Although 4 years apart in age, Kate and Nicole Fitzsimons shared everything from clothes to secrets, dreams and birthdays. But in October last year, Kate lost her older sister in a tragic road accident while holidaying in Thailand. The 21-year-old has since established the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation which aims to raise awareness of travel safety overseas and offers financial assistance to gifted performing artists and sportspeople. Based in Sydney, she responds to the common belief that siblings are “forgotten mourners” and shares how those around her can help her to heal.
Tell us about the special bond you shared with Nic.
Nicole never, ever let me down. It didn’t matter if she was half way around the world, or just sleeping in her room down the hall, or even in my own bed for that matter, she was always there for me. Nicole was my words of wisdom and advice; the one I could turn to no matter what and know that I would be greeted with a larger than life voice that would bounce off the walls and give me an uplifting speech about always following your passion, and don’t be scared if it takes you along the path less travelled. Nicole’s incredible words of inspiration have shaped the way I live my life, and made me the person I am today. Many people thought we were twins not only because of our similar appearances, but because of this incredible bond & how we shared everything – our clothes, our bathroom, our bedrooms, our beds, our secrets, our values, our dreams even our birthdays.
What’s one memory with her you will always cherish?
It sounds strange, but my fondest memories with my sister were actually shared in the bathroom where we’d get ready together before the day ahead or a big night out. As she was such a busy butterfly, our ‘bathroom time’ getting ready together was ‘our time’ for just the two of us where we could talk openly and honestly like only sisters can. These conversations are something I will forever cherish and miss terribly and as strange as it sounds, our bathroom will always be a very special place for me now.
Another special memory of Nic is when she went through a stage of being ‘scared of the dark’ when she was about 21 years old (haha yes, our Nickers was definitely one of a kind!), and she used to wake up in the middle of the night scared and crawl into my bed next to me to try to get back to sleep. I would give anything to go back to that moment in time in having her sleeping peacefully next to me. That’s truly how close our bond was – no matter what time of day or night, we were always there for one another.
Nic’s life was tragically cut short last year in Thailand. What happened?
After working tirelessly all year on The Footy Show, whilst balancing dance teaching and side-line eye commentating for ‘Hawkesbury Radio’, Nic was so excited to be taking a well-deserved holiday to Thailand with her partner Jamie in October last year. We were all following her holiday in ‘paradise’ on Instagram — they were having the most amazing time and even secured their plans to get married the following year. But on the 20th October 2012 at 3:37am I was awoken by a phone call that literally shattered our lives.
Nic and Jamie were turning into the driveway of their hotel in Koh Samui when they were blindsided by a local motorbike rider speeding on the wrong side of the road at 80km/hour. Nearly all impact was to her head and she was rushed into surgery but lost her brave fight for life three hours later.
Have you since been able to talk openly about the accident and your feelings with those around you?
Talking about the accident itself always hurts but I have learned how to cope with speaking about it. Video footage of my sister’s accident was aired on television, and as much as it hurts to watch, I now include it in my Travel Safety Presentations to help students understand that the ‘unthinkable’ does happen and you don’t have to be doing anything ‘wrong’ to find yourself in serious trouble. Because I know that by talking about Nic’s accident I am helping to save lives, I actually feel empowered rather than overwhelmed by it now.
As for how I am coping, I am very open and honest with others about my feelings of grief. Instead of writing my emotions into a private journal, I openly post Facebook updates on my page, as well as my sister’s ‘In Loving Memory’ page. Why? Well firstly I know that so many of my sister’s friends are hurting as well and we find comfort in each others words and knowing we are travelling along this unpredictable emotional roller coaster together. But secondly, ‘loss’ is universal. Every single one of us will experience it at some stage in our life, and I hope that by sharing my emotions and how I am coping with others I can help them along their own journey of grief and inspire them to rise above it along with me.
I believe if you suppress your feelings, they will bottle up inside and completely tear you apart. Nine months on and I still have those days where I literally sit at home feeling lost, confused, and aching for my sister. But I have learned it is all about finding the balance between grieving for the life I once lived, and embracing the life I now have – so I smile and laugh as often as I can, and cry and reflect whenever I need to.
What helps you to heal?
Through establishing a Foundation in honour of Nicole’s legacy and the amazing community that has formed around it, my heart is filled with strength and courage to rebuild my life in a way that will make my sister proud. So in March this year, I walked away from my corporate career to dedicate myself full-time to the Foundation and my goal to present our Travel Safety campaign to as many high schools around Australia as I can. This has been the most important part of the healing process for me because saving lives through sharing Nicole’s story is now a passion that runs deep within me and gives me a sense of fulfilment I cannot find else where.
Getting up on stage & speaking about Nicole & her incredibly legacy, and seeing the inspiring impact it has on people is priceless. Reading the amazing messages of support makes my heart glow like nothing else on this earth. Being able to witness the incredible difference Nicole’s presence makes in people’s life is the reason I look forward to tomorrow.
More simple things I have found helpful include reading inspiring quotes from people who have also endured tough times, and making sure I still allow time for ‘me’ by working out daily in the gym which is a huge passion of mine & helps me to feel better no matter what is going on in my day. In the early days of losing Nic I also invested myself into learning more about the spiritual world through reading books by reputable ‘mediums’, such as Allison Dubois & Ezio De Angelis, to help secure my faith that my sister’s spirit lives on outside the hands of time and learn how to open my heart to her presence that continues to surround me.
I also heal by enjoying the tranquility of sunrises and the promise of a brand new day they bring. For my family, sunrises fill our hearts with hope, and allow us to feel an intimate connection with Nicole as it was her favourite time of the day. Looking back the sunrise I captured on the morning we lost Nic, I know it was her beautiful spirit shining through and reminding me that even the darkest nights end and the sun will rise. This gives me gives me the strength to make the most out of every single day – that is how she lived life, and would want me to live life, even without her by my side.
How can those around you assist you on this journey?
I think the number one thing friends need to remember is that my road to recovery is a long one, so please be patient with me. I have found that tidal waves of grief can hit you off your feet at any moment, so by having a good support network around you that understands this is really important. They need to help you embrace and celebrate the good times when you can, and be there to hold you and listen when you need to cry. The thing that hurts me the most is when I try and talk about my sister or how I am feeling, and friends change the topic because they don’t know what to do or say. But by now I know the friends who are really good at dealing with these conversations and emotions so I know who I can turn to when I need someone to help me cope with how I am feeling. I also think people need to be aware of what they are saying around those who have lost loved ones – it hurts to hear others sit there and complain about the small things in ‘wrong’ life and taking things for granted, instead of realising how blessed they are for all they have been given in life and making the most of it.
Also, don’t be afraid to seek out professional help from those around you. I had several sessions with a spiritual healer, Katrina, whose care, compassion & ability to delve into the depths’ of my soul was a truly uplifting experience. Through Reiki and many deep discussions, Katrina taught me how to stay in the light of my sister’s love through keeping the connection we shared alive in my heart. By allowing me to get in touch with my soul’s essence, Katrina helped to expand my self-awareness and develop my own spiritual path to healing. I would not be where I am today without her guidance and she will continue to play a vital role in my journey to recovery and self-discovery.
Siblings are often known as the “forgotten mourners.” Does this apply to you?
Not at all. My Mum, Dad, Brother, Sister-in-law and myself have been a united circle of love, strength and support for one another. I am closer to my mum and dad more than ever as we learn how to live in our home that is far too quiet without Nic. My parents are really supportive of my decision to give up my corporate career and have given me an important role in managing the Foundation and becoming the ‘face’ of the Travel Safety Campaign in schools around Australia. They still make a huge effort to ensure we catch up as a family once a week for lunch or dinner, and I have a handful of close friends who are amazing at doing special little things to show that they are thinking of me and always here for me.
Most importantly, my family still recognises me as an ‘individual’ in my own right and not just in my sister’s ‘shadow’. Last month my parents organised a huge 21st birthday party for me at home which meant so much to me as they chose to rise above the ache of missing Nic to celebrate all I had achieved and overcome in my life so far. This was particularly special as Nicole’s birthday is only 5 days before mine, so for my parents to be able to deal with the overwhelming emotions of Nicole’s first birthday without her, whilst organizing a big birthday event for me is testament to the fact that I am loved, remembered and celebrated just as much as Nicole will always be.
You and your family have set up a Foundation in Nic’s memory. What was the inspiration behind the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation and what does it aim to achieve?
The Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation has been established to continue Nic’s legacy of helping others to fulfil their life aspirations. In honour of Nic’s love for dance and football, we offer financial assistance to passionate and gifted performing artists and sportspeople who need assistance in reaching their full potential. The Foundation also aims to raise awareness of travel safety overseas.
My passion to educate other Australians on travel safety ignited when I started researching into accidents overseas just after losing Nicole and discovering just how many hundreds of Australians meet the same tragic fate as my sister. Through sharing Nicole’s story & some alarming statistics I open students eyes to the fact that the ‘unthinkable’ does happen, but I also offer them some really practical tips to help prevent it from happening to them, or to prepare them if it does happen to them, by highlighting the importance of travel insurance. I am dedicated to doing everything within my power to save as many families as I can from suffering this heart ache.
It is very overwhelming to look back on how far my family has travelled in just nine short months that have also felt like a lifetime. The Foundation has given our lives a whole new purpose, and taken us along a journey that is beyond what words can describe. There are some people who say ‘I wouldn’t be able to do what you’re doing with the Foundation’ but most people do not have Nicole as a sister, and now as a guardian angel, who’s given our family so, so much to live for. There was every possibility after losing the love of our life we could have just dwelled on the pain & huge hole that now weighs heavy in our hearts. But that would mean turning our backs on Nicole & everything she lived for, everything she taught & everything she left behind as a gift for us to grow & share to help make a difference in the lives of others. Nicole’s Foundation has really helped our family and has enabled us to help others. Growing from great tragedy is possible if you allow it into your life. I now focus my energy on being grateful of having the honour of being the sister of such an inspirational young woman who has shaped the person I am today & how I can continue to carry her forward with me through the Foundation to shape the lives of thousands more.
Nicole’s friend Lyndell Harradine has recently released her debut album “Everywhere” in memory of Nicole – check out her angelic voice and heartfelt lyrics here.
For more information on the Foundation, visit nicolefitzsimons.com