The pain of losing a loved one is one of the most challenging experiences that anyone can go through. It can be overwhelming, leaving individuals feeling isolated, alone, and lost. However, there are those who find ways to channel their grief into something positive, inspiring, and full of compassion.
Today, we have the privilege of speaking with Shelley Myatt, one of our amazing team members who has experienced immense losses throughout her life, yet has found a way to cope and thrive in the face of adversity. Shelley’s story is a testament to the incredible strength of the human spirit and the power of resilience in the face of tragedy. Don’t miss this powerful and inspiring episode.
Hello. I'm Liz Moore, a Communications Partner at integratedliving Australia, and I'm speaking to you from Gubbbi Gubbbi country on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. integratedliving Australia acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this country. We pay our respects to them, their cultures and customs and to elders past, present, and emerging.
Today we're talking about loneliness and grief, and I'm very pleased to be joined by integratedliving's Shelley Myatt. Shelley is the Centre Coordinator at our Toowoomba Wellness Centre in Queensland, which is a joyous hive of exercise and recovery activity for many wonderful clients over the age of 65.
Shelley's been in the health and fitness industry for many years, and she's also a mother of five who tragically lost her daughter Isabella to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as a baby. Then in 2012, Shelley struck tragedy again when her beloved husband Paul and their cherished daughter Imogen were killed in a car accident. Shelley knows all too well about coping with grief and loss and the intense loneliness that can come with those.
With an incredibly inspiring outlook on life, Shelley is happy to share her story to help others in facing their own challenges. Let's speak to Shelley and find out more about her inspiring journey.
Shelley, can you tell us some of the key things that you enjoy about your job as a wellness center coordinator with integratedliving?
Well, that's incredibly easy, Liz, to talk about because I absolutely love everything about my job. It's an incredible Centre to work in. The staff and I get to encounter the most amazing people every day. It's a place of laughter. It's a place of fun. It's a place of purpose, and we get to not only share the journey of our clients when they come in with their exercise goals and what they're needing to achieve to be able to stay well and healthy and fit to live their days, but we also get to experience their personal journey in the Centre as well. We get to watch their friendships form, their connections, the support, and overall, it's just a very positive place here at our Wellness Centre.
That's certainly my experience, having been lucky enough to visit. And could you please tell us a bit about your work history before you got to integratedliving and how it connects with what you do now?
So, I've always had a real passion for fitness and health and the holistic package of it all. So, I originally became a personal trainer, teaching classes and working with people one-on-one. I absolutely love motivating people and helping people to achieve their goals. I then got into being a manager of a university gym and got into the bigger picture stuff and absolutely loved that because we got to see how we could reach many people. We also built two gyms at that time at two different campuses, so that was exciting. And then eventually I wanted to take a real personal journey and actually open up my own gym. It was a bit of a dream that my husband had for me when I first became a personal trainer. And I think the longer that I got into the fitness industry, the more I became very passionate, because I was growing older, about how we age and how we age well.
But also because I was a woman, I was quite focused about how I could help with women's health and fitness. So, I started my own little business and absolutely loved that. And then from there, I landed this incredible job that I have now as a Wellness Centre Coordinator for integratedliving. So, I still get to have my passion for women's health, but I also get to follow my passion for helping our clients, who are all over 65, achieve their health and fitness goals. So, it's been an amazing journey and I feel like I've landed in the place that I'm meant to be.
Oh, that's such a good feeling.
And what inspired you? You've already mentioned it, but where did this love of health and fitness and overall wellbeing come from, and how has it grown over the years?
Well, I loved my sport and things like that as a younger person, but actually in my thirties I became quite ill and I had Graves' disease. And so that was a bit scary actually in my thirties to find myself so unwell. And I had a little family. And once I got through that, I actually said to myself, ‘You know what? I never want to find myself in that position again’. So, I went on my own health and fitness journey, and then I fell in love with it. Absolutely, I loved taking care of myself. And then suddenly I found myself at the gym and I was suddenly chatting to other people and motivating them, and then I thought, ‘Hey, I'm going to be a personal trainer’. And that's where it all started.
It was a personal journey to start with, but then suddenly I found myself wanting to help others and help others to achieve health, fitness, and I guess happiness. Because I think that when you're living your best life and you're feeling great, you find that joy and happiness in life, and that's where it all started.
What have you learned specifically from our clients being mostly older Australians living in regional, rural, and remote areas?
I think that no matter how old you are, I have discovered youth in our Centre. Because I look at our clients and some of them have the most amazing outlooks to life, have such passion and energy and humour and purpose. And I think that we have this stereotype that as we get older, we lose all of that. But what I've discovered in our Centre is that the environment that we create and the atmosphere that’s created just brings out the best of them. And I just see that young heart every day with these amazing people. And I guess that's probably been the most surprising. In fact, sometimes I think they act younger than I do, so it's really incredible.
It's a wonderful thing, isn't it, to see that youthfulness shine through at any age? It's a very heartwarming thing.
Yes. I so agree, and I think it's all about age is so relative to the mind. If you have that outlook and that energy, it doesn't matter how old you are. It shines through and it's a beautiful thing.
And have you always lived regionally, and what does living regionally mean to you?
Yeah, I have. I've been a Toowoomba lass most of my life and married a Toowoomba lad, and we raised our family here in Toowoomba. And I love it. I love that sense of community, and Toowoomba has that huge community that comes together and supports each other. And I think that there's a lot of opportunity in community that we don't recognize. So, I love being a part of that. But I do believe, for me, on a personal level, when I lost my husband and daughter in the car accident, it was the community that we had been in that wrapped its arms around us and gave us such a warm blanket to grieve in and to heal in, and such incredible support from strangers, from people we didn't even know. I don't think I could ever live in a big city again. I do believe that there's a lot of power in small community.
Yes, yes. And living through those really hard ties and they rally around you is something special to see or be a part of.
It's very unique, and my family and I have been very lucky to have that.
So, loneliness or social isolation has become such a problem that it is now sometimes referred to as the pandemic of the older generation. What have you observed, Shelley, about this in your work with older Australians?
Yeah, I think it is true. I think that the way that the world has been, particularly in the last few years with COVID, I think that a lot of our older population has become quite socially isolated just by the fact that they have had to isolate for their health. And with that, they have become disconnected with their community, with their family and friends. I think that that is changing. I'm starting to see, particularly with our guys, they're coming out more and more. They're getting more connected with their community. They're starting to travel a little bit more, touch base with their families. I think that a lot of our guys have been seeking places where they can feel that connection too, because they have felt so isolated. I think that now that we're moving to that after phase, I can really see in our clients that they are reaching out and trying to connect more.
I think I'm repeating myself, Liz, but they did feel that social disconnection. They are needing that. Our Centre does provide that environment, and we do bring our guys together through the common purpose of exercise. But in coming into the Centre, the guys are also developing some beautiful friendships, some bonds, and reforming that support that they had lost through the pandemic. I also think that our center and the relationship that our guys are developing with myself and our team here has been really beneficial to building their confidence in themselves physically, and I think emotionally as well. And it's nice to be a part of all of that. It's lovely to be able to share that reconnection with them.
Yeah, absolutely. And Shelley, your experience of loss is greater than so many others. Can you please tell us a bit about that and a couple of the major things that you've learnt through dealing with such major loss?
Yeah, I've had some big moments in my life. The first one was when I was in my early twenties, my husband and I lost a baby to sudden infant death syndrome. That was an incredibly devastating thing for me and my husband to experience at such a young age. I was very grateful that I had Paul and that we were able to have that journey together, and I feel that it really helped our relationship and the healing process that we shared that experience together. Then later in life, 11 years ago, my children and I lost my husband and my daughter in a car crash.
And that was just absolutely devastating to lose your husband and daughter in a moment, but also to have to be there for your children that have survived was even bigger. I felt a lot of responsibility through that accident. My responsibility wasn't just to me. It was also to help my children to be able to grieve and to be able to move through things in a healthy way. That was really, really tough and very isolating because it was just me. When I lost Isabella, I had Paul. But this time around it was just me and it was a big role. It was probably the biggest role that I've ever had in my life, was to get my children through that time and for us to all come out of it and be a family that are happy together and okay.
Oh, it's hard to imagine the scale and impact of such a loss and doing it alone, and the grief you must have been through. Can you tell us a few of the coping mechanisms that you used to get you through those early stages?
Yeah. There was probably, of course, the support of my family and my dear friends and community. There was that, as I spoke earlier, there was that instant wraparound. So, we were very lucky to have that love and people there to catch us when we fell and to lift us and to guide us through that very difficult time with all the decision making that we had to make. And I think too, for me on a personal level, my passion for staying healthy and being fit and taking care of myself became quite strong. I felt that if I looked after myself, it would keep me physically and mentally strong so that I could actually be able to do what I needed to do to move forward and to be able to help my children to be able to grieve and move forward as well.
So, that was a big thing. And I think that as time went on, I just felt this strong need to honor my family by actually living my life the best way that I could. Paul was 45 when he died and Imogen was 18, and I just felt like there were so many dreams that Paul never got to live, and that Imogen was just getting started. She had such an incredible road that she could have taken, and I think that the more that I thought about that in my grief, the more that I needed, that wanting to live my best life and appreciate the life and what I have in it became even stronger. Because they couldn't do that, I felt that it was really important to me. So, I guess that really has helped to shape my outlook throughout these 11 years, and I've really worked hard to try and pass that outlook on to my family to help them through what we've been through. But also in the biggest picture, I try to pass that on to the people that I encounter too, to have that positive impact on others.
Very inspiring. And now 11 years on, can you give our listeners some insight into how you learnt to cope with those times when the loneliness was really at its peak, those really intense times?
I think I probably just answered that in terms of forming that strong outlook about life has been probably one of the key things that has kept me going and kept me being able to get up each day and live my life the best way that I can. I think along the road, it's such a rollercoaster of emotion that you feel when you're grieving, and I know, especially when you're grieving the loss of two people, there were many ups and downs throughout those years, and incredible lows, incredible difficult times.
But I've always allowed myself to feel those feelings, but I've always had that deep down appreciation for the life that I still have and that I still need to live. And I think that that was probably a really big focus in helping me through the last 11 years. I think, too, having my children, particularly in the early days, was that inspiration. I had three children who survived that car accident, and I think that for me, they were the purpose for me in the early days to get out of bed and to make sure that I moved through my day. And I really wanted to show them that we can still live our lives even though we are feeling this grief and we're living and experience it, we can still do what we need to do to be able to live our lives.
You've just gone through the 11th anniversary of losing both Paul and Imogen. Shelley, can you suggest some of the best ways of coping with those significant times of the year and others, including those generally significant ones like Easter and Christmas, Valentine's Day, anniversaries, birthdays? How do you deal with those ones specifically?
Yeah. I think that it changes over the years. It's been 11 years since Paul and Imogen passed, and I feel like every anniversary, every Valentine's Day, Christmas, all of those are different, and I think that it brings different emotion. I think the biggest thing that my family and I have always done is to try and honor what we are feeling and to trust our instincts about how we want to remember things and how we want to get through it. I know in the early days, the first Christmases and things like that, my family and I didn't celebrate at home. We took ourselves away and just had quiet family times.
I know for Valentine's Day, my husband was a real romantic and he loved to make a big thing about Valentine's Day. And my daughters, my two beautiful daughters, really made sure that they remembered that with me. So, for the first couple of years they'd take me on a date. They'd send me flowers early on in the day, and then they'd ring me and say, "Mom, get gussied up. We've got something planned for you." And they'd take me out on a lovely evening. And I think that that was really special that they really recognised the relationship that their father and I had, and that was a really beautiful thing.
Some years we just maybe might have quiet time. I'll take some time off work and just honour the fact that I love them and I miss them, and I might just have a nice quiet day at home. For the 10th anniversary as a family, we created beautiful gardens for them and gathered family and friends and had a gathering afterwards and played their favorite songs and shared beautiful fun memories that we had of them, and really celebrated. Celebrated that they lived and celebrated the impact that they had, not on just our lives, but the people that loved them too.
So, I guess in a long-winded way I'm trying to say is that when you're grieving, it's important to just, you know your love and you know your heart and you know deep down how you want to remember them. And I always say, "Just go with it." Go with it. Don't worry about what other people think. It's about your grief, and you're the one that's got to get through it.
That's so special with your daughters and Valentine's Day.
What they must have witnessed. That's very beautiful.
Yeah, I do feel really... and even to the point, I'm going to share this funny thing. Paul loved taking me out, and so every time I got dressed up for a date and I'd be walking down the stairs, he'd always stand by the car and put his hands on his hip, and he goes, "You are looking hot, Shell." And even my daughters did that. When I'd walk down the stairs.
Oh, bless them.
They'd go, "Mom, you look hot." And I'd just think
That is so great.
How lovely is that? That is so lovely. They even took notice of the funny little nuances that he said to me. It's lovely.
That is beautiful. What a memory for them of their parents. That's such a lovely thing.
Yeah, yeah. It set the benchmark for them and their relationships too, which is good.
That's what happens. So, he lives on through setting that benchmark and them expecting that.
…And other things. That's beautiful.
And what advice would you have for those who think they should be over it by now, their grief? Or they don't have a right to be lonely because they're surrounded by all these people, but think ‘I shouldn't be feeling lonely’, but you actually do. What do you say to people like that?
Yeah. I think grief is a very personal thing, and I know just with my experience, I'm really happy and I'm surrounded by beautiful people, and I have a wonderful job and beautiful children, and good family and friends. I'm active. I do lots of things. But it's 11 years and I still grieve, and I feel that that will be something that I'll do forever. I think that while I have that love in my heart and those beautiful memories of the two people that I've shared that with, I think it's okay for me to feel grief, and it's okay for me to feel lonely too sometimes with that. But I think I've learned to accept things and to move with that grief, but it hasn't stopped me from living. And I guess that that's the biggest thing, is that I'm living my life, but in that life there is that element of grief, and it'll always be there because that love won't change.
Grief can be very overwhelming, and as you said, it can be very lonely at times. Sometimes you feel that you're the only person that is going through it. I think trying to stay connected with family and friends is important, but also too, if that's not possible, staying connected in your community, finding groups that you can belong to, forming new friendships, finding purpose is really important. And I think that it's through that connection with others that you start to realise that you're not really alone on your journey, that we all have experiences. Shared experiences sometimes too, that keep us bonded as people and as community.
And any last words of hope for listeners who are still coping with grief and loss and loneliness?
I think for me, I like to think that I am the person that I am because of the journey that I've had in life. And I think that grief, it can really change you, and sometimes you can really grow through your grief. That love that you have for those people can reshape the way that you think about the world. And sometimes the way that you move in the world can be so different because of that love that you've had for that person that you've lost. And I look at the person that I am now and I say to myself, ‘Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Imogen. Thank you, Bella. Because if I never had you, I wouldn't be me.’ And I'm a better person for having had those people in my life. Sorry, it's a powerful thing.
Very powerful. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Very moving. Yeah. Anything else you'd like to share?
No, I think that just about said it all. So, thank you for allowing me to be here and to share my experiences with our community and having that opportunity. Thank you.
Oh, thank you, Shelley, so much. That's an example of who you are, that you're so willing to share very challenging stuff with the world to help people get through it.
Yeah, I do believe that if we do have an openness to talk about these things and we do share our experiences, that it does break down those barriers, and that over time it will help others to be able to move through grief with acceptance.
Thank you for listening to our Live Well Podcast on loneliness and grief. We have another podcast on ways to deal with loneliness through challenging times. We also have a blog article about loneliness and ways to help elderly loved ones through it. You can read it at www.integratedliving.org.au. To find out more about integratedliving Australia and the services we offer, visit www.integratedliving.org.au, or phone 1300 782 896. Bye for now.
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