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Remembering Victoria Best

Victoria Best of Clarenville was an advocate for mental illness. She lost her own battle with mental illness on Dec. 11.
Victoria Best of Clarenville was an advocate for mental health issues. She lost her own battle with mental illness on Dec. 11.

Friends say they will continue her advocacy on mental health issues

CLARENVILLE, NL — Victoria Best loved the old, second-hand piano her grandfather found on the Burin Peninsula.

To her, it sounded better than any other.

But it was showing its age and looking a little drab in her new music studio.

So she decided to paint it a beautiful shade of aqua.

Once done, she smiled for a photograph with it, and posted it on Facebook.

The image has since become a poignant symbol, with family and friends making it their profile photo in memory of the popular music teacher.

She had long battled mental health issues — anxiety, depression and eating disorders — and, on Dec. 11, took her life.

•••

Smart, educated, eloquent — these are some of the words used by friends and family to describe Victoria.

They also remember her as caring and helpful.

In September, the 27-year-old was named one of the 150 Faces of Clarenville — a local Canada 150 project that honoured residents who had made a difference.

On the day she accepted the award, along with her grandfather and former mayor Fred Best, she was introduced as “an extremely talented young woman; a dedicated music teacher, a hard-working volunteer for causes like the SPCA and a tireless advocate for mental health.”

The recognition was deserved.

As a music teacher, parents and friends say she was a mentor to many youth, encouraging them and challenging them to be the best they could be.

Her students earned awards at the Kiwanis Music Festival and she helped connect many of them with others who could help develop their musical talent and experience.

She was the creative mind and director of several music concerts — GLEE, A Celebration of Pop Music, 1985 vs. 2015 and 1976 vs. 2016 — showcasing the talents of her young students.

Her friend Richard Churchill was involved with every single concert. He recalls the hard work that went into each one, and the elation that came with a successful production.

“I think those were the times that Victoria was the happiest in her life … It was an empowering experience for her to see those children do their best on stage.

“There’s a lot of stress in the logistics going into it, but when the night is over it is magic.

“And that would carry her through for months at a time,” says Churchill, who will deliver the eulogy at her funeral on Saturday.

Through these concerts Victoria fulfilled another passion, helping to raise funds for and awareness of mental health issues.

The reality is that while Victoria was respected and admired by her students, their parents and the community, she often felt herself unworthy.

Friend and former teacher Andrea Sharpe said, “She never recognized the beauty and talent that she had because her disease would not allow her to recognize it.”

Sharpe’s connection to Victoria dates back to her high school days.

“I taught her in high school,” says Sharpe, who will also deliver a tribute to Victoria at her funeral on Saturday.

“She stood out as an exceptional student (with) her drive for excellence and her determination.”

The roles reversed in recent years as Victoria — through her music studio — became a teacher and mentor to Sharpe’s daughter, Karle.

Sharpe says Victoria had a major impact on her students, not just in teaching them music but also through opening up about her own mental health challenges.

“It helped them open up about their own battles and struggles,” says Sharpe.

“They had a safe haven at Mama’s house,” adds Sharpe, referring to the home of Victoria’s grandmother, Louise Best, the place where Victoria held music classes before setting up her studio in her own home in October.

Asked how these young people were coping with the loss of their teacher and mentor, Sharpe said, “It’s been difficult – I haven’t cried this hard in years – to see the pain and anguish of the young people who are dealing with this.”

They are finding comfort in each other, adds Sharpe.

“That’s the other positive thing about Victoria, her students have come together as a group and they’re helping each other . . . as they go through the pain and grieving.”

Churchill and his wife, Rebecca, got to know Victoria when they moved to Clarenville a few years ago.

Rebecca and Victoria bonded over their shared love of animals, he says, and working as volunteers with the local SPCA.

“Rebecca and Victoria were sharing shelter duty one night and Victoria just looked at Rebecca and said, ‘Rebecca I have depression.’

He says throughout their friendship there were many late-night calls when Victoria was having difficult days.

•••

Just one week ago, on Dec. 8, Victoria wrote a Facebook post that shed light on her mental health struggle. Read the full text here.

Churchill recalls that whenever Victoria was speaking out about mental illness, and her personal experience with it, she would always say her brain was not well.

“I look at Victoria as I would look at someone who was diagnosed with cancer. Her brain was really unwell and didn’t allow her to function and live without doubting herself.

“When I think about her struggle with mental illness, her spirit and soul were so much more than the illness. That really was her battle — spirit and soul versus the mental illness that was controlling her life.”

He adds, “I know that Victoria would want people to know that this (suicide) is not the only way to deal with it; but she just wasn’t able to go on.”

As he and others grieve the loss of a woman who gave so much to others, Churchill says he hopes Victoria’s legacy will be a positive one.

“For me I hope … people will talk about what more needs to be done, change needs to be happen.

“In my own heart … I want everyone out there . . . to understand that people who live with mental illness are fighting a battle every single day.

“I hope that we are more kind to each other, that we understand each other, that we treat each other with empathy … and for people who are struggling to know they are worth every single breath that they breathe and people will be there for them in their time of need.”

He hopes Victoria’s passing will prompt others to become advocates for mental health issues, and the people who are suffering, and to help make changes that are needed.

“I want this to be (about) how do we help prevent things like this from happening to good people like Victoria Best.”

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