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‘I will never be able to celebrate Christmas without Rhys and his girls here’

Samantha Cousin can't face putting up a tree since losing her son, Rhys, and his young family in a car crash on the A82 near Fort William in 2020.

Samantha Cousin at the grave of Rhys, Gemma, Peyton and Heidi in Inverness.
Samantha Cousin who lost her family in a car accident and says she is unable to feel anything since their loss. and can't put up a Christmas tree since. She is pictured at the grave in Kilvean Cemetary in Inverness. Image: Jason Hedges/ DC Thomson.

On February, 20, 2020 – just days before the Covid-19 pandemic locked down Scotland – two police officers knocked on Samantha Cousin’s door in Orkney.

The officers broke the devastating news that her 25-year-old son Rhys, his wife Gemma, 26, and their two children – three-year-old Peyton and 14-month-old Heidi – had been killed in a road crash near Fort William.

The grandmother’s world “fell apart” on her doorstep and she has spent the last three years picking up the pieces of that horrendous night.

While she tries to regain glimpses of a ‘normal’ life, Christmas remains a time that will never be the same – and she cannot see herself putting up a tree in her house ever again.

As the nation tucks into Christmas dinner this year, the empty chairs around her table will bring confusion and tears all over again for the 50-year-old.

She told The Press and Journal: “I tell myself every day that I need to hold it together for the next 20 years or so, and then I can join Rhys and the girls.

Rhys, Gemma, Peyton and Heidi Cousin.
Rhys Cousin, his wife Gemma and their daughters Peyton and Heidi died in a car crash. Image: Police Scotland.

“Every day is a living nightmare of missing them. At Christmas, it is even harder because they are not at family celebrations and I don’t know how to live without them all.

“It makes it hard to attend anything, or even put up a Christmas tree.

“There just seems to be no point in putting up a tree, or any decorations.

“Without Rhys and the girls, it is like there is always something missing. I just do not feel joy.”

‘I just want to see them one last time’

Samantha’s young family were travelling home from Fort William when they were caught in a hail storm.

They lost control of their green Mini in the confusion of the conditions, hitting another car.

All four were pronounced dead at the scene.

A few hours later, Samantha had police officers at her home in Orkney giving her the “very worst news”.

“I could not take in the news then, and I struggle to take it in now. I suffer from PTSD from their deaths and then Covid happened,” she said.

“I remember when it first happened that I could not take it in at all. The poor police officers offered to stay with me that very first night.

“But I was not able to understand the magnitude of what had happened and I just wanted them to leave so I could process it. I am still trying to process it.

“I just want to see them one last time, have one last conversation.

Samantha Cousin at her family grave in Inverness.
Samantha Cousin struggles to come to terms with the loss of her family. Image: Jason Hedges/ DC Thomson.

“Life is very empty without them here. The impact of that night has never gone away.

“Without them in my life, I can barely get out of bed some days.”

Samantha, who is originally from Inverness, says that the impact of road deaths is long-lasting – and she fears she will never recover from her grief.

“When all the media attention dies down, and the funeral is over – I assume people think that things go back to normal,” she said.

“But they don’t.

“I was at a wedding recently and it is as though you are always seeing ghosts of Rhys and his family where they should be at the table.

“Heidi was born just before Christmas, so her first – and only – real Christmas was shortly before she died. She was only 14 months old.

“I imagine how she would be now. I imagine her growing up, taking part in things like nativity plays.

“Peyton was already becoming her own personality when she died, Heidi never had that chance. She was just a baby.”

Samantha Cousin in a green cardigan and daughter Vikki Swenson who will being takin gon the skyedive. Image: Samantha Cousin.
Samantha and her daughter Vikki Swenson took on a skydive for the Break road safety charity. Image: Samantha Cousin.

Samantha said it is vitally important that people drive carefully on Highland roads such as the A9 or the A82, so that no other family has to face the same pain.

She has spent the last three years throwing herself into campaigning for a safer A82 and fundraising for road safety charities.

She said: “What people don’t realise is that a road death can be completely avoidable. People should not drive in bad weather, they should stay home and stay safe.

“I’ve gone over and over in my head about the things that I should have done to prevent it.

“While I know it is not entirely reasonable, I blame myself. I want to have said or done something that would have stopped this catastrophic event from happening.”

‘I look for signs from Rhys and the girls’

Samantha has even turned to a medium to try and make contact with them.

She said: “I went to see Paula O’Brien, and I heard from Gemma and Rhys and the girls – it was nice to know they are there.

“I know for many people they will think it is a lot of nonsense and not real but it gives me a kind of peace that I do not get any other time.

“If there isn’t another side, then what hope can I have that I will ever see them again? That is unbearable.

“I really want Rhys to continue to cause havoc in the next life, whether that is in heaven, in the sky, beyond the clouds, wherever.”

This Christmas, Samantha is going to be in Ireland where she will spend the day with her daughter Tasha, her husband, and their kids.

“I will be trying to live in the moment,” she said.

“But I also hope for some signs from Rhys and the girls.”