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This is a story about lost love, grief and the strength of one mother to keep going on after losing her husband the the father of her kids in a sudden and fatal accident.

On Saturday 25 June 2011, Graham Santich kissed his wife and two young children goodbye and left for work. He never returned home. A tragic accident on Perth’s Mitchell Freeway left a family shattered and struggling to find a new sense of normal without him.

The Santich family were in a state of bliss with their tenth wedding anniversary celebrations quickly followed by the birth of their second child Darcy, a much loved brother for three year old Charlotte. Sadly, their time together as a family of four was to be brief. Just eight weeks.

Michelle, still recovering from the caesarean delivery, vividly remembers the phone call from police telling her Graham had been in a car accident and how her world stopped in an instant.

“I have thought back many times to things that happened that day,” she recalls. “I was at the shops with the two kids when the police called and told me Graham had been in an accident and I needed to get somebody to drive me to Royal Perth Hospital as soon as I could. All I could think was that he was not going to make it and had horrific images going through my mind of what he might look like when I finally got to him.”

Her parents rallied to her aid, and soon they were met by uniformed police at the emergency department doors and led to a small conference room.

He was perfect. His eyes were closed. He looked like he was sleeping. There looked to be nothing wrong with him.

“It was then that I really knew,” she says. “I knew he was gone and the police confirmed my worst fear.”

Reliving the events, Michelle recalls seeing Graham for the first time after what seemed liked an eternity, on a hospital bed, in a hospital gown, with not a scratch on him.

He was perfect,” she says. “His eyes were closed. He looked like he was sleeping. There looked to be nothing wrong with him.

“I am grateful he looked the way he did but it was also very confusing, because what was in front of me didn’t match the images in my head.”

The details surrounding Graham’s death quickly raised more questions than answers. Police explained their suspicions that Graham had passed out while driving. It was a relatively minor accident, with minimal damage to the car. He became a case for the Coroner. And so began the long wait for answers.

The question of organ donation was raised and consent was given to retrieve his corneas. DonateLife quickly became the liaison between Michelle and the Coroner because, despite the retrieval, a transfer could not be made to a recipient until a cause of death was found.

In the weeks after the accident, as Michelle and her family struggled to come to terms with their loss, DonateLife offered counselling and information packs which included Bunnings vouchers to purchase a tree to grow in his memory. Michelle now utilises the free counselling service, which also provides some counselling to young Charlotte, and attends support groups.

Michelle describes one of the things that plays constantly on her mind is the memories the children will have of Graham and how the organ donation services have offered them ways to make special connections to him, including adding his name to a memorial wall at Lake Monger honouring all Western Australians that have made the ultimate gift and donated their tissues and organs.

“Since Graham passed we have always told Charlotte that her daddy is magic and lives amongst the stars,” she says. “So when DonateLife adopted a star for WA Donors, it gave us a place to send our goodnight wishes. Charlotte is always so eager to see if her daddy’s star will be the first one out.”

“As time goes on I know I am going to become more my own person and less the person I was with him. I don’t want to but I can’t stop it. I hate this new sense of normal.”

“For me, putting his name on the wall and having the coordinates to a star gives us more connections to him, more than just our memories. The kids will always know their daddy was someone special and did something wonderful. It gives us places to go and prompts us to tell stories about him.”

But it is the lack of personal memories the children will have that causes Michelle angst, in particular that Darcy will never have memories of his own and eventually Charlotte’s will fade.

“While family and friends will tell stories and teach Darcy about his dad, the difference will always be that Charlotte will have three years worth of photos with him, while Darcy has very few,” she says.

“I still go over the accident in my head and ask why him, what could I have done differently, worrying he was alone and if he suffered, and my anger that no one stopped to help him.

“I hope Darcy will develop a strong connection with Graham through our family, our love and our memories. I know that Charlotte will always feel close to him, she was his little girl and they thought the world of each other.”

Michelle has tried hard to establish traditions in his memory such as taking the kids to the beach and collecting shells on Graham’s birthday, something he loved to do with Charlotte. On his anniversary there is the Crackerjack Cup lawn bowls tournament at the Fremantle Bowls Club, the place of his wake and where he spent many hours as a keen player.

Meanwhile, balloons and rainbows have become symbolic with balloons often released in his memory and rainbows bridging a connection to his unforgettable grin.

“Any chance I can get to keep remembering him, I do it. I want to feel like he is still part of our family and to include him in our lives even if though he isn’t here,” she says.

The question of organ donation was raised and consent was given to retrieve his corneas. DonateLife quickly became the liaison between Michelle and the Coroner because, despite the retrieval, a transfer could not be made to a recipient until a cause of death was found.

Listening to Michelle describe how she is learning to live with only half a heart without her soul mate, it is obvious the love and adoration this couple shared. Michelle describes Graham as loyal and loved by many.

“He was one of those people who made friends wherever he went,” she explains. “He always had time for his family and was passionate about sport and music of all genres, and he was exceptionally dedicated to his landscaping business. But above all he was thrilled to be a dad, uncle and godfather and was always full of life when he was with the kids.”

Michelle recalls how she often had to pull the reins to get him to hurry along putting Charlotte to bed after numerous songs, books and giggling, and how at birthday parties he was termed King of the Kids, usually swamped by a pile of ankle bitters vying for his attention. But for Graham, it was never a chore. He saw it as a privilege and revelled in it.

“As much as I still expect him to walk through the door each night after work and sometimes still pick up my phone to send him a text, I have settled into this new life and it is hard to accept, especially because it is starting to feel normal without him. As time goes on I know I am going to become more my own person and less the person I was with him. I don’t want to but I can’t stop it. I hate this new sense of normal,” she says with a heavy heart.

An answer to his death finally came almost five months after the accident. The Coroners Court ruled that Graham died from choking. Michelle still finds it incredibly hard to accept this simple answer.

She, like many others, suspected the Used car, which he had owned just two days, had played a part in his passing. But other than perhaps isolating him from vital assistance, three independent mechanics ruled the car played no role.

“I have had lots of appointments with police, DonateLife and even the Coroners Court to try deal with my ongoing confusion about how he died,” she says. “I still go over the accident in my head and ask why him, what could I have done differently, worrying he was alone and if he suffered, and my anger that no one stopped to help him. More recently I have struggled with the terminology used to represent his cause of death.”

As horrible as the circumstances, Michelle marvels at the love and beauty she has discovered exists in the world through the seemingly endless lengths of support and friendship offered, at times from complete strangers.

As horrible as the circumstances, Michelle marvels at the love and beauty she has discovered exists in the world through the seemingly endless lengths of support and friendship offered, at times from complete strangers. She explains there have been donations to a trust fund for the children, grocery shopping and cooked meals, Graham’s business suppliers wiping their bills, his favourite football team signing a card and the drummer of one of his favourite bands visiting and having a mini jam session with Charlotte, and everything in between.

“I know people often didn’t know what to say or do but somehow they got the balance right. And clearly the willingness to help me and the kids is a testament to the person Graham was and the influence he left on the world,” she says.

And so the saying goes, and never rings more true than here, if love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

 

For more information on becoming an organ donor with DonateLife visit www.donatelife.gov.au

Online dating is a contemporary hook-up option for singles, which many now consider as an alternative to traditional methods, and perhaps a new fandangle approach they have yet to try.

There is literally a whole entire universe that comprises single status people (national industry reports suggesting 4.5 million annually) covertly co-existing beneath the radars of those not looking for love, and it seems to be thriving.

The year 1995 marked the official launch of the World Wide Web, followed shortly after by the registration of familiar dating sites such as eHarmony and RSVP. Social media and mobile phone technology evolved dating site capabilities further. Now there are even sites that match daters to the best dating site.

With over 680,000 single mothers with dependents in Australia, the online dating service industry is a lucrative business.

Choice offers useful, comprehensive and current comparative data on popular sites and their suitability against criteria of personal demographic, cost and privacy.

They also provide advice on how to stay physically safe and financially protect against scammers preying on lonely hearts.

Dating and romance scams account for over 30 per cent of total financial losses reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (A.C.C.C.) as arising from scams activity.

The A.C.C.C. reports less than two per cent of online dating sites provided specific information about the costs of their service before becoming a member. They are also aware of instances of online operators that have created and operated their own profiles.

Following a voluntary 18 year dating hiatus to focus on raising her two daughters, 44 year old single mother, Angela, was ready to find her Prince CharmingChar.

Meeting in a public place for first dates felt awkward, surreal and unnatural, “like the world had gone backwards,” Angela says.

“My first date was with a guy that shall be known as the green Kermit. Initially there were a lot of texts followed by a bar, a dinner, and then on the third date a ‘come home with me’ and demands of sex. Let it be known, it is quite the online expectation by the third date!

“Kermit immediately ceased contact following my refusal and, although this bruised my ego, I realised I had dodged bullet. Then much wiser, I asked for complete honesty at the onset, with “Red wine over White Linen Shirt Man” kindly complying by saying he didn’t feel anything after our first date.”

Angela recognises that her online dating journey pulled her out of her comfort zone to overcome her social anxieties.

However, she has grown tired of excusing the poor behaviour of those preying on her emotional vulnerabilities.

Regardless of her negative experiences, Angela acknowledges, “There are definitely people having positive experiences, and those with already active social lives investing in this alternative phenomenon with a different lens.”

“It can be a tool for people to connect, if they feel isolated or alone and provide opportunities for human connection they may otherwise not have had,” says Angela wisely.

“Your experience really will depend on what you are looking for,” explains recently separated 44 year old mother of three, Rebecca.

Rebecca, married at 18, is far more interested in finding herself than a companion, and so “plays” the Tinder game with her new-found freedom and the energy her recent single status has afforded.

“There was no instruction manual to start online dating, but you soon learn,” says Rebecca who spends about an hour a day flicking through profiles.

“When you are my age, where do you go to meet a decent guy? Yachting? Golf? Only the youngies go to the pub and they always hunt in packs,”

Rebecca muses.

Rebecca’s first experience was with Frenchy who, after eight weeks, still comes over Mondays during his lunch break in an Uber.

He coached Rebecca, telling her of a few items to prepare for his arrival and not to worry about the “small talk”.

“I have needed to learn a new language. The guys all talk in acronyms and sometimes I need to guess what they mean!” excites Rebecca.

Rebecca has also trialled the geo-mapping option offered by Tinder, her online dating service of choice. This option notifies her if someone who is also registered with Tinder is in close proximity to her.

“Online dating is liberating because if someone doesn’t fit my schedule I move on.

“It’s good for me now because I am busy with other things and don’t have time for a relationship,” reflects Rebecca, who is enjoying a whole new world with new experiences.

Rebecca elects not to pay for any additional services or match making data to improve her hook-up outcomes. Without spending a cent, all she need do is “swipe right” if she “likes”.

Fifty-something–year-old Samantha is disgusted by one of her closest friends, who also uses Tinder and other sites to meet men.

“I don’t want any part of it and have told her to stop sending me photos of her Tinder date’s genitals, alongside face shots. That’s just ugly,” she says.

“I feel quite offended and even prudish (which I never thought I would say), violated by some of the things she has shown me.”

Online dating does benefit everyone overall, according to Relationships Australia’s recent research, especially those who are lonely or isolated.

Online dating is the second most preferred way to meet a new partner. The single status online universe has lost its stigma and is out in the open. While true love may not necessarily prevail, online hook-ups are happening all the time, everywhere you look, even if don’t want to see.