Vanessa Blissett spent almost every waking moment with her best friend even right up until the moment she died in her arms.
Ms Blissett and Katie Prowse were inseparable – they travelled together, worked together, Ms Blissett’s daughters were like children to Katie and they even spent every Christmas together.
“Katie and I were joined at the hip. We finished each other’s sentences and we thought we’d share our 100th birthday together, I didn’t think life would throw this curve ball,” Ms Blissett, from Thornleigh on Sydney’s Upper North Shore, told Yahoo News Australia.
The mother is speaking about the tragic death of her friend of 36 years to help others who may be experiencing grief over Christmas.
‘I was with her when she passed away’
It was June 2018 when a pulmonary embolism took Katie’s life in just a few minutes while she was at work and died in her best friend’s arms.
“I was with her when she passed away,” Ms Blissett said.
“It took her life in a few minutes right there in the hallway.”
Ms Blissett says after her death she had to move through the stages of grief and shock, and started to live her life without the friend who was there for every moment.
“She even cut the cords when my babies were born. The longest I ever went without Katie since I was 12 was 15 days – and that was for my honeymoon,” she said.
As her first Christmas without Katie rolled around, Ms Blissett said she opted to work at her job in aged care instead of spending the holiday at home.
“I actually chose that. Giving myself to make other people’s Christmases was great. It wasn’t a distraction but I knew Christmas would be different so I rolled with it,” she said.
Mum’s second grief-stricken Christmas in a row
After getting through her first Christmas without her best friend, Ms Blissett will spend this Christmas without another person close to her heart.
“Since then another male best friend also died very suddenly in May,” she said.
“He went for a drive, parked his car and had a heart attack. We would share the Christmas holiday.
“The fact I wasn’t with him when he died, I find his more unbelievable as with Katie I saw it happen. I felt it, I remember looking at the paramedic and felt a sense of everything just floating out of my head – every memory from the past, every conversation that could never happen again, all that could never be done.”
Ms Blissett said Christmas feels really different this year since the death of her friend in May.
“He was a larger than life character, always played Santa,” she said.
“It’s going to be different but we have to make new traditions while remembering the fun.
“Life does change, grief is surrounding us all the time but we have to manage it – if you run from it you don’t really deal with it or find a way to move through it.
“It’s a loss you deal with every day and for me it’s not any different on a significant holiday. But for some people, if you are alone, surround yourself with people you know will care for you. And it’s okay if you don’t want to celebrate, just do it your own way.”
‘Christmas is a real trigger for people’
While happy occasions can be tinged with pain and grief follows her wherever she goes, Ms Blissett says it’s important to honour your loved ones in a meaningful and sentimental way.
“You should share stories, as much as tears are healing, laughter can be even better,” she said.
“People expect grief to be about tears and I think that’s why people get so uncomfortable. But laughter and remembering helps you accept life will be different.”
Success coach Noni Boon, who helps people deal with grief, told Yahoo News Australia hardship at Christmas time could include anything from a person close to you dying, to losing a job or suffering a relationship breakdown.
“Christmas is a real trigger for people. During the festive season you see families coming together and some people could even be grieving the relationship they wish they had with their parents,” she said.
“I think we need to normalise and validate types of grief for a lot of people, often they don’t give themselves permission to acknowledge what they’re going through.
“We tend to be very stoic and we tend to compare. So we might look at the person on the news who just lost the family home in the fires and look at our own situation, and chastise ourselves as it might not be as extreme. But what you’re going through is relative to you and your life.”
Ms Boon said it was important to reach out to family and friends, especially at this time of year when they might feel alone.
“It can be through a phone call or face-to-face, but what’s not good is relying on Facebook, Instagram or texts to keep us connected – it doesn’t do an adequate job.”
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