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What if it is not such a Happy Christmas?

On 5th May 2013, Victoria Milligan’s whole life changed - from a happily married mother of four, to an amputee, widow and the single parent of her three surviving children.

This time of year is so exciting and busy, with streets and houses adorned with lights, bustling shops full of people buying gifts for loved ones, children excitedly writing Christmas lists for Santa and then there are the endless lunches and dinners with old friends and new. We are all preparing for that special day, Christmas, where the main theme is family. But, what if your family is not what it used to be? What if precious members of our family are no longer with us? As someone who has lost two loved ones, and is about to spend her fourth painful Christmas without them, I know only too well how difficult this time can be.  

I lost my gorgeous husband Nicko and beautiful 8-year-old daughter Emily in a tragic speedboat accident on a family holiday in Cornwall in May 2013. I also lost the lower half of my left leg, but this was so far down my list of losses, it is more of an annoyance. I have been left as a widow, amputee and single parent to Amber, 15, Olivia, 14 and Kit, 8. If you had told me then that I would not only survive this devastating tragedy and still be functioning in December 2016 - I would not have believed you.

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Victoria has learnt how to walk, run and ski on her prosthetic leg 

I was terrified, scared of the pain of grief, mine and my children’s, afraid of being on my own, of learning to walk again and of being a single parent.  However, I also knew that I had no choice, I was lucky to have survived and to be here to look after my children. So much was taken away from me that day, in a split second, my entire future and everyone that I thought would be in it. But, I also took a lot from the accident; I have a new perspective on life and appreciate every small thing that I do.  Time has taken on new meaning as I have lots of it, and Nicko and Emily have none, I owe it to them to make the most of my time. I have learnt the incredible strength of the human survival instinct and the power of positivity in the face of adversity.  As humans we are made to adapt, we just need the right support, we need to call on our inner strength to help us survive anything that life throws at us.

Special days and events are huge grief triggers, and unfortunately, I have many of them, Nicko’s birthday, Emily’s birthday, our wedding anniversary and all of the children’s birthdays. These days are difficult for them because their dad and sister are not there, the same is true at Christmas. It is one of the most difficult times of the year for me. I am constantly bombarded with images on TV of ‘perfect’ families eating a ‘perfect’ Christmas lunch, laughing and smiling together, giving each other presents and spending a joyous day together. Now I know deep down that there is no such thing as ‘perfect’ and this is the media’s version of what Christmas should be, but it still hurts and only reminds me of what I no longer have.

Everyone has their traditions around Christmas and our family was no different. There was the buying of the tree and decorating it and all the memories that go with this - like the time Nicko was trying to tie a beautiful 7ft tree to the roof of our car, whilst a 5-year-old Amber was pulling on his leg screaming, ‘but Daddy, not this one, we need a bigger one!’  Then there was the trying out of the various sets of tree lights only to find that all of them were broken. Our four children took it in turns to put the star on top of the tree and I am so relieved that it was Emily’s turn the year before she died. I will never forget Nicko lifting her up and her proudly placing the star in its rightful place. I used to love buying presents for everyone, but this has now become almost unbearable as every shop is full of grief triggers - my eye being drawn to the sparkly gel pens which Emily would have loved or a perfect cashmere V-neck jumper for Nicko, I have even unwittingly arrived at the cash desk with gifts for them.

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Every family has their traditions at Christmas 

We have had to learn to change old traditions and create new ones, as the four of us. The first year without them, we spent Christmas with friends and last year we were in the States. We have spent each one doing something new and different, we try places Nicko and Emily had never been at Christmas so we don't feel their loss so deeply. In fact, this is the first year we will spend Christmas at home. I have bought a tree, one of sufficient height that Amber approves of, paid extra for someone to deliver, install and put brand new working lights on it (Nicko would be horrified) and we are looking forward to spending Christmas together, creating our new normal.  We are not leaving Nicko and Emily in the past, but bringing them forward with us forever in our hearts, and this is exactly what they would want for us. 

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