“IT WAS SO UN­FAIR”

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?”

“I WAS IN SHOCK, TRAUMA… MY BODY NOT HAN­DLING THINGS. I SLEPT ALL THE TIME. DE­PRES­SION KICKED IN. I WAS DRINK­ING”

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

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