Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Someone is looking after me...

THIS is a photograph Diane loved. It was taken in 1960 and sits in its original frame. She showed it to me when we first met and it has stayed with us ever since as one of our favourite things.
It's just a black and white photograph of a cruise ship, but like many highly sentimental items in a person's life, it is utterly worthless to a stranger but priceless to the person who holds it dear.
She cherished it, partly because it reminded her of Rotterdam, partly because it echoed her father’s working life at sea in this era – not on cruise ships, but as a merchant seaman.
The elegant boat, built in the 1950s, is the SS Rotterdam. I know how much it meant to Diane which is why it now means a lot to me. Sentimental value, which all the money in the world couldn't buy, like I say.
Some strange things have happened since Diane was taken from me in February last year but what happened last week takes some beating. I hesitate to say Diane is still influencing events in my life, deciding things for me, because I know what that makes me sound like.
But sometimes, things occur and you just have to shrug your shoulders, pull that “I dunno” expression and admit that something, somewhere must be making these things happen.
Surely it can’t all be dismissed as just a random series of coincidences.
My weight loss for a start – eight and a half stones in 12 months … and counting. Impossible to even contemplate 12 months ago. Taking up running after 40 years of not being the slightest bit interested in walking briskly, let alone breaking into a trot. The fact that I immediately became bitten by the running bug.
The fact that during this winter – the worst since 1910 we’re told – I have only once run in dreadful weather, a nine-mile training run round Leverhulme Park on New Year’s Day after a parkrun.
But, last Friday, what I discovered hit me as the oddest of all. It stopped me in my tracks, to be honest. I was deciding my hotel arrangements for April, where I’ll run my first marathon in memory of Diane, when up popped a familiar name.
SS Rotterdam.
I found out that the ship in the photograph which Diane got 54 years ago is now permanently moored on the Maas river in the city centre as a floating hotel. It's not far from the massive Erasmusbrug bridge which we cross twice on the route and which I stood on during my first visit to Rotterdam in January.
There it was. On booking.com, the same ship, built in the late 50s. 
So when I run this great race with Diane as my inspiration in less than seven weeks, I will be staying on the ship in the picture she held so dear.
Now, tell me that doesn’t start you wondering… 
Or shrugging your shoulders.
"I dunno...".

Sunday, 16 February 2014

It's time these two took a bow...

I think it’s time these two incredible girls got the credit they deserve for getting me through the past 12 months.
For those of you who haven’t met them before, let me introduce Bonny Lulu on the right and her big sister Cassie. Cassie’s 13 years old this year and Bonny will be six in July. Let’s not forget they lost their Mummy a year ago and miss her deeply, too.
Diane always wanted a King Charles Cavalier and when she became ill, that seemed the perfect time to make that particular dream come true. We were lucky we found Bonny. From the start, the difference she made to Diane’s life was obvious. Bonny’s just a bundle of joy that everyone falls in love with and she never spent a minute apart from Diane.
Cassie has always been Diane’s great love, too. She was only supposed to stay with us in the beginning, way back in 2001, until we could find a good home for her but both Diane and I knew the minute this little scamp walked in ours that nobody else was going to get a look in. She was ours.
And so when their Mummy went out one day and didn’t come back, they were both devastated. Confused and wondering what I had done with her, I guess. But instantly they rallied round me when they saw how upset I was.
People who don’t “get” dogs, will never understand that. They’ll also never know what joy they are missing. These two beautiful girls have helped me through the past 12 months by showing me the kind of devotion, love and support I never thought possible.
Two little dogs, so wise, so sensitive to every mood I was in and so faithful.
They quickly became my focus, just as I became theirs. Knowing I had to sort myself out health-wise - so I could take them on the walks they deserved and was there for them for many years to come, hopefully - was a major reason for me deciding to get fit after the loss of Diane.
So I guess, in a way, they’re a big part of the reason why I’m where I am now. They have helped me become a better, fitter person. And they will be in my thoughts when I leave them for a few days in April to climb my own personal Everest.
Thanks to them, I have never come home to an empty house, have always been greeted with joy as I arrived home from work in the evening and have always had a loving cuddle when I needed it.
I have also never gone to sleep without the soothing, comforting sound of Bonny’s snoring from the landing.
They have kept me company, got me out walking for miles and miles, and never once have they asked for anything in return. Like I say, people who don’t understand dogs don’t realise what they are missing out on in life.
And so, I salute my little girls. And I say thank you with all my heart to the pair of them. My Bonny Lulu and Cassie, without whom I could not have made it through as I have. I am forever in their debt and they will probably never realise just what having them beside me this past 12 months has meant to me.
But then they just love their Dad. They don’t see why it has to be any more complicated than that. There’s a lesson they can teach the rest of us.

Friday, 14 February 2014

For my Forever Valentine...

A year ago today, I gathered with family and friends to say goodbye to my darling Diane at a service celebrating her wonderful life, a life cut far too short by the curse that is cancer. 
It took from us all a very special person – it has a habit of picking on the best – and the world is poorer for not having Diane here in it any longer.
I remember that Valentine’s Day last year very clearly. It was a day much like today. Overcast, with clouds blocking out any hope of sun. It’s how I felt inside as I stood there watching her be carried in, my last moments with her in this life.
But not my last moments with her, by any means. She remains forever in my heart. She will always be my Valentine, the woman who made every day special and who still, somehow, manages to do that now. She still guides me, looks after me and is still my inspiration. She also still slaps me down when I get too big for my boots. So no change, really. 
I just missing not seeing her, not touching her and not being comforted by that gentle smile she always had.
People have said that it was unfortunate her funeral was on Valentine’s Day, that every year the day when everyone falls in love would forever have a sadness for me. I didn’t see it that way. To me, it was the perfect day to have it. It is the best day to remember the woman you love, wherever she might be. 
It’s the day when, a year ago exactly, I looked at her one last time in this life and swore I would love her forever.  I know I can’t send her a card, roses or chocolates again. But I can give her one thing today, for sure. Me. For keeps.
I know that Diane will always be my Valentine, always filling my heart – nothing and no-one can change that.
So for me, from today, this isn’t going to be called Valentine’s Day anymore. From now on, February 14 is Diane’s Day. Our day. A day to remember what true love really is.

Just like I promised you...

At that service, I wrote these words for Diane. I hope you don’t mind if I share them with you again.

“There is a reason why everyone loved Diane.  She was simply the kindest, gentlest, sweetest, most generous person you could meet. She saw good in the worst of people and rescued me when I was at my lowest. She is quite simply the love of my life and the most important person there has ever been in it.
“Everyone who met Diane is a better person because of it. She had that effect on people. And she will always live on in our memories.
“It’s so cruel.
“We had just started making plans together again, now the future seemed so much brighter than a few short months ago. Then this. It’s all so unfair.
“It doesn’t end here, though. Neither Diane nor I will allow it to.
“They try to keep telling me she’s gone.
“So how is it I still feel her hand in mine, still feel her head on my shoulder and hear her voice in my ear?
“The might think they have taken her from me, but they haven’t. She and I will stay together forever.
“Just like I always promised her we would be...”

Please do whatever you can...

The sad truth is the situation Diane and I were in is not unusual. There are more than 500,000 people living their lives under a diagnosis of breast cancer. That’s 500,000 people waking up with cancer, getting the kids ready for school with cancer, going to work with cancer ... there’s not a moment in your life after diagnosis that doesn’t have that cloud hanging over it.
That’s why the work of Breast Cancer Care is so important and why Rachel and I are running this marathon in Rotterdam, the city where Diane grew up.

Please help by donating whatever you can using the links on the right. Do it for the 500,000 living with this terrible disease. For the 50,000 more who will find out in the next 12 months have it. And do it for the thousands of wonderful people – like Diane – who didn’t make it.

Monday, 3 February 2014

My favourite photograph... reminding me a year on just how much I lost

This is my favourite photograph of Diane and me. 
It was taken almost 20 years ago during a great evening in the company of two very dear friends.
We look happy, because we were. She looks radiant, full of joy... just as I remember her. You can see the warmth of her character, sense that special something which made her so wonderful. The hopes, plans, dreams and wishes on a star we had then can be seen in those beautiful eyes.
I can sit for ages staring at this picture, this memory frozen in time of a moment in our lives when we thought we had it all and that we would have it forever.
I see those eyes, that smile, that bright and loving look on her face and I realise just how much I have lost and how much I miss her. I see in this photograph the woman I still adore. I often hold this picture close again and remember that golden time when we both knew how much we meant to each other.
I’m holding it now, it’s the one I always turn to when the going gets tough.

And it doesn’t get tougher than this week.

This Thursday, February 6, it will be a year since Diane lost her battle with cancer. It is the anniversary I’ve been dreading, the day when I think back a year ago and have to relive the pain of seeing this beautiful woman be taken from me.
She slept a lot of the time in the days previously. I hoped she was dreaming nice dreams, free of the pain she felt when she was awake.
I hoped she would be running somewhere, perhaps riding her bike as she often told me she did all the time, every day, growing up in Rotterdam.
I hoped she would be laughing, playing with her brother John and their friends in those innocent years. I prayed for her that in her dreams she felt as if she didn’t have a care in the world. And I hoped that somewhere in those dreams, she would find room for me.
I had stayed by her bedside each evening, watching her sleep. Even as she slept, I held her hand, and I would kiss her forehead as I said goodnight and told her I’d see her tomorrow.
I knew that one of those tomorrows wouldn’t happen. And so it was on that Wednesday.
I remember the phone ringing early in the morning, before dawn, and knowing when I heard it that it could only be one thing.
She had become worse during the night, they said. I should come quickly, they said. I immediately started to get dressed, but before I’d even pulled on a shirt, the phone rang again. It was the same nurse. She was sorry, but Diane had gone.
I still rushed to the hospital although there was no need to hurry. She was always going to be waiting for me when I got there. I held her hand and kissed her forehead as I always did. I held her close, one last time, and told her yet again how much I loved her.
She knew that anyway.
She remembered the evening that photograph was taken as well as I did...

I tried to fix you, Di...

Little things can trigger the most intense memories. One of those things of seemingly little significance which remind you of a particular momentous time or event, forcing you to take a moment to regroup such is the impact of this recollection.
Sometimes it’s a phrase someone says in passing, something as daft as a TV show, even a scent or smell that reminds me of Diane. 
Today, it was a song we both loved. 
It's a song which today stopped me in my tracks. I know I’ll get a load of stick for admitting this, but hey, I have toughed it out liking Sleepless in Seattle all these years so I can take it. Coldplay’s Fix You is one of my favourite tracks. And hers. But after Diane was diagnosed in 2006, it became difficult to listen to.
Maybe I was being silly, too precious about it (after all, the lyrics probably mean something entirely different) but the words seem to hurt all of a sudden, instead of warm the heart. 
The lyrics might indeed not necessarily mean what they came to mean for me, but that doesn’t matter. They still hurt when I heard them. So I stopped listening to it.

Lights will guide you home,
And ignite your bones,
And I will try to fix you.

When she was diagnosed, our lives changed in an instant. The sky turned dark and it became in a split second a future full of fear instead of hope.
I looked at Diane on that day we were told all our suspicions were true, and I saw the joy that was so obvious in that favourite photograph drain from her face, I saw the look of fear and worry in the eyes that shone so brightly in that picture... and I just wanted to fix it.
And I couldn’t. I couldn’t promise to make it all better this time, like I had in the past. I couldn’t be the person who put my arms around her and held her close to protect her from all the bad stuff. This was bad stuff I couldn’t fix.
I felt helpless.
We had our moments of respite, times when we genuinely believed we could get through this. But then she would have a bad day and we would be back to thinking the worst. But still we tried to fix it.
But, despite all our hopes, despite the belief that at the end of 2012 we had finally come through the worst, despite all that, I was there at home early that Wednesday morning, numb with grief.

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something that you can’t replace

So today, when the song came on the gym TV halfway through a work-out, I feared it would bring me down again.
But strangely, it didn’t. It didn’t hurt any more. I felt inside me a fresh resolve. It made me, if anything, more determined to do this for Diane as I remembered how over the years we had held each other close while we listened to it. Oddly, today it seemed to have gone back to making me feel I was with Diane again.
Maybe I couldn’t fix her, couldn’t stop cancer snatching away her body. But I can damned well stop it taking away that special thing we had.
I can and I WILL fix that on April 13 in Rotterdam. I’ll fix it so the love you can see in our eyes in this photograph can never be taken away from us.