The gift box no family wants to receive
WHILE working at a funeral parlour many years ago, my boss handed me some shreds of fabric and asked if I could neatly fold them into a gift box ready for a service later that day.
I soon discovered they belonged to a teenager who, just a few days prior, had been speeding through a suburban street, lost control, and wrapped himself around a telegraph pole.
Paramedics had cut off his shirt in a futile attempt to save him. Its remnants were caked in blood, petrol and dirt and delivered, along with his body, to the funeral parlour.
To shield his family from this grotesque memento of their son's final gasps of life, my boss took the shirt home and carefully handwashed it until it was spotless.
There was still a faint smell of petrol hovering underneath the sweet scent of fabric softener as I gently placed the shirt into the box.
It was a beautiful gesture for a family enduring such a tragic loss, but one that could have been avoided.
"He was taken too soon," the celebrant declared at the service later that day. It's a common phrase at funerals, and one I'd heard many times on the job, but on this occasion, it didn't sit right with me. The teenager had not been taken; his poor behaviour took his life.
He was to blame.
Over a decade has passed since that day and while driver technology has improved significantly, our refusal to take responsibility for our actions on the road continues to get us killed. So much so, here in the Clarence Valley we've earned top spot for the number of lives lost on NSW roads.
However, what horrifies me more is the morbid culture we've created around avoidable roadside deaths. It's a culture where we proudly honour a mate who died while drink-driving by sculling a beer. Where we write 'fly high, babe' on a friend's Facebook page, the same page they were busy looking at before they crashed, head-on into another car and died.
When are we going to have a conversation about our behaviour? Or is everyone happy to continue honouring friends and family who have died by their own reckless actions?
What would friends and family say of the P-plater in the white with black-stripe hatchback that pulled up behind me on Saturday night? Would they cheer his display of masculine prowess as he dropped the clutch, throwing his car forward and almost hitting mine at the Lawrence intersection? Would they be proud of him tailgating, then overtaking me before speeding off into the darkness well and truly over any limit his licence allowed? Or would all this stupid behaviour be absolved once he fatally wrapped his car around a tree, just like the dead teenager over a decade ago?
I'm grateful that the adolescent throng made it home to their families on Saturday night. But the reality is, until they start to take responsibility, it's only a matter of time before their parents receive a little gift box of soiled fabric too.