Last weekend was the 4th anniversary of the accident.  I would like to say that it gets easier every year but the build up of anxiety before the date and the feeling of loss and sadness still feels as intense as ever.  In some ways it feels like the accident was yesterday and we were with Nicko and Emily last week as I can remember them so clearly, sometimes I feel I can almost reach and touch them and hear them calling me, yet in other ways, after everything we have been through these past 4 years, it feels like a lifetime ago.  Which of course is what it was, a different life.  Myself and the children have had to rebuild our life without two precious people in it.  I heard a great analogy for grief this week, or was it a metaphor, either way it struck a chord with me.  You will need props for this one, so get a small ball, any ball, and two containers, one in which the ball fits pretty snuggly and the second which is much larger.  Now put the ball into the first small container, you will see that it takes up most of the space.  The ball represents your grief and the container is your life, you can see that at the beginning your life is pretty much all consumed by your grief but as time goes on and your life expands (now move the ball over to the second container) your grief remains the same size but will feel less all consuming as your life has grown around it.  This clearly illustrates what we all know, that grief never goes away, we will always miss those we have lost but our life can’t help to expand and grow as we meet more people, move jobs, take up new hobbies, move house, whatever it is, helps us to expand our world so even though the grief never goes away if becomes more manageable and less painful.

That analogy of course is completely irrelevant when it comes to coping with difficult days in the year when our grief is at the forefront of our minds and it once again becomes all consuming.  For me these days in order of difficulty are:  Emily’s birthday (the loss of seeing who she would become is intense and every year I can see her friends turning 10, 11, 12 etc but she only ever reached 8), Nicko’s birthday, the anniversary of the accident, mother’s day (I still have her card from the year she died telling me how much she loved me), father’s day (hideous for all the children), Christmas day, any of the children’s birthdays as Daddy is not there to see them turn one year older, our wedding anniversary, my birthday …..each of these days magnifies the loss of what was or what could have been and the yearning for them is very intense.  As you can see there are quite a few days in the year when we need to think a little bit about how to get through these days without totally relying on a bottle of vodka.

My first action and piece of advice is to plan what you are going to do on these days.  I have learnt that there is nothing worse than waking up with the whole hideous day stretching out in front of me and not knowing what to do or where to start.  The plans need not be rigid, but there should be one or two ideas in place to give a focus to your day.  It could be visiting a favourite place of those you have lost or doing an activity that they enjoyed – last weekend the children and I all went to Thorpe Park as Nicko and Emily loved rollercoasters and it was a fun, uplifting, positive and distracting day where we all talked about them, cried for them but most importantly remembered them.  That leads me onto my second piece of advice, never feel guilty about having a good time, that is not what they would have wanted for you and never feel bad about having a little me time or pamper time, looking after ourselves is very important to grieving and healing.

It is important to be patient and compassionate with yourself, admit this will be a difficult day so prepare for that, perhaps take a day off work or ask some friends to be with you or to help out.  You will feel distracted and tired and not your usual capable self and this is totally fine.  If you are supporting someone on a difficult day, take their lead on what they want you there for, is it to listen or someone they can just be with and be silent with?  People get so worried about saying the wrong thing but you are not going to make them feel any worse than how they are feeling anyway and often the grieving person needs someone to listen to them, someone to sit with them and let them cry or reminisce, you don’t need to say very much at all, just being there is often enough.

On these days you can feel very isolated, you see everyone else having a lovely special day with their loved ones and that can exaggerate your pain.  This is totally normal and seems very unfair, you may feel angry for the situation, angry at your loved one, or perhaps you feel envy when you see others celebrating a special day.  Whatever you are feeling let yourself feel it and preferably talk to friends or family about it, especially those who understand your situation, you don’t need to spend the day alone or put a brave face on it, try not to keep your emotions bottled up.  Don’t minimise the loss, you don’t need to be strong on this day, you are allowed to grieve so give yourself permission.

It helps me to write them a letter on their birthdays and I write a note to Emily on mother’s day and keep it with my notes from her.  Writing is a great way to release emotions – from grief and pain to guilt and anger – pour your feelings out on the paper, you feel so much better.  Write about your feelings and memories of your loved one.  Death doesn’t need to be the end of the relationship, just the ability to talk in the physical presence.  I often have a conversation with Nicko or talk to him when I want his opinion on something, I knew him so well that I know what he would say. When you are finished writing read it out loud to yourself, this can be very comforting.

Honor Your Mum’s or your Child’s memory and create new rituals.  Light a candle in a church, visit their grave, plant a living memorial in the form of a tree or a bush – do something that they enjoyed doing.  We always go for a walk to get a mint choc chip ice cream as that was Emily’s favourite or we make her favourite chocolate cake on her birthday and we always eat a lot of Cadbury’s on Nicko’s birthday!

I hope this helps you cope with your painful days and I’d love to hear from you about what your new rituals are and your ways of remembering.  We are all in this together, you are not on your own.

Victoria x

I was asked at the beginning of this year to be one of the speakers at the Tedx Conference in Truro on 9th September.  Having loved Ted talks for about 12 months now, I immediately said yes and being in Cornwall, the conference felt very relevant to me.  For those of you who don’t know about Ted talks yet, you are in for a treat.  The initials stand for Technology, Education and Design and when the talks first started this what they were about, now however, they can be on a wide range of subjects .  There are so many available on line You Tube or I often download a podcast to hear whilst I am walking the dogs or driving my girls back to school.  They are incredibly varied, educational, inspirational, thought provoking or just down right funny.

 

The main Ted body is in California and they organize regular Ted events.  There are also a growing number of Tedx conferences that take place around the world.  Anyone can organize one, but first you need to apply for a licence from Ted themselves.  Mandy and James Reynolds decided to organize their own Tedx conference and what a brilliant job they did.  It was incredibly professionally run, from our initial meeting to our numerous rehearsals to the event itself.

 

There were 8 speakers in total and then 3 actual Ted talks shown on a screen in the theatre at Truro school.  There were such interesting people talking and a real variety, from a fascinating free diving champion talking us through an actual free dive (the current record by the way is 11 minutes and 56 seconds, can you imagine holding your breathe for that long?) to another lady asking us the question whether life is harder for short men and overweight women to a lovely French man who had got divorced and had written his daughter a book telling her how much he loved her and explaining that the separation was nothing to do with her.  One of the recorded Ted talks played at the conference was by a guy called Tim Urban, a hilarious blogger, whose talk is entitled Behind the Mind of a Master Procastinator.  I am sure that we can all relate to the ‘distraction monkey’ that he talks about in his talk, even though we know we have a deadline we are still distracted by ANYTHING but the actual task we should be doing.

 

Ted talks give a little insight into the lives and experiences of a huge variety of people and I feel it is a privilege for them to share their thoughts and experiences with the rest of us.  We continue learning through our whole lives and these talks not only teach us something new but may give us a new perspective on something we didn’t know.

 

Before we wrote our talks, Mandy gave us a all a ‘How to Write a Ted talk’ book.  How hard can it be you may ask to write a talk?  When President Nixon was asked how long it takes to write a speech, he said something along the lines of  if I can talk for as long as I want then it will take me a day, if I have a time limit then it will take me a week.  I can totally relate to this as I have given plenty of speeches over the past three years for the charities, which I support and motivational speeches, but I haven’t had a time limit before.  A TED talk has to be 18 minutes maximum and if it goes over then it will be edited down to 18 minutes.  I don’t have a problem talking but my problem is not waffling on for too long on one particular point, in my TED talk I was very conscious of covering all the salient points I wanted to make and not miss anything out.  For this reason I had to learn the talk pretty much off by heart so as not to forget anything.  I soon realized that the problem with learning it off by heart was that it sounded slightly stilted so instead I learnt headlines for each paragraph and then talked about that headline rather than word for word.  This for me made the speech more personal and less stilted.

 

I flew down to Cornwall the day before the talk for the rehearsal at the school.  Thank goodness I did as we had to stand on a red carpet circle with the brightest lights shining on us, I felt like I was about to be interrogated by the Gestapo!  I couldn’t see anybody in the audience, which I hated as I love to have eye contact with people and feel the audience’s energy.  The rehearsal was terrible, really bad, I forgot what I was going to say a couple of times, the mike wasn’t working properly and I didn’t get in all the points I wanted to.  I went back to the hotel straight after and practiced and practiced again and again in front of the mirror until I had it word perfect.

 

Needless to say I didn’t sleep brilliantly, the talk going round and round in my head.  I arrived at the school for the morning talks and the atmosphere was amazing.  Being in Cornwall all the speakers were local, as were the attendees.  After a quick interview with BBC Cornwall I went in to the auditorium.  Anyone who has had to wait to do a speech with understand that there is nothing worse than the waiting.  I was worried about sitting through 4 other talks before it was my turn but they were so interesting and engaging that the time flew by but I was still incredibly nervous when it came to my turn, sure that I would just stand up there and forget what I was meant to be saying.  Watching the talk back, I can tell by my voice how nervous I was but I then seemed to relax into it and find my stride, even remembering the little jokes I liked to throw in to lighten the mood, god knows my story needs a little lightening!  It is a such a passion of mine to remind everyone how precious Time is and not to take things for granted in life.  We are all so conscious of trying to accumulate more, a better job, bigger house, more things that we forget to stop, look around and appreciate what we have.  I feel my role in life now is to remind people how lucky they are right now, not in the future when they have everything they think they ‘need’, but right now as the now is all we have.

I just had to share this with you…it is the most dreary Sunday afternoon, it has literally not stopped raining all day.  It is the kind of afternoon I just want to sit in front of a movie with Kit and snack on rubbish food, mostly because of boredom, so I was trying to think of something healthy to eat and Kit asked for some of that revolting microwave Butterkist popcorn that makes your kitchen smell of it for days afterwards.  Anyway I thought I would try to make some ‘healthy’ popcorn without him realising and I have to say it was delicious!  Instead of unhealthy caramel made from butter and sugar I melted some coconut oil and coconut syrup together and then coated the popped corn into it, sprinkled it with a little sea salt and he loved it, apparently not as much as Butterkist, but that is ok with me considering it probably has about a tenth of the sugar and fat and it is not made with processed white sugar and saturated fat.

popcorn pic

Method

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil (I used non virgin olive oil) in the largest pot you have, I used the massive one I use for making chicken stock, it is more fun if it has a glass lid as you and your kids can see the popping!  Let it heat up for a few minutes on a medium heat, then add about 100g of corn, swirl it around in the oil then put the lid on, shaking the pan occasionally.  Leave the heat on medium and then hopefully you will start to hear some popping in about 30 seconds, lasting for a few minutes.  You don’t want the heat too high as you don’t want the corn to burn but it is a balance between not burning and having enough heat for the corn to pop.  When it has stopped popping, shake the pan and take off the heat, DO NOT TAKE THE LID OFF YET, I remember a girl at school doing this and a piece of corn popping near to her eye and she was rushed to A and E. After a minute or so take the lid off and let the pop corn cool a little and crisp up, the lid keeps the steam inside and the pop corn can get a little soggy.  Then empty the popped corn into a large bowl and heat up a tablespoon of coconut oil and coconut syrup in the same large pan until it is beginning to look like caramel, just a few minutes, add the corn back in and stir it round to coat, tip it onto a large baking tray to crisp up and sprinkle with a little sea salt.  Pile into bowls and enjoy without feeling guilty!

Happy NewYear!

Today is New Years’ Eve, what will you be doing tonight? Going to some glamorous black tie party, welcoming the new year in in style? Or doing something more low key with close friends and family? New Years Eve is one of those events that I still try to imagine what I would be doing if Nicko was still here, and even though we never did anything particularly special on New Year, it would be a night full of love, laughter and hope for the new year. Every new year since has been a combination of false happiness and laughter, friends trying hard to make it a fun evening but me just really wanting to stick my head in the sand and pretend I am not starting another new year without Nicko and Emily. 99% of me wants to stay in tonight, take a sleeping pill at 10pm, go to bed and wake up on 1st January 2017 like it is just any other day. However, this just feels too sad and also not fair on the children who are at that age now when they want to be involved in the celebrations, not be left home watching a movie they have seen hundreds of times already and maybe have a glass of champagne. Tonight we are going to spend the evening with close friends, have a family dinner, drinks and play some silly games. It will be a lovely evening, spent with close friends who also feel the loss of Nicko and Emily deeply.

One tradition that Nicko and I had on new years eve was writing a quiz, ‘It happened in…’ As we all know we have had many well known faces taken away from us this year and as fans this has been very sad. I feel as though I have lost people who I grew up with and who helped to shape my formative years of musical and comic taste, from Bowie and Prince to Terry Wogan (who will forever remind me of my Dad as he laughed so much though his chat show), and the great Victoria Wood. Yes 2016 has been a year of great loss that we all feel keenly, but we are just fans and we must spare a thought for their loved ones, they all had husbands, wives, daughters, sons and friends, to them their loss will feel like a huge gaping hole has emerged in 2016, one which time will help to fill but one which will be there forever.

My own personal celebrities, my beautiful husband and daughter, died in 2013 and this will be my 4th new years eve without them. It will always be an evening tinged with sadness as they are not here to welcome in the new year with us, with all its expectations and hope, we feel very much on our own on this day and as the new year begins. Our final new year together was that of 2012, we were in Buccament Bay in St Vincent (the picture below was taken then, Emily wearing Olivia’s Hollister top which she was thrilled she could fit into finally) and we had a magical 1920s style evening together. I treasure the memory of that night as one of my most precious, Emily said that we were treated like royalty and I have never seen Nicko so happy and relaxed.

A new year promises new hope, a new you and new resolutions. I don’t seem to have the time or energy for resolutions, paddling frantically as I am to keep my head above the water trying to manage a household, work, three kids and five pets….but on paper 2017 is an exciting year for us. We are renovating a new home and moving in at the end of the summer, Amber is doing her GCSE’s and I am hoping to take on some exciting TV and writing projects. I can’t quite feel that excitement yet but as always, life is step by small step, I can’t plan too far in advance as it just seems too scary, so lets just enjoy tonight…..whatever your plans are for New Year’s Eve, I hope it is a happy one and that you welcome in the new year in style.

Victoria x

nicko-and-em-carribean

Banana and choc muffins

So I was making a banana and chocolate chip loaf for Kit today and the smell was so divine that I thought how can I make a healthier version? The smell of baking banana bread is the best baking smell in the world, well I think so anyway. I can only describe it as a ‘fug’ that envelops you as soon as you walk into the room and you just can’t wait for that damn thing to come out of the oven! Don’t get me wrong I am not averse to eating the white flour and sugar version but as I was a little hungover today I felt the need to make something a little more nourishing, so I came up with these babies, and they are divine. So if you have a bowl of black spotted bananas (which I always make sure I do, any excuse to make banana bread), then maybe make the healthy and slightly more unhealthy versions below.

 

Banana and chocolate chip loaf/muffins – sometimes I make a loaf, sometimes muffins, I live such a crazy life…

Ingredients

4 small really ripe bananas, mashed

170g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon salt

120g melted butter

120g sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g dark chocolate cut into chunks

 

Method

Preheat over to 170 degrees C. Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl, flour, bicarb, baking powder, salt. Beat together the melted butter with the sugar, then the eggs and the vanilla extract. Add the mashed bananas, then add the dry ingredients and mix again, trying not to over mix. Stir in the chocolate chips then scrape into a lined loaf tin or muffin cases. Cook the loaf for about 50 mins and the muffins for 20 minutes, depending on their size

 

Gluten and sugar free banana and coconut muffins

Ingredients

4 small really ripe bananas, mashed

150g ground almonds

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon salt

80g melted coconut butter

80g maple syrup or honey or a mix of the two

50g chopped walnuts

30g sunflower seeds

50g dessicated coconut

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g dark chocolate cut into chunks

 

Follow instructions above for the loaf but bake for c. 15-20 mins depending on size.

 

Life After Tragedy

 

Mine is the story of a perfect life destroyed in a split second. It is one that clearly illustrates that none of us knows what is around the corner and that we must all live for now and appreciate what we have life.

 

The morning of the 5th May 2013 started like any other morning. My husband, our four children and I were staying in our holiday home in North Cornwall for the bank holiday weekend and what a weekend it promised to be, the weather was glorious. After a morning of walking on the beach, sand castle making and splashing in the sea, we decided to go out on our speedboat, a RIB, and had a heavenly afternoon picnicking and driving up and down the stunning Camel estuary. It was the first time that we had been out on the boat all year and everyone was in a good mood, laughing and screaming as we rode the choppy waves. It was only when we were coming back into our mooring that disaster struck. Not wanting the day to end, one of the children shouted the fateful words, “Lets go round again!” It was a combination of an exaggerated turn and the kill cord not being worn which meant that all 6 of us were flung out of the boat into the freezing cold water and the out of control boat sped away from us. I didn’t know where anyone was in the water, all I could hear was my 4 year old son shouting “No more cold water mummy, no more cold water!”. My maternal instinct set in and I swam to him, thinking that I could drag him to the nearest beach and away from danger. The wheel of the boat had been on full lock, which meant that the boat kept circling us at full speed, hitting each of us as it went. I could hear the roar of the boat behind us and as we turned around to see where it was the hull of the boat hit me in the chest and the propellers cut my left leg and Kit’s right one. I lost my left leg below the knee and I thought Kit had too as I saw his little trainer floating on the surface. Over 12 operations later and 9 months wearing a huge metal frame, and his leg has been saved. Incredibly my other two daughters only suffered from minor physical injuries but immeasurable mental ones from the trauma they experienced at such a young age.

 

We were rescued by the RNLI and taken to the nearest trauma hospital in Devon by RAF helicopter. I knew my husband Nicko had been killed as I heard my eldest daughter screaming in the water “Daddy’s dead, Daddy’s dead”, but I didn’t know about little Emily, I just presumed she was in a different helicopter, my brain wouldn’t even contemplate the thought that she had been killed. It was only later, in the hospital that a policeman came to tell me the news, that Emily was dead.

 

The first sensation a bereaved parent feels is one of total numbness, a sense of this not actually happening to you.

But eventually this period of detachment and numbness comes to an end and in its place came the acute pain of grief, deep, searing, gouging pain is the only way I can describe it. It would knife through me, pulling away only to let me recover from the last round before it stuck again. I was terrified of my grief as surely no one could cope with this level of loss. How was I going to carry on living without Nicko and Emily? The fact is that time doesn’t stop. I would look at the clock on the wall in the hospital and couldn’t believe that the seconds were still ticking, how could time possibly be carrying on when my loved ones were dead?

 

There is no secret strategy to cope with grief, no little door to go through to the other side to avoid the pain, you have to face the emotion in order to heal. Working through the pain of grief will enable us to rebuild our trust in life again and give us a chance of a stable and happy future. It is a combination of inner strength, powerful maternal instinct, love from family and friends and support from the charity Child Bereavement UK that I am still here today, almost three years on, surviving. Not only surviving but learning to live again with my new normality. I was determined that my three children would not lose me too, they had lost so much at such a young age, they were not going to lose their mother, I had to find the strength to be both parents to them, to give them a good life, an altered one but still a happy one.

 

I was terrified of my grief in the early days, terrified that I wouldn’t be able to handle it, that I would collapse in a big grief puddle on the floor. I gave myself very small achievable goals, in the early days it would be as simple as getting of bed and getting dressed, a huge achievement in itself. Then the goals became surviving until the end of the day or until Kit’s leg was healed, then I could collapse. But I didn’t collapse, I kept going and I learnt that our bodies have an incredible self preservation mechanism, it gives you just as much pain as you can cope with and then pulls away, letting you recover for the next round.

 

I was determined not to let my loss of limb define who I was so my goals became more physical, proving to myself that I could still live my life to the full despite my disability. I learnt to ski again, play tennis and run on my blade. I now take part in regular 10k runs and my latest challenge is a sprint triathlon in July. I have no idea if I will complete it but I don’t have a fear of failure like I did before the accident. I used to be such a perfectionist, not risking taking on a challenge for fear that I wouldn’t do it well enough. Now I know that I am lucky to be here and that life is for living and for challenging ourselves, for this