RIP Suzie, 16 years on…

suzie's dayToday is the 16th anniversary of the death of my friend Suzie. She died in a head on multi car collision of which I was a part of. On May 15th every year I stop and remember her life with a group of close friends. We go the cemetery where she is buried and honour her memory with the reading of a letter depicting the current events of our lives. We have kept these letters and plan to make them into a book on the 20th anniversary. This is a bittersweet day for me as we are moving to the UK in July this year and this is possibly the last one I will physically attend for a while.

I wrote the following post on May 15th , 2012 telling Suzie’s story. I’ve decided to re blog it as it is still amongst our most read posts.

In 1996 after living in Canada for 9 years I came home to Australia to reconnect with my siblings, family and friends. I arrived home in the October of 1996. There was a brutal 40 degree heat wave that summer and I remember having to take salt tablets because I sweated so much and couldn’t retain any body fluids.

I stayed with my family for a short while and then moved in with my good friend Suzie and her boyfriend.  I had known Suzie since primary school and then we attended the same private girl’s high school. We hadn’t really been close in our primary school years but we knew of each other. We became good friends in high school.

Suzie didn’t live life, she attacked life. She was the most energetic person I have ever met. She squeezed every possible minute out of every day. She loved people and her zest for life was insatiable. She was extremely loyal to her friends and men swarmed around her wherever we went like bees to a honey pot. She was beautiful, petite, smart and had this unawareness of her own charisma and attractiveness. Suzie didn’t like boundaries and the worst thing you could do was hem in her or tell she couldn’t do something. She only saw possibilities not limitations.

In May of 1997 I was no longer living with Suzie and her boyfriend as I had found my own digs. I had been dating someone and the four of us decided to go away to Inverloch for a weekend. We left on the Thursday night – it’s funny how even 15 years later the details are so front and centre in my mind. We had all gotten the Friday off from work and couldn’t wait to start our weekend. We drove down in a 2 car convoy. About 20 minutes out of Wonthaggi we stopped for dinner. Fish and Chips. I tried to persuade Suzie to swap cars so she and I could gas bag but she wanted to stay with her boyfriend. As we pulled out they took the lead car position as to direct us to Suzie’s parent’s holiday house.

It was dark, probably 8 – 9 pm and I was watching the road ahead. I remarked to my boyfriend on something I could see. A car was travelling toward us and for some reason I could see that one of its headlights was on either side of Suzie’s car. I thought out loud that the only way physically that could be happening was if that car was on our side of road. Things happened very quickly after that. Suzie’s car swerved out to the other side of the road uncovering the problem, there was a car on our side of the road. The speed limit was 80 km and we were closely the gap very quickly. The other car then attempted to correct to their own side of the road and they squarely hit the passenger side of Suzie’s car, directly where Suzie was sitting. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Suzie’s car which was white became a blur as it spun around and around and around past us on the other side of the road. The other car ricocheted off Suzie’s car and hit us, ending up in a ditch. Damage to our person and vehicle was minimal. I remember jumping out of the car when we came to a stop and running as fast as I could back to Suzie’s car.

Prior to this I had recently updated my first aid certificate because I was a nanny. During the class I had asked the teacher about the likelihood of ever using CPR. He said with such certainty that one out of ten in the class today will use it. In that moment I knew that it was going to be me. I went above and beyond to memorize the process of not just CPR but taking control of an accident scene.

I arrived at the Suzie’s car. Her boyfriend was out of the car already and I was totally relieved. I thought – they’re ok. But then it was like the volume went on and I could hear him screaming Suzie’s name. She was still in the car not moving. I climbed in the driver’s side and felt for her pulse, it was weak but she had one. I remember reeling off commands to those around. You in the blue shirt call for an ambulance now and report back to me. You in the hat go and assess the other driver for injuries. Suzie was unconscious and her legs were trapped under the dash which had been crushed upon impact. I knew that we needed to get her out of the car. Breathing was the most important issue. Her legs were clearly already broken and I commanded the two boyfriends to get her out of the car. We laid her carefully on the side of the highway. Someone tried to tell me what to do and I shut them down. I had listened; the CPR instructor had said that many people will offer advice and that you have to be sure of yourself and what you are doing. I had listened, I was sure. Suzie had no pulse so with my bare hands I ripped her bra off and we commenced CPR. I started on breathing and her boyfriend on compressions. I then noticed this massive laceration on her neck and all the air I was breathing in was just bubbling out in front of me. I also kept thinking where were all her teeth? With one hand on her neck and the other trying to seal her nose I was trying desperately to get some oxygen into her lungs.  We swapped places after 5-10 mins.  A crowd had started to gather unable to journey around the carnage on the road. We both knew that Suzie’s life had ebbed away at some point on the side of highway but we just kept going until help arrived. Finally an ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over. I remember them laying a hand on my shoulder and saying ‘she’s gone, she’s gone’. I just couldn’t believe it.

The police arrived and the other driver was taken into custody. I was taken with Suzie’s boyfriend to the Wonthaggi hospital where they tested both drivers for drugs and alcohol. We arrived at the hospital and unbeknownst to Suzie’s boyfriend the offender was in the very next room. At some point I slipped into his room and I had this immense clarity and calm. I asked if I could call anyone for him. Wife, family? He was clearly in shock and because he had been restrained by others at the accident scene he actually didn’t know that Suzie had died. He asked me if she was OK and I told him that she was dead. I said to him, “This will mean nothing to you now but in years to come it will.” I said to him “I forgive you, I forgive you” and I left his room. I didn’t attend the trial and I never judged him for what he did. He was one of the first people in Victoria charged for ‘drug driving’ and he spent two years in jail. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you his name. All I know is that Suzie numbered one of 377 that died on Victorian roads that year.

For fifteen years now 5 of us who attended high school with Suzie have attempted to meet every year at the cemetery where she is buried. We started a tradition of writing her a letter every year as if she was alive. We are brutally candid and honest in this letter and it is probably the truest declaration of our lives at the time it is written. I have a love-hate relationship with ’the letter’ because sometimes life is crap and I hate that it is forever immortalised in writing. Over the last fifteen years we have experienced a lot of pain and grief. We have lost babies, said our goodbyes to parents and grandparents. We have walked through the heart-break of divorce and joy of having healthy children. Two have moved interstate but often make the journey to Melbourne for what we all now call Suzie’s day. We laugh and cry but we celebrate the life and friendship we have together.

At the time of the accident I wasn’t close to God but the Sunday following Suzie’s death I returned to church. I was very messy but God took me as I was. I am grateful for the people who cared for me at this time. After re-committing my heart to God I have never left His side. I love Him more than my own life and I am forever grateful that I lived that night.  I have often wondered, if we had of swapped cars would it have been me?   I’ve decided this thinking is not helpful. God saw fit to keep my life  – and I’m determined to make it one worth living.

Over and Out,

Catherine xo

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