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Shepparton family still feels loss 20 years on

The family of Maree Innocenti is still dealing with the grief of her death in a car crash 20 years ago.

CHLOE WARBURTON August 20, 2014 3:53am

Chris, Ross, Pauline and Mark Innocenti want to remember their sister and daughter Maree, who died in a car crash 20 years ago today.


Two decades on, the Innocenti family still feels people’s reactions about their daughter and sister Maree, who was killed in a car crash.

‘‘Even now when her name is mentioned, people don’t know what to say,’’ mother Pauline Innocenti said.

Maree Innocenti was 23 when the car she was in hit a tree near Tallarook on August 20, 1994.

She was travelling to Melbourne with her boyfriend, who was driving, and Maree was flown to hospital in Melbourne.

Her boyfriend survived the crash, but Maree died soon after it.

Pauline received a call from the mother of Maree’s boyfriend and called Seymour police, who confirmed Maree had been airlifted.

‘‘We drove down there and went to see the doctor and he said, ‘We lost her’. I remember thinking, ‘I know she’s small, but she’s not small enough to lose’ and then I realised what he meant,’’ Pauline said.

‘‘We wanted to see her, but it was like ‘dead man walking’ at that hospital. It was the longest walk down that hallway ... Maree was there in the room behind a glass partition, on a gurney. There was a security guard outside the door. Then when we left, the nurse just said, ‘Goodbye’.’’

Years later, the Innocenti family — brothers Ross and Mark, who were 21 and 16 when she died, and younger sister Chris — is still living with the loss of Maree.

‘‘Family and friends are the ones that have had to deal with us — it’s hard for them too,’’ Ross said.

Life has moved on around them in a lot of ways and Pauline said many people avoided the family for a long time after Maree’s death.

‘‘People would cross the road to avoid you. I remember chasing a lady around a supermarket because she’d seen me and turned the other way and I wanted to make her say ‘hello’ to me,’’ she said.

‘‘They say things like, ‘It’s God’s will’, or, ‘Karma’.’’

Mark said going back to school after his sister’s death was difficult.

‘‘I was only 16 — my friends were a bit stand-offish,’’ he said.

‘‘But once you start acting like you used to, they were okay. Sometimes people would say, ‘You’re lucky she’s not a vegetable’.

‘‘You think it won’t happen to your family, then when it does happen you realise you’re not indestructible. Road trauma doesn’t discriminate.

‘‘You don’t realise how alone you are until after the funeral. Everyone goes on with their lives. It’s like, how does the world go on now? Everything moves around you.

‘‘But people have an amazing ability to cope. I only knew her for 16 years, but she had a huge impact on me.’’

The family no longer eats roasts on a Friday — it was the last meal they shared with Maree, for Mark’s 16th birthday.

The Christmas tree has not gone up for almost two decades — it was always Maree’s job to decorate at Christmas time. Birthdays and weddings are difficult. Maree’s father never went to the weddings of his nieces.

He died five years ago at 60.

‘‘Maree was our big sister — she did everything for us,’’ Mark said.

‘‘You wonder what she’d be like, what kind of person she would be, and what family she would have.’’

‘‘It’s a constant reminder. You see kids down the street with their mum and you think, ‘That could’ve been her’,’’ Ross said.

Maree had moved to Melbourne and was excited because she had found a unit.

Her clothes were packed at her home in Shepparton and when she died, family members had to go through and unpack them so they could find an outfit for her funeral.

‘‘She would’ve loved her funeral though — police had to stop traffic for it,’’ Pauline said.

Maree was well known for her humour and good nature, and for working at Lovell’s Newsagency — she even starred in one of its television commercials.

Her family still has a copy of the commercial, along with the blooper reel that came with it.

Pauline said Maree’s dramatic ways had stuck with her.

‘‘She wore iridescent socks. She would staple the hem of her pants. She was Maree. She was the biggest sook in town, she was good at crying and slamming doors,’’ Pauline said.

‘‘She was the ringleader. She was good fun, she was well known. Chris never really knew her, Ross has got kids, they ask what kind of person she was.’’

‘‘We talk about her often. Not in a way that you feel crappy and cry, but you laugh about her. We want people to remember her too,’’ Mark said.

‘‘The world’s biggest problem she could solve, but when it came to the little problems, she’d get upset.’’

Today, the family will remember Maree 20 years after her death and hope people who knew Maree will take time to remember her as well.

Most importantly, the family hopes sharing its story will give an insight into grief and help others understand how to treat someone who has lost a loved one.

‘‘We don’t want sympathy, we don’t want pity,’’ Pauline said.

‘‘We want people to know, even 20 years down the track, it’s still the same. You have the nights when you go to bed and it’s all you can think about.

‘‘We’re in a club we don’t want to be in, we can’t get out and we don’t want any new members.

‘‘She was my daughter, I should’ve been able to look after her.

‘‘You become hard — the worst possible thing has already happened.’’


Editorial, page 10

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