Venetia Quick, co-founder of ‘Grief Encounters’ tells Ruth O’Connor that there is no right or wrong way to grieve the death of a loved one.
When we speak in her kitchen, broadcaster Venetia Quick is in pensive mood following a 10km run and a round trip by foot to the Poolbeg Lighthouse earlier in the day.
These days, she runs to keep her mind clear and to escape, fleetingly, the pressures of life as a working mum and young widow.
It’s been a year and a half since her beloved husband Martin Thomas died aged 49, and she finds that running brings her some head space.
There’s also the fitness aspect, of course, and she admits she has become somewhat irrationally concerned about her own health since her husband died in February 2018 just a few months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
Since Martin passed away, Venetia, a mother of three sons, Felix, 14, Arlo, nine, and Casper, seven, has co-founded the popular podcast Grief Encounters with her Urban Media colleagues — producer Ian Doyle and co-presenter Sasha Hamrogue, who is also no stranger to grief having lost both of her parents to lung cancer in her early 30s.
Venetia has also featured in the Marie Keating Foundation ‘I am Lung Cancer’ campaign and has worked with youth mental health charity Jigsaw — raising funds for the charity from the proceeds of her tribute to Martin’s Dublin club night Strictly Handbag.
You may be familiar with Venetia’s story from RTÉ Radio or The Late Late Show on which she appeared with Colette Byrne and John Fitzsimons to speak about adjusting to life following the death of their partners.
Launching the Grief Encounters podcast last December the goal for Venetia and Sasha was to open up the conversation around grief and bereavement.
Since its inception, the two women have recorded weekly episodes of the podcast and have spoken to a vast range of people, some well-known, some not, who have experienced grief in all its myriad forms.
Some of the guests to date have included celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, singer Mikey Graham, author and journalist Sinéad Gleeson, singer and composer Paul Harrington, and Kathleen Chada, whose two sons were murdered by their father, her husband in July 2013.
“We wanted to give people a sense of not being alone through listening to other people’s stories,” Venetia says.
“We wanted to give people the hope that they can get through it. When you are in the early days of grief and you see that there are people in a similar situation who are getting through it, it can give you hope.
“We also wanted to help people to help others going through grief because no one knows what to say.
"People often say things like ‘at least’: ‘at least he didn’t die in hospital’... ‘at least you’re only young’... or ‘at least you have two other kids’ ... but you don’t necessarily want to hear that.
Now in year two of her loss, Venetia is aware too of the longer-term aspects of grief such as the pain of the second year when the first anniversary, the first birthday, and the first Christmas without a loved one have passed by.
“Nobody tells you that the second year is worse because the person wasn’t there the year before on those landmark occasions.”
One thing she has learned is that everybody grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way of doing it.
“There seems to be an expectation from people about how you should grieve but there is no one way of grieving,” says Venita.
“People might see you when you are out, laughing and appearing to have a good time, but they don’t see that you can still feel very alone in that situation or see how you feel the next morning when you have no one to share funny stories with from the night before.”
As Grief Encounters approaches its first year of broadcasting, Venetia recalls some of the guests that have impacted herself and Sasha and their listeners. One of the first guests was Kathleen Chada.
“I had interviewed Kathleen before but it was an extremely difficult interview for the podcast. Kathleen is an incredible person and we still keep in touch.
"She sent me a message two days after Christmas last year to ask me if I was doing OK.
“Mikey Graham spoke amazingly about his friend Stephen Gately. Marco Pierre White’s interview about losing his mother at the age of six was beautiful too.
"It really gave me an insight into what my own sons might be going through in their heads.”
Another episode which has resonated with listeners is entitled What Nobody Tells You About Funerals with undertakers Jonathan Stafford and Gus Nichols, which contains lots of practical advice but also quite a bit of dark humour on the subject of death and funerals.
The presenters of Grief Encounters do not claim to be experts in the subject, nor do they claim to be counsellors or psychologists.
They are simply providing a space for people to tell their stories and, in doing so, to open up the conversation around bereavement.
“As well as the podcast we also have a very active closed Facebook group which is populated by people who are going through the same thing,” says Venita.
“People say that the Irish do death and funerals well. But I’m not so sure.
"We think the conversation needs to be opened up more so that people feel less alone.”