Saturday, 23 July 2016

Jack's big bike ride in Steve's memory

As I write, the Tour de France cycle ride has reached stage 20 - a mountain stage in the French Alps between Megeve and Morzine - around 146 km, with four big climbs (and descents) along the route.  It's the last mountain stage of Le Tour 2016, and a tough one even for professional riders.  Catch it on Channel 4 right now if you are in the UK!  

My son Jack cycled this section - known as L'Etape du Tour - three weeks ago, when it was open to non-professional riders, in memory of his father, my husband Steve, who died in February some seven years after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

I'm delighted and very proud to say that Jack finished the official course along with his two teammates David and Gair, and they even cycled a bit further to make up for the fact that the official route was shortened due to the risk of rockfalls on one mountain section.  

I'm also relieved to say that they all came home in one piece and recovered quickly.

And I'm absolutely delighted that Jack's efforts have already raised over £1800 for Mesothelioma UK, a charity which supported us through Steve's cancer.  

Jack's Just Giving page is still open for donations.  You can access by clicking THIS LINK! 

Well done Jack and all the others who took part.  You are all very wonderful!  

And another big thank you to all of you who generously sponsored his ride in Steve's memory.  

You are all very wonderful too :)

Now enjoy some photos of the big bike ride !!

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Coroner's Inquest

The Coroner's Inquest into Steve's death took place on Wednesday, 6 July.  Such inquests are routine in the UK when someone dies as a result of mesothelioma, because it's usually caused by exposure to asbestos in the course of employment and is therefore classed as an "industrial injury"....something which could have been prevented had the proper safety procedures been in place.  

In the past, mesothelioma has mainly affected been people working in industry, the building trades and manufacturing - ship builders, boiler makers, carpenters, electricians, people in the railway and automotive industry and such like.  However, there is an increasing number of cases where exposure has been second hand e.g wives washing husband's contaminated clothes, children hugging parents with dusty clothes, or has arisen in the teaching environment because of the number of educational establishments built during the 50s and 60s when asbestos products were widely used and which have become disturbed over a period of time, exposing teachers, pupils and others in schools.  Google "Asbestos in Schools" if you want to know more about this.

As an architect and artist, Steve's employment history didn't fall neatly into any of the above categories, so there was always a chance that his death would not be classed as an industrial injury when the evidence was placed before the Coroner, even though we had a clear idea about the circumstances of his exposure in the early 1970s.  So I felt that I had to go to the Inquest, even though there was no requirement to attend.

Inquests in the UK are formal legal procedures.  They take place in a courtroom with all the associated legal niceties, such as standing up when the Coroner enters, the reading out of evidence and the recording of the procedures.  I have to say however, that the Coroner, the Coroner's officer, the court officials and the Coroner's Court volunteers were kindness personified.  I couldn't have asked for a more sensitive and supportive approach from those involved.  Nevertheless it was tough.

I have lost count of the number of Hearings, Inquiries and Examinations in public I have run personally in the course of my professional career, so the legal nature of the proceedings didn't bother me at all. Been there. Done that. Knew what to expect.  

The Inquest took place some five months after Steve's death, so the process of healing after the grieving has already started.  In recent times, I have been able to talk to people about Steve's death without dissolving into tears.  I thought I could handle it on my own, and declined the offers by two dear friends to come with me on the day.  I was treating the Inquest as a formality - important to ensure the record was correct, but otherwise not a big deal.

I had written sone of the evidence myself and had seen all the evidence submitted by others.  None of its was unexpected; there were no nasty surprises lurking in the words. I was prepared. Or so I thought....

What I was not expecting and was not prepared for, was the tidal wave of emotion which swept over me as I entered the building.  Suddenly, this was real.  It was official.  It was important.  The tears were welling up, even as I was introduced to the Coroner's Court volunteer who was there to support me.  I declined the offer of coffee and by the time we entered the "Family Room" tears were streaming down my face.  It was like the pressure valve had blown and the tap of emotion was running wide open. My reaction surprised me.  There I was.... thinking I could deal with the event in a cool, professional manner as if I was at work, and instead I found myself in tears and the Inquest had not even started.

I began to understand the importance of the volunteer's role.  She was wonderful.  From finding me a box of tissues to reassuring me that my reaction was entirely "normal" in the circumstances. We had a quick peep in the Court Room, so I knew what to expect....not an unfamiliar set up to someone who has been to Council meetings and run planning appeal hearings.  The Court Officer appeared next to explain the procedure, and to tell me that the press were present.  I said I didn't wants to talk to the press (indeed, I could hardly string two words together at that stage and was fearful that I might say something in haste to a reporter that I would later regret...)

When I was ready, we entered the Court and sat down at the front, facing the Bench, waiting for the Coroner to arrive, when we all asked to stand up.  

To put it simply, the Coroner has to ask and answer four questions about the death.  Who? When? Where? How?  The answers to the first three questions are usually easy.  Steve was identified by name, date and place of birth and death based on my evidence and that of the paramedic and GP who attended of the morning of his death at home.  However, it was a bit harrowing hearing the evidence read out...I found myself vividly reliving that morning again....

The how question was more complicated - first, there was evidence about his diagnosis and treatment, including all the clinical trials he had taken part in as well,as the chemotherapy, radiotherapy and pleurodesis he had undergone as part of his palliative treatment....then his employment history, including details of the event which we believed led to his exposure to asbestos as a student, when he was part of a group paid cash for a vacation job in 1971 knocking down walls at the School of Architecture where he studied, to create a large open plan studio.  Plus, of course, the building surveys he carried out as an architectural assistant where he may have been exposed to asbestos dust in service ducts and boiler houses and such like.  

I have written about all this stuff in the blog over the last seven years, and talked about it endlessly with anyone who asked or would listen, so it wasn't news.  However, hearing someone read it out in a Court of Law took me back in time, and it was upsetting.  The good bits ....about all the traveling we had done, the socialising, the creativity and the experiences we had enjoyed since diagnosis....were not there.  It was just all the bad, challenging, difficult bits of our lives since diagnosis to death...the bits you try to forget.  But it had to be said.

Having gone through the evidence, the Coroner gave her verdict.  Steve's death WAS a result of an "Industrial Injury" and would be recorded as such.  In summing up, she paid tribute to Steve's courage taking part in clinical trials which would help others in future, even though they didn't save his life.  That was nice of her.  

I am pleased with the verdict, although acknowledging that his death was avoidable made me angry, upset and frustrated in equal measure.  The chances are he would still be alive today, had it not been for events in the early 1970s.  That hurts.  That's not fair.  That should not have happened.  That was avoidable.  That's why it's taken my a while to write this blog post.  

I was too upset when faced again with the stark reality which I've known since 2009 but have somehow managed to overlay with positive experiences and thoughts...which was the way we got through and somehow managed to enjoy almost seven years life together after hearing the worst possible news.

However, I have now spent a couple of days calming down, reflecting, enjoying the garden and taking my frustration out on wall paper stripping as part of the bedroom refurbishment which is my next house project. Now I feel ready to share with you. 

This phase of Steve's story is nearly over.  Now the Corner has given her verdict, the information will be passed on to the Registrar of Birth, Deaths and Marriages, who will certify the death.  I can buy the Death Certificate (up to now, I've been using an interim death certificate for probate and related purposes).  That's my next little job, then I file the paperwork away for future generations.

Steve is now an official Industrial Injury statistic as well as a certified death.  

Time to look sociable, creative, travel, enjoy family, friends and Jack's Etape du Tour on Sunday in Steve's memory, raising funds for Mesothelioma UK.  

Allez Jack!  Good luck!!!

Sunday, 3 July 2016

It's almost time.....

This time next week, my son Jack will be cycling a stage of the Tour de France (L'Etape du Tour) in memory of Steve who died in February, and to raise money for Mesothelioma UK - a charity which supports people diagnosed with the cancer that killed Steve, and their loved ones.   

Many thanks to all of you who have sponsored him so far!  If you have been meaning to make a donation but haven't got round to it, there's still time....Please click on this link to his JustGiving page 

If you want to know what he's let himself in for, then please read on....  

It takes a lot of courage, bravery, grit and determination (or stupidity, according to Jack!) to do this feat especially if - like him - you are not a professional cyclist.  

The distance is 146.5 kilometres; the steepest gradient is 8.5% and there are no less than four mountains to climb (and descend...the really scary bit) 

Even the guys who do it for a living find it hard going!  You can watch the professionals ride this stage of the Tour on Saturday 23 July.  

Jack will be doing his cycle ride over exactly the same course on Sunday 10 July, along with team mates David Gillet and Gair McAdie.

Good luck Jack and the rest of the team!!  

Stage 20 Megève to Morzine

The pattern of recent Tours is followed with a major mountain stage in the Alps the day before the finish. This has a twist, however, as the finish is at the foot of one of the nastiest descents the Tour uses, the 14km of twists and turns off the Col de Joux-Plane. There are three earlier climbs before the final shootout, which will favour a sublime descender such as Vincenzo Nibali or Bardet rather than Froome.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

More baby steps forward on a special anniversary

Spoiler alert
Some of you may find the section "Homecoming" upsetting

An anniversary

7 years ago today, Steve was told he had mesothelioma and that his life expectancy was in the region of 12-18 months. In fact, he outlived that estimate by many's only four months and a day since he died.  

Since then, I have been taking baby steps forward on many fronts - the red tape you have to deal with when anyone dies; the emotional impact of loosing a loved one (even if you knew it was coming); learning how to live on your own, in my case for the first time in my life....until recently, I have always lived with others - parents, shared student houses, with Steve and our family.  But I'm getting there, slowly but surely.

Probate and related matters

I had thought twice about dealing with probate on my own.  It all sounds a bit scary at first!  However, our wills were straight forward, with no legal complications, special bequests  or trusts - we each just left everything to the surviving spouse. And gifts between spouses are Inheritance Tax free in the UK, which makes the process relatively easy, if time consuming, as you still have to jump through many of the same hoops.

It became clear quite early on that the biggest job in obtaining grant of probate would be to value Steve's "estate" i.e. everything he owned solely or jointly.  It was also clear that I would have to gather that information myself to pass on to a solicitor, if I wanted someone else to make the probate application on my behalf.  But I'm an intelligent woman, used to dealing with bureaucracy, paperwork and filling in forms. So I decided on a DIY probate application, knowing that it could be passed on to a solicitor if it all got too much.

Estate agents will value property for free for probate purposes.  You can get a vehicle valued online if you know the year, make, model and mileage.  I employed a specialist firm to value "goods, chattels and personal belongings".  It cost a bit, but had I done it myself, I probably would have valued everything higher than I could realistically sell it for, due to my lack of experience....The accountant valued the business.  Onsey Lock Hydro confirmed the value of Steve's shares in this community-based green energy scheme which we both subscribed to.  The bank, insurance company and NS&I provided detailed written breakdowns of Steve's current and savings accounts and investments.  

When all this information has been collected, its a relatively easy matter to find and complete complete the forms online, via the website (search on IHT forms and guidance).  I used the telephone Helpline once to clarify something I was unsure about.  It didn't take long to get through, and the chap I spoke to was very helpful.  

Once completed, I dropped off the forms at the local Probate Office.  About a week later I received an email saying that the papers had been examined, and the next step was to swear (or affirm) an affidavit that all the information I'd provided was correct to the best of my knowledge.  You can do this for free at the Probate Registry, during public opening hours, or pay to "swear" at a solicitors office.  It only takes a few minutes, reading words from a card. Grant of Probate came through less than 10 working days later.

Tomorrow, I will take the Grant of Probate to the bank and open up an Executor's account which will allow me to pay Steve's "debts" - a DWP overpayment of Attendance Allowance after his death; the accountant's fees for completing his tax return, my own expenses involved in dealing with probate. The balance of his assets can then be transferred to me, as his sole beneficiary. 

I can also send copies of the Grant of Probate to bodies which hold his other assets, to get those transferred to me. The house which had been in our joint names is now in my name only.  This is easy to do via a form which you can download from the Land Registry website.  Transferring ownership of the car was also a doddle and DVLA promptly refunded the unused proportion of the road fund license, which was a nice surprise. 

So...lots of paperwork, but actually not that difficult.  And having saved around £5,000 on solicitors fees (the amount I'd been quoted when visiting to get certified copies of his Will), I've treated myself to a trip to Cuba later this year, at the end of the hurricane season.  I'm sure Steve would have approved.  So sad that he won't be there with me to enjoy it...

The Coroner's Inquest

One of the more difficult tasks, emotionally anyway, was collecting information to send to the Coroner's Office ready for the Inquest to establish whether his exposure to asbestos should be recorded as an industrial injury.  Luckily, we had done some investigative work on this few years back, when considering a claim for compensation through the Courts.  In the event, that claim was not pursued, but I still had electronic access to Steve's statements and comments, so was able to send those documents to the Coroner's Officer.  

The Inquest will now go ahead on 6 July.  It's not to "apportion blame" or get compensation for negligence, just to establish whether his death should be classed as an industrial injury.  All mesothelioma deaths go through the same process.  I will attend, but will not be required to speak. It will be difficult, I imagine...but it's important that the cause of his death is properly recorded, as it shows the impact of negligence on innocent people's lives.

Dealing with Steve's clothes and other personal belongings

This has been very difficult for me....every item I pick up has memories.  But there's no point in hanging on to something that will never be worn or used again by me or a member of the family.  Some small things have gone into the "memory box" and more will follow I'm sure...But I have started donating other things, like clothes and shoes, to charity.  

In the end, for every item of Steve's put into the charity bag, I added something of my own, which didn't make it feel so bad. Knowing this stuff is supporting good causes also helps. And it's the start of a good declutter which is much needed.  Still a long way to go on this front, but I've begun....

Dealing with the emotional side of things

To put it simply, this takes time.  I don't consciously think about Steve everyday, but there is usually something that triggers thoughts of him and memories, both happy and sad....often when people are nice to me, or see me for the first time since his death.  Arms go out in a big hug and I find myself dissolving in tears as we share our sadness.  But that is happening less and less, as time passes. Nevertheless, the triggers are still there...

...On  Saturday, I went out for a walk and found myself at an art fair, particularly attracted to one artist's work which I recognised as images inspired by the Languedoc in France, Seville in Spain and Marrakech in Morocco - all places Steve and I have visited since his diagnosis.  The artwork brought back many happy memories but also stirred up the emotions. In the end, I had to walk away as I could feel myself welling up. However, I returned later that day and bought three prints, much to the artist's delight! Once framed and hung, they will bring some Mediterranean sunshine and vibrant colour into the house. 

Next week, I will be meeting up with Andrew, visiting the UK from the States.  Steve and I met Andrew and his wife Nancy a couple of years ago through a mutual meso friend, Lou in Australia.  We had tea on the roof terrace of the Ashmolean Museum and found we had much in common.  Sadly Nancy died of mesothelioma not long before Steve, so no doubt the next reunion now as widow and widower will be a little bit emotional, but I'm sure we'll have some laughs too :)

As always, I get by with a little help from my friends (and family)!

A homecoming

Steve's funeral was in March, the day after his birthday.  It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to collect his ashes from the Funeral Directors office.  In the end, I set out on foot on a lovely sunny day, without giving much thought to the practicalities of what I was about to do....just  relieved that I had finally made the move.  

The reality is that the ashes of a person's mortal remains are quite heavy.  It wasn't till I started walking home that I realised how just heavy over a long distance, especially if you have back problems like me.  In the end, I caught a bus, and sat with the "In Memoriam" carrier bag with its precious load of ashes in a Scatter Tube on my lap, wondering if people had noticed and guessed what it was....But no one said anything, so I didn't have face awkward questions or looks of sympathy from complete strangers.  

So..he's home now.  Or at least his mortal remains are. Moving from room to room, depending on whose staying in the house and where they are sleeping.  I know this sounds silly and irrational, but I can understand why people might feel just a bit uneasy sleeping in the same room as the ashes of a family member or close friend.  In some ways, it also feels a little bit disrespectful, moving his physical remains around the house in a carrier bag, albeit a very tasteful one. Not that Steve would mind, I'm sure....he would probably just laugh and tell us to make a decision about where to scatter what's left of him and fix a date. So that's what we must do. 

Of course, there will be a permanent memorial to his memory - probably a public artwork somewhere nearby that lots of people can enjoy.  He'd like that.  The germ of the idea has already been sown and I will make sure it's nurtured and flourishes to fruition in the fullness of time. 

Cycling and walking 

Son Jack is now training hard for the Etape bike ride in the Alps - a mountain stage of the Tour de France that's open to amateur cyclists.  His doing it in Steve's memory and in the process raising a lot of money for the charity Mesothelioma UK, which is great!  

The event takes place on 10 July, only a few days after the Coroner's Inquest into Steve's death.  I will probably do a blog post about both in due course. 

Meanwhile, I am walking myself back to happiness aiming to do at least 10,000 steps (about 5 miles) each day and succeeding most days (although not yesterday, when I took it easy after a dental implant....) 

It seems to be helping my back, helping me loose weight and helping me get fitter.  And its lovely being out and about when the weather is good....

Being sociable

A big thank you to family and friends for your social invitations - meals together, cinema trips, theatre visits, days out, weeks and weekends away - it's really helping me get my life back on track.... Travel plans for the next few months are coming together nicely also - the worldwide travel insurance I took out in May will be earning its keep!

And thinking of the Meso Warriors

As always, the Meso Warriors and their families and friends are in my thoughts, those who are celebrating good news like Mavis and Ray, Claire and Paul, and those who are waiting for or still going through treatment, like Ray and Amanda, Lou and Keith....Not forgetting those who have lost their loved ones to this preventable disease.  Sending you all a big group hug :)  

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Gearing up for the big bike ride

Regular readers of the blog will be aware that in July my son Jack is riding L'Etape du Tour (a mountain stage of the Tour de France open to non-professional cyclists). He is doing it to fundraise for Mesothelioma UK in memory of his dad, my husband Steve, who died in February this year six years and eight months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. 

This isn't the sort of project you go into cold (unless you are crazy!)

Jack has been gearing up for the big bike ride with a training regime that has included cycling between his home in Bristol and mine in Oxford more than once, along with other long rides, and a "sportive" in Wales tomorrow to get used to them there hills....

Many of you have kindly sponsored him already.  So far he has raised around £1500, including off line donations, which is amazing!  Thank you all so much x

You can follow fundraising progress on his Just Giving page by clicking HERE!

Below is the story of his training so far....

My next update to the blog will be posted on 16 June, the 7th anniversary of Steve's diagnosis, with news of a homecoming, probate and the coroners inquest along with other relevant bits and pieces that have happened since my last post.  

In the meantime, sit back, enjoy reading Jack's blog post below, follow his training regime on Strava by clicking here and thank your lucky stars that it's not you cycling 146 km up, over and down four big mountains in around four weeks time!   

Etape Training – Early Days Recap (1)

So last year in a fit of madness and bike related hubris I signed up for the Etape du Tour on 10 July 2016 and this is first of a series of blog posts where I attempt to chronicle the experience and shamelessly solicit for sponsorship money!

Setting the Scene

The Etape is where rank amateurs up to semi-pros tackle a stage of Tour de France a few weeks before the professionals ride over it. Closed roads, feed stations, broom wagons for the dying, the whole caboodle. Indeed, the Etape is generally acknowledged as the pinnacle of the cycling Sportive calendar, due it the participation numbers, route toughness and its draw on the mythos surrounding the Tour itself.
Pic 1 – The Peloton sweeps through the south of France  [official tour media]
They generally set the Etape on one of the Tour’s more challenging mountain stages and this year is no exception as we will be riding the Queen Stage – 20: Megève to Morzine. I’ll look at the stage in more depth in a later post, but suffice to say its 89 miles – which is fairly middling in Sportive terms – but it is around 8000 metres of climbing that is the real foe.
Allez, allez, allez!

About Me

I’m a reasonable fit person, pretty competitive and have completed one  Sportive before – the not inconsiderable Dragon. However, I’m not even a club cyclist and let my cycling slip for various reasons post-Dragon back to a resounding zero. To be honest, I’m much more of an explore interesting places and country lanes on a mountain bike type rather than a tapping out a high tempo ride on a carbon beast, bedecked in lycra and all the gadgets. So this will be a challenge to up my cycling game without losing the sense of fun.

Small Beginnings

I started off the year doing a lot more running than cycling due to the weather and often being in different locations to my bikes, so was in the strange position of starting my Etape training being a lot better runner than cyclist. Up to early April (the magic 3 months to go panic point) the plan was simply to slowly increase the length and speed of cycling trips, roughly alternating between faster short trips and longer expeditions. Principal aim:  try not to break myself with too bad an injury in the early days of the season as I get some miles in my legs.
Pic 2 – Ashton Court’s Giant Head near the beginning of a jaunt along the Strawberry Line
To this effect the start of year saw me heading off to Severnside, cycling round sections Avonmouth still under construction with heavy duty roads, industrial backdrop and nothing else bar yet to be developed, blasted levels. A weird experience akin to the feeling of seeing old power stations on abandoned coasts.
Other more normal places included the Strawberry line; Radstock / Frome, the Kennet & Avon Canal and the ever reliable quick dash to Bath and back, all the while offering a quick prayer of thanks to that most giving of Gods, Sustrans, and its many glorious cycle paths around Bristol. No killer distances, but a nice steady increase when looking back on the training log.
Oh, and I saw a couple rowing a sinking bath tub down the canal at Avoncliffe and didn’t get a photo. Such is Avonlife.

Get Involved Blurb!

If you would like to support my effort and a great cancer charity in Mesothelioma UK you  can sponsor me here. All donations greatly received! You can see my progress on the rather wonderful Strave app here if you’re feeling curious.
Next time out – picking up the pace(ish) and the Lionheart Sportive.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Three months on and a lifetime later

It's three months to the day since Steve died.  In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago, so much has happened since then.  In other ways, it seems like only yesterday....the events of 15 February are etched on my memory like a video...

Not surprisingly, I still have moments - usually triggered by something trivial or unexpected - when the tears well up and the sense of loss is almost overwhelming.  But I'm moving on in many other ways, even though at times it feels like progress is horribly and frustratingly slow, not helped I suspect by the daily pain medication for my back (nerve root compression) which fogs the brain at times and can make me feel drowsy.

However, I have found that getting out and about, doing things and being with people to be a great tonic and stimulation.  So...

....I've exercised my brain with a couple of work-related trips to Guernsey; exercised my body walking around Dordrecht and Rotterdam on a week away in the Netherlands, where I had the pleasure of meeting up with "old" photography friends and making some new ones (as well as taking lots of photos!);  enjoyed other wonderful social occasions - a meal out with friends from student days at Worton Organic Garden; two very special birthday lunches with dear friends Sally and Ian; an evening meal with other friends; nights out at events like Live Friday and visiting the Warhol exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum; enjoying visiting artist studios open as part of Oxford Artworks; having a great weekend visit here in Oxford with Andy a friend from my student days; going to London to see the World Photography Exhibition at Somerset House....And there are lots more such occasions in the pipeline!

I've also invested in worldwide annual travel insurance, so I need to make the most of it now :)

Son Jack and daughter Katie have been visiting Oxford regularly from their respective homes in Bristol and London and we've got through some of those difficult 'first' events without Steve - the first anniversary of his birthday since his death; the first wedding anniversary without him; Katie's first birthday without her dad, and the special card he would have made to celebrate the occasion....

Jack has helped me set up a new computer and I hope that, by now, all my friend are aware of my new gmail address and are ignoring any emails which purport to come from my old email address.  This has been hacked and is PLEASE do NOT use it or click on any links on such emails which say they are from me at my old NTLworld address....they are still going out!!!!

All Steve's "assets" have now been valued and I think that at long last I have all the information necessary to complete Steve's estate accounts and apply for Grant of Probate....that's the priority for next week.

Jack is now training hard for his Etape du Tour cycle ride in July to raise money for Mesothelioma UK in Steve's memory. He recently did the return trip by bike from Bristol to Oxford carrying a heavy pack. The return journey clocked up 120 miles.  The boy done well!  More of that in a future post, so that those of you who have kindly and generously sponsored him will see how hard he is working...

...and so life goes on....

Big hugs to all the Meso Warriors, their families and friends and to all the wonderful people who have helped me, Jack and Katie get through the first three months since Steve died.  

Thank you all, so very much xx

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Moving forward

It's been a whole month since Steve's funeral and some three weeks since my last blog post. Because they hadn't heard from me for a while, some of my Facebook friends were concerned that I've been shutting myself away during that time.  So this post is to reassure you that in reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.....apart from the first week or so when the adrenalin stopped pumping and I came down with a nasty chest infection that knocked me for six for while - but I survived :)

Since then, I've moved forward on a number of fronts:


I've been gathering the information needed to complete Steve's "estate accounts" and apply for Grant of Probate.  That has involved many meetings, phone calls and correspondence with various people to establish the value of Steve's savings and investments; the house and its contents; the car; the business and its assets, plus our local green energy scheme which we both invested in and the life assurance company...not forgetting DWP for back payment of his Industrial Injuries Benefit and HMRC to see whether he owes any tax, or is due a refund.  

Most of the bits of jigsaw are in place now, so I hope to be able apply for Probate very shortly.

Getting out and about

Although dealing with probate matters has been time consuming, I haven't been stuck at home all the time.  Daughter Katie and I spent a couple of days in Bristol with son Jack over Easter, long enough to enjoy an open top bus tour and an evening with nephew Nick and his lovely family.  

I've been to Guernsey on a work-related trip - primarily business, but also a pleasure to reconnect with work colleagues and friends after a six month hiatus. 

I've also been out with friends here in Oxford to a couple of live music events - one evening of experimental music "Sonorous Matters" at the amazing Pitt Rivers Museum to listen to pieces inspired by items in the museum's collection, and to enjoy an evening at the Old Fire Station Arts Centre listening to Scottish contemporary folk singer/songwriter Kris Drever.  

There are other social events in the pipeline and a return trip to Guernsey in the near future.  And yes!  I will be taking you up on your kind invitations to visit, especially when the Probate application has been submitted and I have sorted out my body.....

Body maintenance

Everyone knows that careers are prone to neglect tend to prioritise the health and well being of the person you care for over and above your own.  Often you have no choice.  I was as guilty of that as the next carer, even though I knew I had to look after myself in order to look after Steve.  

However, now free of caring responsibilities, I have been able to catch up on a bit of personal body maintenance, with visits to the optician for eye health check ups; to the dentist (precipitated by cracking a tooth on a particularly chunky bit of Easter egg - I kid you not!); to audiology to follow up on improvements to my hearing, now an ENT specialist has confirmed that my hearing issues are not due to a tumour on the auditory nerve (phew....)

I've also had several consultations with the GP about the worsening of a chronic back pain problem caused by damaged and degenerating discs between the lumbar vertebrae, a condition which was probably exacerbated by the extra physical demands made on me towards the end of Steve's life when his physical capacity was severely restricted.  Another nerve root block injection is in the pipeline later this month, and a consultation with the spinal surgeon in the summer.  
Any thought of spinal surgery had been put on the back burner while Steve was alive, but it's now an option to consider.  I don't really want to spend the rest of my life on heavy duty painkillers and anti inflammatory drugs if the source of the problem can be fixed with an acceptable level of risk and side effects.  However, they are helping me live with the pain for the time being....

Dealing with bereavement

I would be lying if I said I didn't miss Steve more than you can imagine.  So much has been going on since mid-February - things I would normally discuss with him.  And he isn't here.  No one to bounce ideas off.  No one to get angry and frustrated on my behalf when things go wrong.  No one by my side all the time to help put them right.  No one to give me a cuddle, or a good morning/good night kiss.  No one to hold hands with as we walk along the street (yes...we still did that) Just an enormous Steve-shaped hole where he used to be.  

But I know he would have wanted me to get on with my life, so that's what I'm trying to do.  And thankfully, I'm not alone.  I'm fortunate.  I have my grown up kids, the wider family, good friends and neighbours.  Thank you all for being there for me, as you were when Steve was still alive.  

Dealing with red tape

If you have had to deal with bereavement, you will know that as well as grief and the sense of loss, you have to deal with a lot of red tape.  I thought I was well organised....well, Steve's impending death had been on the cards for a while and we had made an effort to get our affairs in order.  But, as I have since discovered, there are things which we didn't think of or sort out in time, and dealing with those matters has been frustrating to say the least.  

How difficult is it to change or remove one name from an account if the other person named on the account is still around, and the address and bank details are the same?  More difficult and time consuming than you could possibly imagine, especially if the account is with Virgin Media or Thames Water....

Add an email address hack into the mix and it becomes almost impossible.  If you are reading this and wonder why I haven't replied to your emails sent to my NTLworld account, it's simply that I can't get into it (or Steve's NTLworld email account) any more.  Please, please, please do NOT try to contact me via my NTLworld email address.  It will go into a black hole.  Use my gmail address instead, or use the blogger contract form and I'll be in touch that way!

Then there are the things that Steve set up online using passwords that were in his head...The Oxford Studio website and Wride and Co website for starters....Without doubt, there are other things that I remain in blissful ignorance about simply because I can no longer see emails sent to his address.  I just hope that these things don't come back and bite me on the you know-what-at some point in the future...  

The digital era and online access are very wonderful in many respects, but please make sure you share key information with someone you trust.  Otherwise, access to your digital archive and accounts will be nigh on impossible after your demise and the content will simply be lost forever - the important stuff as well as the trivial.....

Looking forward

Ever since Steve was diagnosed with mesothelioma in June 2009, we tried to be positive.  I will try to carry on with that attitude as I move forward without him.  If nothing else, I appreciate the importance of trying to make the most of each and every day, even if you don't always succeed.  

At some point in the future, I'll try to emulate other Meso Warriors and carers like Linda Reinstein in the States, Mavis Nye in the UK, Lou Williams in Australia and do some advocacy to raise awareness of the risks of exposure to asbestos and join the fight for a global ban on this hazardous material.  But for now, I feel like a need to stand back and learn to enjoy life without it being overshadowed by mesothelioma.  

I have turned off my daily Google alerts.  My involvement with the mesothelioma community on Facebook will not cease but will be at a much lower key, at least for the time being.  I will still follow my fellow Meso bloggers, even if I don't comment very often on your blog posts.  And my thoughts are still very much with those who are still fighting the disease and their loved ones, and with those who have lost loved ones to mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.  

In short I still care, very much...but I'm taking a break from mesothelioma for a while so I can get my new life on track, recharge the batteries, sort out my body.  I'm sure you will understand.

Writing blog posts for Doing Something Positive has been part of my life for so long now, it's been very strange not writing so much recently.  In truth, I have missed it!  However, this blog was inspired Steve's mesothelioma journey.  There will be a few more posts before the journey is finally over - updates on Jack's big bike ride; progress on the grant of probate and any useful tips I pick up along the way for those who are thinking about doing it themselves; the final figure for donations made in Steve's memory; our ideas for a permanent memorial to Steve at some point in the future, and such like.  However, it's coming to a natural end....

To fill the gap - and because I have found blogging to be both therapeutic and creative - I have started a new blog about moving forward on my own.  However, it's early days and I'm not sure where it's going yet.  It may stay as a private online diary...But if and when I feel ready to share, I will let you know.  

For now, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who reads the blog and in particular, to those who have contacted me to say how much it has helped them through similar journeys.  That means a lot to me.  Please stay in touch, if you feel moved to do so!  Perhaps we might meet up when I restart my travels :)  

For now - enjoy spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn on the other side of the world.  With my love to you all x