November 23rd, 2023Connected by grief but united by love
Narelle Groenhout, a journalist of many years, including with The Local, was enjoying a drink at the Daylesford Hotel on Sunday, November 5 when her life changed. She and her husband Pat, like many, raced to help those involved in the horrific accident in which five people died – Melbourne lawyer Pratibha Sharma, 44, and partner Jatin Chugh, 30, Pratibha’s nine-year-old daughter Anvi, family friend Vivek Bhatia, 38, and his 11-year-old son Vihaan. Bhatia’s 36-year-old wife Ruchi and other son, Abeer, aged six, were injured and both remain in a serious but stable condition in hospital.
Narelle, who comforted Abeer, told me a few days later, after an hour of just talking, that she would like to write something, not sure what, but something about love. And about reaching out for help. It would be hard but also, as a writer, help her heal, she said. This piece is about her memories and thoughts.
This November 20, current edition, of TL also includes interviews with others involved, from Central Highlands Rural Health’s Shane Richardson and Victoria Police’s Senior Sergeant Simon Brand, to Hepburn Shire Mayor Cr Brian Hood and Anglican minister Father Neil Fitzgerald. We have also listed a range of
phone numbers which anyone can call if they feel they need to talk or have counselling. I realise that for some, it might be too soon to read this, and perhaps triggering. For others, they have moved forward. Each person has their own journey or reality. Editor Donna Kelly.
A sunny afternoon in Daylesford, rocked by a tragedy so devastating, so incomprehensible, it’s hard to conceive how we can even try to recover. For those of us who were there, lives have been altered in ways that can’t be fixed.
My husband and I weren’t even meant to be there – a last-minute cancelled trip to Gippsland, some friends rang and said we’re coming through, do you want to catch up for a drink? Long weekend. Beautiful day. Why not?
We are now all broken by what we saw. Tormented by our own reactions to trauma. Doubts, what ifs and grief. Lives lost and torn apart in an instant and lives left behind. The sadness is palpable. The grief is so deep it hurts. Our town is hurting. We are a community collectively in mourning.
I’ve been a journalist and communications professional for more than 30 years, working in regional and city areas, in radio and print media. My 15 years as a beat reporter saw me cover stories of hope and joy, sadness and despair, tragedy and loss.
Stories that became part of my life. Part of my own story. Amongst all the work I have ever done, this story is the hardest one I will ever write. But if there is a chance that one person reaches out for help, if one person who is struggling to deal with their grief and sadness reaches out for support, then there will be purpose in these words.
The team from Central Highlands Rural Health had garnered trauma counsellors within hours, reaching out to as many of the witnesses as possible to begin the healing process. I know I personally have a long way to go. Some days I’m paralysed by sadness. But the support locally is extraordinary. They can help us all heal – in time.
We just need to all know that healing through support is a phone call away. For my husband and me, a quick catch up with friends saw us end up at the Daylesford Hotel. Our office is between the Royal Hotel and the tyre shop. They are our work neighbours. Our community. But turning the corner from Howe Street we gravitated to the spare table outside the Daylesford Hotel remembering that one of
us remarked this isn’t our usual pub. But there we were. In full view of our office, the tables either side of us and the joy being had on the beautiful lawns in the heart of town. Within minutes everything had changed.
I know the word chaos has been used to describe the scene. Someone mentioned that not even the emergency services are trained for what unfolded that evening. But through the confusion, shock, trauma and disbelief, strangers came together.
I remember the gentle way people were being held, talked to, comforted and loved. Love is a powerful thing and easy to say. But that evening, among the mayhem and chaos, those victims were surrounded by the love of this community. It was tangible.
Every single person played a role that night. Some shielding families, some praying, some stopping traffic and many locals and visitors running to the victims. Staff and the owners of the pub reacting in such a way I find it hard to find the words that describe their actions. Calm, caring and measured, despite their own shock and grief.
At one stage I was with a woman comforting a little boy who was injured. So small. So scared. So brave. Kissing his forehead in that moment, my entire life was wrapped up in this little boy’s survival. When an ambulance driver appeared and we knew this beautiful little soul was going to be cared for, my husband appeared. A young family witness to the event were recovering in the pub. In shock. For Pat and I, it was a moment of purpose. The act of comforting a young family, feeling a desperate sense to offer love and support was a godsend for us. Somehow going into mum mode, singing Wiggles songs
away from the sadness and holding the hands of innocent children was a moment embedded in my heart. Our lives are now entwined. There are many stories of those on the night connecting. Strangers brought together through trauma now friends.
A special young woman from Melbourne who witnessed the event from the pub’s balcony. Consoling and comforting each other hours later in the pub, it was this woman who had the strength to come back to the site days later, who gave me the strength to stand by her side in that moment.
For those who lost their lives, for those left behind, for witnesses, first responders and for everyone who has reached out to others with love and kindness, hope and prayers, we will all somehow be connected by grief but united by love.