For seven years Susan and Brad Loch have dealt with the grief of losing a daughter.
In the early hours of March 21, 2011, their 19-year-old daughter Jess was on her way to visit her boyfriend in Vincentia. She had finished a shift at the Marlin Hotel and set out on a terribly wet night.
Just south of Wandandian, she lost control and collided with a tree.
Mother of three Susan was visiting her parents who were preparing to move from their home in Sanctuary Point when the unthinkable news was delivered.
“I was asleep at my parents’ place downstairs, mum had heard a knock at the door and went downstairs to open the door to a police officer and my husband.
“I don’t know what woke me, I must have sensed that they were in the room, the three of them were just standing there, waiting for me to wake up. I screamed before anyone had a chance to tell me anything, I didn’t know what had happened but I knew it was bad, it had to be with a policeman there,” she recalls, tears welling.
They’ve just got to start doing something. Because there’s going to be more lives lost and more parents in my situationSusan Loch
She is retelling her story in the dining room of her Mollymook home. When the FIX IT NOW campaign was launched on March 21 this year, Susan was distressed to see a photo of her daughter in the collage that accompanied the story.
In grief and anger, she contacted us. We explained we meant no harm, that our intention was to bring pressure to bear on governments to fix the highway. Susan agreed to be part of the campaign.
She is angry it took the high-profile deaths of the Falkholt family to prompt immediate action while sections of the highway like that south of Wandandian have been taking lives for years.
“Basically from Bendalong that whole section to just south of Nowra is a nightmare and after a recent weekend away down the coast, the road south to Moruya and beyond is equally as bad. The highway is like a secondary road. And when you look at the highway north of Sydney, it’s such a good road, the way a main highway should be,” she said.
“Just fix the bloody road. If you take the last 18 months 10 people that have died on that road in that section.
“They’ve just got to start doing something. Because there’s going to be more lives lost and more parents in my situation.”
The living hell Susan and family endured after losing Jess ought to make politicians sit up and realise highway safety is about much more than money.
We challenge our parliamentarians to pull up south of Wandandian where there are three roadside memorials, including Jess’s, and reflect on the price of inaction.
We challenge them to imagine being in the shoes of the parents of beloved children whose promise and potential was taken on this stretch of the highway.
“For four years I drove up there every week,” Susan explains.
“I’d get to the Sussex turnoff. I shouldn’t have been driving. I was a screaming, blubbering mess. I’d have a pool of tears and I’d just be thumping the steering wheel. I could have caused an accident.”
I’d get to the Sussex turnoff. I shouldn’t have been driving. I was a screaming, blubbering mess. I’d have a pool of tears and I’d just be thumping the steering wheel. I could have caused an accident.Susan Loch
The living hell Susan endured was made easier by time, sessions with a medium and by joining The Compassionate Friends, a support group for parents who have lost children.
Her two boys also helped her on the path to recovery.
“They’re both very positive and doing amazing things with their lives. Like all parents we worry about our children, but when you are a parent who has lost a child the worry is increased tenfold,” she says.
Not being able or wanting to do the work she was doing “before Jess”, she took on a job in Sydney, commuting every week, driving past the spot where Jess lost her life. Returning to Mollymook, she’d pull up.
“I would call in at Dan Murphy’s, get whatever wine I wanted. I’d stop opposite, crack open a bottle of wine and I’d say cheers, have a sip - one sip, lid back on – and I’d just sit there and I’d just talk to her.
“Basically every day for the first five years I had to wear a mask when I walked out the front door, I still have my bad days, but thankfully, most days are good.
“When you break your arm or leg you have a bandage or plaster, it’s obvious to everyone that you are in pain or have something wrong with you, but for parents who have lost a child - that stabbing pain in our broken heart is always there even though it isn’t on show.
“Let me tell you, when you are a parent who has lost a child, the heart doesn’t ever fully heal, you recover a little with time, but you don’t ‘move on’ or ‘get over it’ as some people think, time definitely does help, but that ache lingers with you for the rest of your days.”
After urging from The Compassionate Friends, Susan has been writing a book about her long journey through grief.
The book is called Jess’s Gift.
The Compassionate Friends told Susan plenty of books had been written by grief counsellors but the story from someone “who had walked the walk” was needed. Writing it has been cathartic and confronting.
“I thought I’d try and do that because Jess wanted to be a journalist,” Susan says.
Describing herself as a positive person, Susan still has a long way to go. She says she can’t afford to think about her daughter all the time, as she did in the first few years after her death.
“She probably is in my mind more than I think but I have to try and put things out of my head. It’s just too much.”
Jess was a very popular young person, something made evident when 450 people attended her funeral in 2011. Many of her friends have since become friends of Susan’s.