Elise and Mathilde Jurgensen

Died in a car crash: 30 April 1980

My memories of them are what is left. Of course they were my children, and though ordinary to the casual observer, they were mine, and the loss remains unparalleled. There has been some improvement in France, for which I am grateful but my two older daughters, Mathilde and Elise, will be forever missed.
Genevieve Jurgensen, mother of the victims

On 30 April 1980, my husband Laurent and I lost our two daughters, Mathilde and Elise, aged seven and four. They were on the way to their grandmother’s house when a drunk driver hit the car they were riding in. The young girls were thrown from the automobile and killed. They died about 10 metres from each other, on the side of the Autoroute du Nord.

Earlier that day, I had picked up my daughters from school. We stopped at the supermarket to buy two cheap waxed coats, one red, the other blue, and I dropped them off at my mother's place. I went home, because I was a speech therapist at the time, and I had patients waiting. My sister-in-law picked them up to bring them to their paternal grandmother's house. They never arrived. My brother-in-law called to tell us that there was a serious car accident, and our two little girls were dead. Our lives changed instantly and irrevocably.

For a long time, I couldn’t talk about my feelings, or the girls, even with my husband. Friends said I should write about it; I rebelled against the idea at first. I felt that to write was to give life some sort of form in order to suffer less. Suffering was the only way in which I could love my children. Still, I tried to write about it, in some form or another, for eight years. I ended up writing a series of letters to a distant friend. After two years, I felt I had finished. I could move on with my life, to the life I lead now. The letters have been published in a book, The Disappearance. And we now have two more children who will never know their sisters.

My memories of them (Mathilde and Elise), as I described in my book, are what is left, not what was. Of course they were my children, and though ordinary to the casual observer, they were mine, and the loss remains unparalleled. They remain a presence in our lives. My inability to speak of them has gradually worn away. We had to speak of them, to respond to the innocent queries of our two younger children who wanted to know about their "older" siblings.

My living children actively participate in the work I started before they were born, as a campaigner for road safety awareness in France. In my book, I chose not to elaborate on my long and ongoing campaign for road safety in France. Nor do I document the trial of the speeding driver who caused the accident (he paid a 1200 franc fine, and drove away from the courthouse). There has been some improvement in France, for which I am grateful but my two older daughters, Mathilde and Elise, will be forever missed.

Genevieve Jurgensen, mother of the victims

Among all road traffic crashes, 26% involve children and adolescents. Measures that address speed and alcohol use among all road users would save many of these children's lives.

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Elise and Mathilde Jurgensen
Mathilde (left) and Elise Jurgensen