Grace Millane had always dreamt of travelling and exploring the world. Her mum, Gillian, says she found “a school project [Grace] did about New Zealand and it said ‘I’m going there one day’”.
“And she did get there,” the proud mum told the BBC in a recent interview.
Grace was truly living her dream when she was murdered in Auckland in December 2018. Five years on, and with the death of Grace’s father David leaving the already bereft family grieving again, Gillian has spoken about how she has found the strength to carry on.
Following the conviction of Grace’s killer for her murder, the Millane family vowed to never say his name again.
“We never say it. It’s a waste of energy. I don’t care about him, I don’t think about him,” Gillian told the BBC.
Since her daughter’s death in New Zealand, Gillian has campaign against the rough sex defence, with the charity We Can’t Consent To This. Her activism has helped to change the law in both England and Wales.
Two years after her daughter was murdered, Gillian lost her husband David to cancer.
The two losses plunged her into her darkest time and she admits she considered suicide.
“I did contemplate suicide. That is a horrid place to be. But I couldn’t bring any more sadness to the family. Grace had such a bright future and it was taken away from her and us,” she told the BBC.
“I will never see Grace in a wedding dress or see her grandchildren. This is a life sentence I’ve got. This is me until the day I die. But there is a light and I found it. You have to find that inner strength.”
The bereaved mother and widow says she has a support network of loved ones who keep her from the darkness. She says long walks and “lots of counselling” have also helped put her on a more positive path.
Christmas, she admits, is a difficult time for her. Last year, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro during the holiday season and, in doing so, found a strength she did not know she had. She carried stones with Grace and David’s names on them and placed them at the top of the mountain in the hope they too can keep on travelling.
“Whenever I go somewhere special, I put the stones there, so they are travelling. If someone picks a stone up and moves it, they go somewhere else,” she said.
Next year, she plans a trek to Everest basecamp in September, where she plans to place two more stones.
A trip to New Zealand is also on the cards.
“I still get loads of messages of support from there. It wasn’t New Zealand or travelling that killed Grace, or anything she did. It was that individual,” she says.
“I should never have buried my child and certainly she should never have died the way she did. People keep saying I’m really strong but I don’t think so, I’m just a mum.”
Four years ago, Gillian and her niece Hannah started the charity initiative Love Grace, through which they collect donated handbags and fill them with toiletries for domestic abuse victims. To date, they have filled 15,600 bags for women in the UK and across the world.
Next year, she intends to apply for Love Grace to become an official charity.
Half a decade on, Gillian says losing Grace has not gotten any easier.
“I am more resilient than I ever thought I was. I do think David and Grace would be proud. I think Grace would laugh and say these treks are a mid-life crisis,” she told the BBC.
“I will never get over it but I just know I’ve got to make the world a better place. I want to change things so that no other family has to go through what we go through.”