Af­ter los­ing both par­ents on MH370, life must go on for Amanda Lawton.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Words by CHARLES MI­RANDA

On the clut­tered tall­boy dresser in her bed­room, Amanda Lawton keeps a small Gu­atemalan worry doll rest­ing on its em­broi­dered pouch, se­cured safely in­side a deep 3D frame.

The doll has lost its head­band, its Mayan dress is frayed and faded, and it was once in a set of four, but now it lies alone, mounted be­hind glass.

“It was a Christ­mas gift for my mother be­cause she was wor­ried about fly­ing to China – she would have night­mares about China,” Lawton says, star­ing at the frame and un­con­sciously swip­ing away dust with her fin­ger.

Two other dolls from the pouch are with Lawton’s sis­ters, Missy and Glenda, and the fourth was in the pocket of their mother, Kathy, when on March 8, 2014, she and hus­band Bob boarded Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Bei­jing.

“The three dolls left be­hind were still sit­ting by her bed… I wanted the old worn one be­cause I re­mem­ber Mum told me it was in her pocket and ac­ci­den­tally went in the wash. It’s some­thing, I don’t know, a con­nec­tion.”

Flight MH370 in­ex­pli­ca­bly van­ished over the In­dian Ocean that day, and on the third an­niver­sary of the tragedy, it’s still the small things that both haunt Lawton – and keep her go­ing.

When tragedy strikes, the death or dis­ap­pear­ance sends out a rip­ple that touches many, with those clos­est forced to wait the long­est for calm to set in. The 30-year-old knows her life changed ir­re­vo­ca­bly that day but she’s hold­ing on, and tak­ing each day as it comes.

In the weeks, months and years fol­low­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of her beloved par­ents, things were a lot worse for Lawton, who all but had to re­mind her­self to breathe each day.

Her pain to­day is vis­i­ble, not just in the tears she tries to blink away as she re­calls the last text she sent her mother, whom she spoke to twice a day.

She speaks about the what-ifs, like the al­ter­na­tive sce­nar­ios in the Gwyneth Pal­trow film Slid­ing Doors, and how her life to­day would have been dif­fer­ent if her par­ents had never got on that plane. There wouldn’t have been the vodka binges, the stays in bed that would last for weeks, or the am­bu­lances and four hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions, as she suf­fered de­bil­i­tat­ing anx­i­ety at­tacks.

By the age of 30, Lawton had ex­pected to be mar­ried with kids and

liv­ing in Bris­bane or pos­si­bly Syd­ney, where she had con­sid­ered mov­ing to and ful­fill­ing her life-long in­ter­est in prop­erty plan­ning and man­age­ment.

In­stead, she has an on-off boyfriend, works in sales and lives alone in a large Queens­lan­der in in­ner Bris­bane with her two labradors, Moose and Duck. Both were once out­door dogs, but now live in­side, with Duck hav­ing recog­nised some­thing was wrong shortly af­ter the tragedy un­folded and not want­ing to leave her side.

“Af­ter the in­ci­dent, we ex­pected to have some news and it just never came,” Lawton re­calls. “At one point, months af­ter, I thought, ‘I need to get back to what I was do­ing, go back to work.’ But I was dif­fer­ent, my body just went into a dif­fer­ent place.

“I al­most didn’t feel like I was liv­ing. Over­whelmed. I was in shock, trauma… it was like my body was not han­dling things. I slept all the time, through the day. De­pres­sion kicked in. I was drink­ing a lot when I was awake, lots of vodka.

“I wasn’t my­self; I was think­ing, ‘Why work when I can do some­thing else and die to­mor­row?’ It was a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing. I have al­ways been driven, ca­reer-ori­en­tated, out­go­ing – this was some­thing else.”

She felt stupid that she couldn’t process her own re­ac­tions or feel­ings.

Look­ing back now at photos taken over the past three years, Lawton can iden­tify what she calls the “fake smile”; a put-on for friends at par­ties. Lawton moved into her par­ents’ house in Spring­field Lakes, 30km south-west of Bris­bane, and bought her sis­ters out. She can’t bring her­self to sell the three-bed­room prop­erty.

She was at boyfriend Paul’s house when her sis­ter Missy rang her about the com­mer­cial air­liner dis­ap­pear­ing. Lawton told her to calm down, that planes don’t just dis­ap­pear and she laughed off the panic on the other end of the line. Lawton vividly re­mem­bers ev­ery­thing for the one and a half hours from that 10am Satur­day call, but then it’s all “fuzzy”, a blank mem­ory within which there was con­fir­ma­tion of the loss of a plane and 239 souls, the 10 unan­swered phone calls to her mother and the text: “Re­ally wor­ried, call us.”

Her life be­gan to bounce back only a year later when she made the de­ci­sion to travel alone and visit the Great Wall of China to complete her par­ents’ planned hol­i­day.

“It was un­fair they never got to do it, they would have loved it,” she said.

Christ­mases are the hard­est: Kathy loved this time of year. Birth­days, too.

Face­book is a chal­lenge. It pinged yes­ter­day and au­to­mat­i­cally sent Lawton a photo of what she had posted that day four years ago – she and Kathy lunch­ing at their favourite cafe in Bris­bane’s Padding­ton.

Lawton is more pos­i­tive to­day, tes­ta­ment to her strength of char­ac­ter. Her sup­port base is strong; dad Bob’s best friend comes by to cut her lawn and share a mem­ory. No more vodka – she’s on a reg­u­lar fitness reg­i­men. And while her par­ents’ goods are around her house – Kathy’s sketches and paint­ings, pho­to­graphs of her par­ents on the TV stand and the framed worry doll – she has come to terms, more or less, with what’s hap­pened and ac­cepts it. Things feel “real”, she says, for the first time in a while. No more fake-smile photos.

You can chart her progress from her diary, once filled with dis­tress and demons, to be­com­ing more per­func­tory – dates and ap­point­ments. “I ac­cept things, it’s part of life,” she says.

“I hold onto hope [of find­ing ev­i­dence of what hap­pened], but I tell my­self I’m not go­ing to, so I don’t think too much about it. It’s my way of deal­ing with it. Is that self­ish?

“I want to know if they knew what was go­ing on, what hap­pened. It won’t bring them back, but I can’t help think­ing about it. Dad would say, ‘When your time’s up, your time’s up.’ It might sound weird to say, but does his spirit now know his time’s up?”


LIV­ING WITH LOSS Amanda Lawton has had to come to terms with her par­ents’ (in­set) dis­ap­pear­ance.

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