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Sisters turn tragedy and grief into an essential life resource

Saturday, 17th October, 2020

IN THE END: A parting gift for your loved ones IN THE END: A parting gift for your loved ones

When 44-year-old Layne Harvey and his sons, 23-year-old Jakeb and 16-year-old Kurtis, were killed in a tragic accident at their Broken Hill home in June 2018, it set in motion a series of repercussions far beyond the unimaginable grief of losing three family members.

For Layne’s wife, Cherie, the mother of their two sons, that fateful day created an unexpected series of events which highlighted the importance of official paperwork rigmarole, and how hard it is to gather all these elements in the midst of a heightened state of bereavement. 

Fortunately, Cherie was able to turn to her sisters, Lisa Doust and Melanie Vugich, for help.

Often it is extended family members who assist with death certificates, extrapolating the contents of a will, writing death notices, and undertaking the task of organising the funeral in far less time than you’d have to organise a wedding or birthday, all while keeping a level head.

This is how the idea for ‘IN THE END’ (published by Alice Street Press) crystallised. This helpful and beautifully illustrated journal serves as a guide, assisting families in bringing all the necessary elements together when someone dies.

“The idea came just a month after the accident. In that short time Melanie and I had helped to organise the largest funeral Broken Hill had ever held, dealt with the police, coroner’s office and media, and relocated our sister and niece. We also had to communicate with the boys’ employers’ and banks, deal with insurance and superannuation companies, start negotiating with creditors and engage a lawyer to take us through the long probate process,” says Lisa.

“There was so much paperwork to wade through and I remember thinking that we all need to get smart about making sure our loved ones have all the information they need when we die. There was no way our sister and niece could have handled this aspect of their loss when they were grieving and just trying to get through every day,” adds Lisa.

This process of writing and illustrating ‘IN THE END’ helped the siblings immensely. 

“Melanie and I were so completely traumatised by watching our sister, niece and mum go through such a terrible experience, so we spent all of our spare time together and started thinking about how the journal would work. The one thing we were sure of was that it would be our tribute to the boys, which is why we gave it an outback theme,” says Lisa.

“The journal also honours our amazing hometown of Broken Hill - everybody came together and helped to get our family through those devastating first few weeks after the accident. It was an incredible show of community spirit and we are all so grateful.”

Lisa herself is a mother of two sons and is a journalist with 28 years of writing and editing experience in Sydney and London. Melanie is a mother of one son and is a full-time artist who trained as a fabric designer in Florence and spent 25 years working with some of Italy’s biggest fashion labels before returning to Sydney a decade ago to focus on her painting career.

Lisa is very clear about how this release will assist grieving families, and people who want to get a jump on sorting through life and death, while they are of sound mind, and not in the throes of deep devastation.

“Our journal covers a lot of subjects, such as the importance of having a will and life insurance, the various types of burials and services, and what happens to our social-media profiles when we die. We’re hoping that by pondering these things and thinking about all the ways your death can impact on your loved ones, people might take steps to put plans in place.” says Lisa. “We also hope the journal paves the way for having meaningful conversations about death with loved ones.

For this publication, Lisa decided to start her own publishing house, Alice Street Press: “Melanie and I have had successful careers supporting our artistic endeavours and have long been wanting to combine our skills and create ongoing work for ourselves, so this new venture is the perfect outlet for us.” 

They also wanted to have complete creative freedom for this first project as it is “so deeply personal.” The siblings agree that death is such a tricky topic, and the loss of very young lives is particularly devastating and extremely confronting, and a lot of people simply can’t find the words or don’t know how to comfort someone who is grieving deeply for their children.

“Living in such a multicultural country, I understand that we all have our own ways of dealing with death and grief, but Melanie and I genuinely believe that it’s much better to show up for your friends and family and to say something awkward or even wildly inappropriate than to be silent about their loss. 

“We don’t have all the answers, but given the fact that we are all destined to die, we think it’s healthy to think about things such as Advance Care Plans, Enduring Guardianship, organ donation, wills, life insurance and funeral plans, and to talk about your wishes with your loved ones. It’s a way of becoming more literate about death and its realities, which will hopefully lead to death becoming a less tricky topic for many,” says Lisa.

Another thing the sisters agree on is that the art of journal-keeping has faded over time, “But I think in uncertain times it can really help to convey our emotions in writing. Journals don’t require you to write poetry - they can simply be an outlet for thoughts and memories.

“As well as being practical, we wanted ‘IN THE END’ to encourage people to write down all the people, places and things that have positively impacted their lives, and to consider the ways they would love to be celebrated and remembered in death. We don’t want to exclude whole generations, however, so a digital version of the journal is already at the planning stage.”

Melanie and Lisa can attest that Cherie is “an absolutely remarkable woman”, and that despite her enormous loss, she is determined to seek out happiness and to follow a meaningful path that allows her to help other people, particularly those who have lost children.

“She has a daughter and granddaughter to shower with love and is working and studying to become a grief counsellor. She laughs a lot, celebrates her gorgeous boys every day and is constantly looking to the future, and I am sure that she will guide many people through trauma and grief in the years to come.”

* The book can be purchased via www.melanievugich.com

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