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 5 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 six 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 four 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 nine 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 we will be rewarded with a huge sense of pride and self esteem which transcends our whole life. I now have a feeling of invincibility, if I can run 10k then I can cope with anything life throws at me.
Kit and I after finishing a run
Having a near death experience has made me push myself to the limits both emotionally and physically. I want to urge everyone, whether you have been through something challenging or not, to push yourselves out of your comfort zone as the rewards are enormous.
Please visit my website at www.victoriamilligan.co.uk for more inspiration and advice on how to cope with grief.
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