the greatest mountain range on earth – something came over Michelle.
"I had my epiphany,'' explains Michelle, who says she may not even have survived to make this life-changing trek if it weren't for her husband Todd and daughter Georgia.
"I remember looking out and thinking, 'OK, I've got this. I've found some of myself again.' It's amazing to be reminded how much life there is to live when I'd come from a part of my life when I didn't want to live.
Michelle lost her two sons but hasn't given up on life. (Image: Peter Lorimer)
"There was a whole bunch of goats around me and I just took in a big breath and thought, 'OK, I can do the rest of life now. I just have to see everything, do as much as I can.' "
It was a major step in her grieving process. But certainly not her first. That came when she broke down and admitted she needed help eight weeks after Brendon and Mathew died – when Michelle forgot her own name when she was asked to sign a form.
She went to a meeting for people dealing with SIDS deaths and met another woman who had lost a teenager five years earlier and who understood how her life had been shattered.
Brendon was 19 when he lost control of the car he was driving. (Image: Supplied)
"Basically, she just annoyed the crap out of me for a while to get me to come out," she recalls. "I was working two jobs, but I wasn't living. I was just going to work, coming home and shutting the curtains and laying on the couch."
One day, Michelle heard of another mother who had lost a child in a car crash nearby. Both Michelle and her mentor, Vera, wondered where that mother would go for help.
"I couldn't find a book. I was a teacher, so I went looking for books and stuff. But there are none,'' explains Michelle, who taught marketing and business studies at TAFE.
"There are no rule books, there are no 10 steps or anything like that, and Vera said she would love to start a group.''
Two years after losing her precious sons, Michelle helped set up a support group called HOPE (Helping Other Parents Exist) and was shocked when 33 people turned up after she placed a small advertisement in her local paper.
Matthew, 16, was also killed in the crash with his brother. (Image: Supplied)
"We were just overwhelmed with that," says Michelle, explaining that one grieving dad who attended hadn't 'talked properly' about the death of his son for 23 years.
"I remember they were crying, he and his wife, and I looked at my husband Todd and said, 'Well, at least I know I will be able to cry still.'
"People expect you to be what you used to be… so you need to get your s**t together. But it is hard, because we are trying to live a new normal. And their normal continues.''
"People expect you to be what you used to be… so you need to get your s**t together. But it is hard, because we are trying to live a new normal. And their normal continues," says Michelle. (Image: Supplied)
Around the same time, Michelle heard a radio advertisement about a local road safety campaign and went along to ask if she could share her story, reducing those there to tears.
"The officer said, 'I wish this program had legs', and I said, 'I will give it legs'. I came home and said to Todd, 'I think I have found out what I'm supposed to do. The changing point for me was when I decided to do road safety."
Michelle now bravely tells her heartbreaking story to thousands of teenagers each year as part of the ROADwhyz Choice and Consequence program. "So that gave me purpose," she says.
"Living my life took a lot longer to come along," she admits, "but I was just happy to do things for others." (Image: Peter Lorimer)
"Living my life took a lot longer to come along," she admits, "but I was just happy to do things for others."
Michelle says any parent who has lost a child asks themselves at some point how they are going to go on with life.
"I can remember the day, sitting on a beach just looking at the sky, thinking, 'How long am I going to carry this sadness? How much longer?' Because it was getting really hard.
"And something just clicked and I was like, 'Alright, I'm just going to have to even it out, take the good days with the bad days.'

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