This is by far one of my favourite quotes that has really resonated with me since the start of 2021 when I experienced a different kind of grief to any other type that I’d dealt with before.
The truth is, we all experience grief throughout different points of our lives, we’re always going to lose something: loved ones, friends, family, jobs, relationships or when we make bad choices.

What does that feel like? Emptiness, feeling numb, feeling overly emotional with an inability to compose clear thoughts. A sense of underachievement or disappointment, or perhaps a lack of empathy for others. On the flip side of the coin, sometimes it’s smiling, laughing and sharing stories with others about all the good memories we have to cherish. Maybe it’s only remembering the bad ones, so the good memories don’t hurt as much. It’s pretending we’re ok, when deep down we’re actually not.

A grief that’s explainable, for me, is a much simpler type of grief to process in my mind. We lose a loved one to old age but it’s understandable because we’re all going to inevitably die of old age at some point, none of us get out of here alive anyway. We then celebrate the memories of that person and talk about the life that they lived and that’s just it isn’t it? They lived. They’re the types we reflect on at special occasions or at Christmas and laugh and say “if such and such were still here, they’d have done this.”

Unjustifiable grief is like when we lose a loved one to an illness, often the case far too young and although we know the cause and level of suffering, we still feel cheated that a life could be stripped away ahead of its time so soon. That’s the kind of grief that leaves you with a thousand questions in your mind. “Why them? Why do bad things always happen to good people?”

It leaves a pain that doesn’t go away, it makes you wonder what you did so badly in another life to be experiencing this kind of pain, knowing someone had the rest of their lives ahead of them, but an illness stripped them of that opportunity. I know I process that by blaming the cause and also because I have an understanding of what the cause was, I’m still able to fill in the blanks and place the blame on the scientific facts.

The type of grief that nearly killed me and that many others will have also experienced is the unexplainable kind; or the “if only” kind. People will feel this if they’ve lost loved ones to accidents, horrific doings of other people, unexpected all of a sudden death, and in my case suicide.

“If only we hadn’t gone to that place that night, we wouldn’t have been on that particular piece of road at that particular time and this wouldn’t have happened.”
“If only I’d have noticed something was wrong.”
“If only I’d have gone upstairs 10 minutes earlier.”
“If only we’d have got things checked out sooner.”

These are all things we might have said or heard other people say when around this type of grief. It’s the living with knowing that something was potentially preventable.

So, what do we do when we feel accountable? In my case, it was like a call to action. A desire and a need to prevent something from happening to others that we feel we should have stopped from happening to those we lost. I’ve come to realise this is a common trait for those experiencing the same type of grief, having met many others who have all felt that same need to jump into action. It’s the answers we’re all looking for at the end of the day, everything is always easier to process when we understand the why.

I have three young children, all of whom have the rest of their lives ahead of them. They’re certainly not alone having one parent or a co-parenting family, there are lots of other children who experience the same thing and one thing I’ve been adamant in instilling into them is that only having a ‘mum’ is not going to affect them living, conquering, achieving and having a fulfilling life.

My pet hate is a victim mindset and I believe that only us as people allow ourselves to slip into this. This is a mindset I don’t ever want my children to think is a rational kind of thinking and that kind of negativity does nothing but hold you back in the long term. Children don’t see things the way we do, they want to feel secure, happy and a sense of belonging, a sense of being loved in a healthy environment and you can create that sense of family unit even if the unit isn’t direct family itself.

I encourage my children to talk about their Dad and to share stories of him so they are never afraid of bottling up their own grief. It’s important that kids always know it’s safe to talk openly and to never be judged on that despite how hard it might be for us to hear. Let them laugh at funny old stories, let them cry when they feel sad and let them write a letter or a card to heaven and send it in a paper airplane form if they need to at that moment in time. If they go through a period of being angry too, that’s ok.

I was so busy wanting to instil this into my kids and to make sure that the wheels kept turning on everything else around me that I made it my mission to try and turn something so negative into something positive. I’m naturally a very positive person and a people pleaser, so I will always go out of my way to try and keep everyone happy, even if it means me not being that happy myself.

I became driven by success, by needing to feel a sense of achievement or like the work that was being done was making a difference to other people in a positive way. I was juggling so many different hats, I’d completely lost track of what hat I was meant to be wearing at that moment in time and was on a sure-fire way to burnout. The commitments, the responsibilities, the financial obligations were spiralling, but I needed to feel like I could achieve it all as well as raise three kids on my own.

The reality was I needed to do all of these things to deal with my grief. Deep down I felt like a failure. It’s like I’d watched someone drown at the side of me and had this constant voice in my head saying “Why the fuck didn’t you jump in the pool and pull them out”. The wheels I was trying to keep turning were the wheels of the way it had always been, I was trying to make things feel ‘normal’ despite everything being completely different. And that was just it… things were different now.

The one thing that comes with tragedy and grief is a lot of judgment from everybody and strong opinions from people who have never walked a mile in your shoes. Especially in the horse world and unless you’re in this world it’s hard to comprehend just what a pack of gossiping vultures people can be. I felt like everyone who knew of my situation was interested in my life, watching it like a soap opera and commenting on my every move, so much so, that I wanted to tune in myself to find out what I was going to do next.

It’s almost like they want you to make mistakes because you’ve made a decision that the person who isn’t here anymore wouldn’t have made if they were, but what would have worked for them won’t necessarily work for you.

You can’t live in the past, you have to take control of the now and only you can create your future. The more successful things become and the more people see you taking control and ploughing on, the more opinions they had.

Despite what other people say or thought they knew, the truth is there are only a handful of people around me who are my closest friends that really know me and the real me. The version everyone else gets is dependent on the way I’m treated and I think this should always be the way in life.

Am I coping?
Yes, absolutely, I am. I actually feel very in control of my life and that I’m doing a good job with my children. My own company is actually preferred as I’m pretty independent and like my own space.

Are there trigger points to my grief? I find that it’s usually at a significant moment, little waves of it ripple through me. Like when the kids lose a tooth and I do the tooth fairy bit alone or they achieve something at school or in sport. At Christmas when everyone shares family pictures in the matching pyjama sets, I have my moments and take myself to bed early but tomorrow for me is always another day. I’m not brushing it under the carpet either, I’ve just learnt to cope with the waves of emotion by developing my own little coping mechanisms and understanding that it’s all completely normal and ok to feel that way.

Have I had any other relationships? I tried with a guy I’ve known all my life, who was a good guy, but I just wasn’t there yet and neither were my kids. Do I look at guys and think, he’s hot and show an interest, yes absolutely of course I do. That’s not being disloyal to my late husband, it’s the fact that when you lose somebody at 33 years old, you can’t expect yourself to live in a house with 23 cats for the rest of your life.

Moving on doesn’t mean you’re replacing or forgetting that person, it just means you’re starting a new chapter in your story. I find I have very low tolerance to first world problems or over dramatic situations and find myself thinking “get yourself a real problem”, because I’ve seen and experienced some pretty horrific things. But I have to have a quiet word with myself and make myself understand that just because I don’t consider it a problem, the other person does. Empathy then slowly starts to come back.

One thing I’m absolutely certain of; the more I’ve learned and my advice for anyone else having to deal with any kind of grief is the following:

  • It’s fine to not have all the answers right now and to figure things out as you go along. I live my life working it out as I go, constantly learning, growing, evolving.
  • It’s ok to feel ok and live a normal life and not feel any pain for days, weeks, months or years.
  • It’s ok to not be ok some days and have a wobble and feel different emotions that can come on at any point during those days, months or years.
  • Surround yourself with true people, those who really know you and who will laugh, love and cry with you. Those that when they see you drowning, will throw in that inflatable unicorn and know that you would do the same for them.
  • It’s ok to make mistakes.
  • It’s ok to talk and share feelings and stories with others.
  • It’s ok to make time for yourself and enjoy the things that we want to do. Christ, we’ve done some crazy things these last few years, some questionable in fact. But none regrettable. Life’s too short for regrets.

I lost a close friend recently who’s my age to cancer, she fought like a warrior throughout, but she said something that really resonated with me and that I will never forget.

“Don’t let it take something like being told you’re dying before you actually start living. Life’s short, make it amazing.”

Victoria x

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