Love & Family

Caring Tom – Saving Lives From Above

Mum Michelle poured her grief into an important message for Aussie families
  • Michelle McLaughlin, 51, from Balgowlah Heights, NSW, lost her son Tom to a tragic road accident 10 years ago
  • In November 2014, she launched the Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation to honour Tom’s memory and teach kids about road safety
  • Always a helper, Tom is saving lives from above

Here Michelle tells her story in her own words.

Quietly opening the kids’ bedroom door, I hoped they’d be sound asleep.

‘Once upon a time,’ came the voice of my daughter Sophie, then seven, as she read a story to her brother Tom, then four, under the covers by torchlight.

Their cheeky giggles made me feel warm with happiness.

It was 2013 – the best year of my life. My husband David, then 43, and I had welcomed our third child Hugh in December 2012, and now our family felt complete.

Watching my angels play was the most gorgeous sight. Tom always mimicked his big sister, and loved cuddles with Huey.

I’d often catch Tom helping children in the playground who’d hurt themselves.

‘Can you please fix her leg scratch?’ he asked the teacher when a girl his age fell off the monkey bars at preschool.

Incredibly cautious, he was always lending a hand.

I wonder if he gets that from me? I pondered, as a nurse for over 20 years.

An animal lover, Tom enjoyed feeding the lorikeets in our backyard and pointing out the blue tongue lizard we named Daisy.

He was also super creative. His signature drawing was an abstract dinosaur with blue polka dots and a smiley face.

He drew it everywhere he went.

He’s such a funny boy, I’d think, cuddling him.

Like any mother, my biggest fear was if my kids were in danger.

‘Hold my hand,’ I’d tell Tom as we walked with Huey in the pram to Tom’s preschool.

Tom McLaughlin
Tom McLaughlin (Credit: Narrative Post)

Living in busy Chatswood, NSW, I taught the kids about road safety.

‘Stop,’ I’d say as we approached a driveway.

After a beautiful Christmas together, when Santa brought the kids boogie boards, we headed to the Central Coast, NSW, for a family holiday in the first week of January 2014.

When we arrived at MacMasters Beach, the usually quiet area was bustling with cars and tourists.

Pulling into a narrow, shrub-lined street, we drove into the driveway of our holiday home – just 200 metres from the water.

Michelle McLaughlin family
Tom, David, Hugh, Michelle and Sophie (Credit: Narrative Post)

The next morning was a hot one. Tom and I went out to the front, and watched boys playing cricket on the street lined with parked cars.

Kids zipped up and down in between chasing soccer balls. It was more like a playground than a road!

Heading back inside with Tom to escape the heat, I prepared a late lunch.

My in-laws, Ian and Dawn, arrived and, after eating, the restless kids were keen to go out to the beach with their boards.

An excited Tom, in his bright blue swim shorts and black rashie, was out the front, near where the driveway met the road.

Ian and Dawn were out there with towels and a beach chair, and David and Sophie were walking up the driveway to meet them.

I was still inside, dressing Huey. Suddenly, through the window I saw David and my girl running back with terror on their faces.

‘What happened?’ I shrieked, fearing Ian or Dawn had had a heart attack or collapsed.

Popping Huey in his playpen, I raced out towards the road, with David and Sophie ahead of me. I saw Tom on the ground, lifeless. Badly injured, colour had left his body.

Kneeling down next to him, I knew he was gone.

Utterly in shock, we tried to resuscitate him. Cuddling my boy in the road, I let out a harrowing scream. How could a happy holiday have turned to this in the blink of an eye?

When emergency services arrived, our worst fears were confirmed. At Tom’s funeral, eight days later, I still couldn’t believe he was gone. Paralysed with grief, we attended family counselling to help us through.

An inquest found Tom had died ‘from head injuries after being struck by a car after he ran out on the road.’

The driver was travelling at 53km/h but, due to the cars and shrubs, there was no way they could’ve seen Tom until he took his two steps into the road.

They were too close to stop.

Replaying the scene over in my mind, my careful Tom wouldn’t have been able to see the car either.

It only took a split second, I thought. It was a tragic accident.

One day in March, I was going through Tom’s boxes and saw his funny blue dinosaur in his notebooks.

I was finding his dinosaurs everywhere – on paper under his bed, and even inside magazines around the house. His spirit was shining through.

And I knew he had a message to share with other children.

No other mother should go through what I did on that road, I thought.

So in November 2014, I launched the Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation to honour Tom’s memory and teach kids about road safety – especially at holiday time and in new places.

Michelle McLaughlin
Michelle with Little Blue Dinosaur signage (Credit: Narrative Post)

‘Even at 10 years old, you need to hold your parent’s hand,’ I told kids on school visits.

Our Holiday Time campaign with the slogan Slow down, kids around is now everywhere except the NT, ACT and Tas, and I hope it’ll go nationwide.

Our online resource, Out and about with Sophie and Tom developed by Transport for NSW, and other educational bodies, lets kids explore different environments and learn about hazards. 

This new year will mark 10 years since Tom left us. He’d be 14. Every time I see the lorikeets chatting, it reminds me of him.

Our work is never done, but it’s really Tom doing all the work. I’m just the vessel.

Always a helper, he’s saving lives from above.

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