Tuesday, 16 February 2021

5 years on - a letter to Steve

Can it really be five whole years since your last breath?  

The run up to yesterday's anniversary was all too familiar in some ways...Six Nations rugby matches to enjoy on the TV (and a repeat of England's victory over Italy!) plus memories of Valentine's Days past, with your last card to me still having pride of place on the mantlepiece in the bedroom where we had our last conversation on the morning of 15 February.

But in other respects, it's been a year like no other - something happened which was unimaginable this time last year.  The world has been closed down with the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.  Plans to mark my significant birthday abandoned before they had got beyond the ideas stage; travel arrangements, hotel and B&B bookings cancelled; contact with family and friends for the most part limited to phone calls, WhatsApp messages, emails, FaceTime and Zoom meetings; groceries and other items delivered rather than shopped for in person...And the human touch limited to those you share your house with or in your support bubble.

For many people, it has been difficult living with uncertainty about the future.  I won't pretend it's been easy for me, but the experience of supporting you through mesothelioma for the best part of 7 years has helped.  I know much better now how to live in the moment and seize opportunities as they arise.  From being an inveterate "planner" with a good idea at the start of the year as to what would happen and when during the next 12 months, I got used to living with time horizons no further into the future than your next quarterly assessment.  Even looking ahead during that three month period came with health warnings that things could change without warning (and they frequently did...) So in that respect, I was better equipped than most to deal with the strange times we have all experienced since the first England lockdown in mid-March 2020. 

In other respects too, I consider myself to have been more fortunate than most when it comes to living through lockdown, with a garden to enjoy, a park at the end of the street and lovely walks close by. The street's WhatsApp group has been hugely supportive of each other and is still going strong. I'm now on friendly first name terms with most of the people living in the street; I've got to know some of neighbours much better as I talked to them from a safe social distance while taking a series of lockdown photographic "rainbow" portraits to keep the creative juices going.  

I have a confession too.  There is another man in the house! Don't jump to conclusions - I don't think that anyone could take your place...But when working from home became not only possible but mandatory, our son returned to live in the family home whilst working remotely.  We never imagined back last spring that he would still be here approaching a year later, so we've had to adjust as we've gone along.  

It's been mutually beneficial.  Lovely to have someone to talk to, hug from time to time, do the heavy lifting/carrying so as not to aggravate my back problems while pain management injections have been cancelled during the pandemic.  He's got me out walking, encouraging me to explore an area I thought I knew well, but now realise had not really got off the beaten track.  I'm much fitter as a result!

In return, he's had someone to discuss work with, cook meals for him from time to time, share a love of walking with and convert to "Strava" to keep track of where we've been.  It will be strange when he finally leaves..whenever, that will be...

I've had little face to face, in the flesh contact with our daughter and her husband since the pandemic stopped "normal" life.  We did manage a weekend away in the Cotswolds for my special birthday...

...and have had occasional socially distanced meet ups since then, but it's difficult when they currently live so far away.  So most contact has been "virtual".  However, they are in the process of buying a house within walking distance of here.  If that all goes through, it will be wonderful to have them so close at hand.  Fingers crossed!

I've used the lockdown periods to progress work on the house, which is moving forward after the disruption of building works in 2018/2019.  I think you would approve of the things that have changed.  As I stripped wallpaper, I even discovered a note we wrote on the wall in 1995, the last time the living room had been stripped back to the plaster.  You can just about make it out...Quite nostalgic...

As I write, we are in lockdown 3, but at long last, there is some light at the end of the tunnel as vaccines are rolled out. I've had one dose already.  It remains to be seen when life will return to the "new normal".  Where we will be when I write this time next year?  

I can't finish without mentioning the Mesowarriors, who were such a big part of our lives for such a long time. I'm still in touch with friends in the UK, USA and Canada who lost their loved ones to mesothelioma, like me.  We are bound by a common thread which not even a pandemic can destroy. Although you lived much longer than most diagnosed around the same time as you in 2009, the amazing Mavis Nye (diagnosed around the same time) battles on, Wonder Woman that she is - acting as a focal point for those who find themselves dealing with this man-made cancer either as a personal diagnosis or as a loved one/carer.  Hope lives on through her, and long may it last!

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Four years on....a letter to Steve

On 14 February 2016, we exchanged Valentines cards, had a few beers with family and friends while cheering on England playing in one of the Six Nations rugby matches on TV.  Later that evening, we hatched plans to make life easier for you by converting the first floor bedroom into a bedsit of sorts, so you didn't have to make the increasingly difficult journey up and downstairs.  

On 15 February 2016, I brought you a cup of coffee in bed around 8.30am.  Our daughter, visiting at the time, was already up and out on a refresher driving lesson. You were due to go to your first music therapy session later that day, at the local hospice.  Appointments were in place for a further course of radiotherapy; your next session was to be the following day.  We knew you were getting closer to the end of your life - nearly seven years post-mesothelioma diagnosis - but, based on the consultant's advice, thought we had still had a few more months to prepare ourselves mentally, emotionally and practically.  

Then the unthinkable, but inevitable, happened.  By the time I returned to the bedroom half an hour later to collect your empty coffee cup, you had breathed your last.  Life would never be the same again. 

Today, unprompted, I woke up at 8.45am.  Exactly four years since the day - and probably the time - of your death.  In some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago; in other ways, it feels like it's only just happened; the memories are still so vivid.  But life goes on...

If I learned anything from your experience with mesothelioma, it's not to take anything for granted.  If there's something you want to do, then do it (if you can) rather than put it off to another time on the assumption that there will be another opportunity.  

So I have taken that thought to heart, relishing the opportunity to travel while I'm still mobile and able to enjoy the experience, with a fascinating trip to Bolivia last summer ...

Lying down on the job and jumping for joy with the Frui gang at Uyuni Salt flats, Bolivia

...and the most amazing experience visiting Ethiopia in January...

With the Mursi tribe, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

as well as visits to family and friends in Europe (don't get me going on the B word.  Thank goodness, you missed all that...)

With the ex-1Xers Doel, Belgium
and, of course, closer to home in the UK.  Our friends and neighbours continue to support me in every way imaginable.  For that I am truly grateful. 

But by far the biggest event of the year, and the one which brought the most joy (and tears) was the wedding of our daughter Katie to Davie in the Scottish borders last November.  I had the honour and pleasure of walking her down the "aisle" to the ceremony - a role that would normally have fallen to you.  

Although you were not there in person, you were remembered with love in the speeches of both the groom, Davie, and the Maid of Honour, Kathleen.  I have to admit that tears were steaming down my cheeks as I listened then...and again now, as I remember.  But it was a truly joyous and magical occasion, which you would have loved.  So I will finish this "letter" to you with some photo memories of the day.  

Who knows what the next 12 months will bring, but you can be sure I will be seizing the day, especially as the next big birthday is on the horizon...

With love that will not fade away xx

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Anniversary musings....

I'm thinking of you especially today, Steve.  

We should have been celebrating our wedding anniversary together.  Instead, I am marking the day without you, for the third time since your death in February 2016.  

It's got me thinking about anniversaries when we were together.....including the memorable trip to Marrakech to celebrate our "Ruby" wedding anniversary, toasting each other on the roof terrace of the KozyBar, watching the storks fly back and forth from their nests on the walls of the El Badi Palace.  

Believe it or not, I was back there a couple of weeks ago, at the end of a second tour of Morocco with fellow photography enthusiasts.  The storks were settling down for the night, but we watched from the roof terrace of the bar, drinking wine as the sun disappeared from view, the mosques became illuminated and the call to prayer echoed around the city. 

It was a calculated risk, taking the group to the same place where we had celebrated a special anniversary, but the right decision.  I now have more happy memories to keep me going when the going gets tough.

There is another important event on the horizon this year. Our daughter is getting married in November!  You would love her partner, Davie.  So sad that you won't be there to walk her down the aisle - or more precisely to where Davie will be waiting for her, as (like our own marriage) as this won't be a religious ceremony.  But it will be a joyful one!

You would also be very proud of our son Jack, who has just completed the London Marathon.  Where does he get his strength and endurance from I wonder?  ;) 

Rather than running away from home like I did on the first anniversary without you, or spending the day alone with my thoughts like last year, I will be with others, hosting a meal here to say thank you for some of our lovely friends / neighbours who have given me practical help and emotional support when I need it.  That's a good way to spend a special day.  

You will be missed.  

You are missed.  

But you are not forgotten.  

Remembering you with love xx

May 2012 - Marrakech

May 1972 Oxfordshire


Friday, 16 February 2018

Two years on....

Well Steve, we have reached the second anniversary of your death. Your last Valentine to me has pride of place on the mantelpiece, as it did last year and the year before.

I was stirred yesterday morning by bright sunshine slanting through the blinds and it took a few seconds to wake up properly before the significance of the date kicked in.  I confess I shed a tear on reading lovely messages from friends who also remembered this anniversary.  

However, it wasn't all sadness.  Daughter Katie joined me at lunchtime, and we walked, talked and dined together and toasted your memory.  She has returned to London this morning, so a chance to finish this post to mark the second anniversary of loosing you. 

Unlike last year, the run up to this anniversary has not been nearly as stressful.  Maybe its because I’ve been through many of those “first time without you” experiences and survived, even though its been difficult at times.....such as when I walked out of a Cuban music evening barely able to hold back the tears - the only person trying to salsa without a partner - remembering how much we enjoyed dancing together....

While the Steve-shaped hole in my life is still there, the void is slowly being filled with new experiences of living as a single person.  

I’ve carried on our grown up gap year, traveling far and wide over the last 12 months: Namibia, Scotland, Portugal, France and New York City, as well as getting out and about in the UK, meeting up with old friends, making new friends and enjoying some quality time with our grown up kids along the way.

The camera has been my companion on these travels, and photography is still proving to be a creative and social lifeline, as it was when you were alive and going through treatment.  For some reason, a few days ago I was flicking through old photos of our travels together, and I came across this one of you in Spain, at the memorial to those innocent people who lost their lives in the Madrid train bombings back in 2004, before you were diagnosed with terminal cancer.  The image has taken on a new significance now, watching you walk away from me in the darkness, but towards the light flooding in from above.  Sadness and hope at the same time.

I’m still in touch with the Meso Warriors - mainly those who have lost their loved ones to mesothelioma - but also the amazing Mavis Nye who was diagnosed with the disease around the same time as you but is now in remission after taking part in an immunotherapy drug trial which has given hope to so many.  Mavis has even started up her own charity to help others in her position and their families.  I was honoured to be invited to the launch and to take some photos to record the launch last December.

People like Mavis and Linda Reinstein in the States (who runs the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation) have my utmost admiration for the work they do.  I sometimes feel guilty that I’m not more actively involved in mesothelioma awareness advocacy, especially now this blog is only updated infrequently.  However, people still read it from time to time, and I’ve had nice messages from those who have found it helpful, including a lady who had no idea what to expect at the Coroner’s Inquest but didn’t find it quite so scary after reading about my experience on the blog, so I guess that’s a contribution in some small way....

The idea of creating a public artwork as a permanent memorial to you has moved forward another baby step, with discussions about its form (a "human" sundial) and location in what will be a little pocket park next to the Thames at the Osney Lock.  However, its taking a while to get lottery funding for the overall landscaping scheme, and there is no sign of anything happening on the ground as yet. Hopefully, some time over the next 12 months, the project will reach fruition, or at least take another step forward....

Who knows what the next year will bring to me, our family and the wider mesothelioma community?  It will be interesting to look back in 12 months time to find out.  Until then - your memory will not fade away.... 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Not fade away... a year on

Well, Steve....it's here....the first anniversary of your death.  

In some ways it feels like only yesterday - the memories of your last weekend are so vivid....watching England play Italy in the Six Nations rugby match; exchanging Valentine cards; making plans to convert the bedroom into a bedsit so you didn't have to climb stairs which you were finding a struggle; bringing you a cup of coffee in bed the next morning and listening as you told me about your dream, then returning a short while later to find you had taken your last breath....I still regret that I wasn't holding you in my arms at that time.

In other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened and so much has changed since then...

For the first six months or so, the challenge was getting through all the stuff that has to be sorted out when someone dies: notifying people and changing all things held jointly into my name; dealing with Probate and attending the Coroner's Inquest; deciding (or not deciding) what to do with your personal effects; trying to catch up with the urgent household stuff that had been put on hold as your health had deteriorated, and dealing with my own health issues.....

Over the last six months or so, I've been distancing myself from things like that, quite literally in one way, with lots of traveling (Italy, Romania, back to Italy, Cuba and Belgium, as well as staying with family and friends here in the UK).  

I've consciously distanced myself from mesothelioma too; stopped the google alerts, taken a long break from writing the blog, which is almost at a natural end anyway; not looked too closely at what's happening with the Meso Warriors in Facebook...news of other deaths from mesothelioma just stirred up all the negative emotions again - and there seemed to be so many: Andrew's Nancy, Amanda's Ray, Sue's Big G to name but a few - although the news that Mavis is still in remission brings me joy, and I am in total awe of Lou in Australia who just seems to keep going somehow, no matter what happens.

Throughout the last 12 months there have been emotional and poignant milestones; the first anniversaries of our significant dates.  

Your birthday last March was a quiet affair, just me and our kids Jack and Katie having a meal out.  In truth, I think we were all rather preoccupied with thoughts of your funeral which took place the day after, at 3pm on the third day of the third month.  Given your love of numbers, we thought you would appreciate that....

In May, the first wedding anniversary without you was spent in the company of photography friends in the Netherlands.  I had run away from home...just couldn't bear the thought of being in Oxford without you on that day.

I ran way again in July, to celebrate my birthday with Katie in Italy and meet up with our friends Giuseppe and Maria Adele in Rome.

In September, we scattered your ashes on the River Thames, to the north of Oxford. I carried you to the end of the street, then Martin your brother carried you the rest of the way, and we all walked (me, Jack and Katie, Martin and Mary) along the towpath for three miles or so, passing some of our favourite haunts and riverside pubs on the way, before finding a quiet spot for the little ceremony.  We end up at The Trout, where we had a lovely family meal and raised several glasses of fizz in your memory, before walking back home. 

I like to think of you, floating down the Thames, passing close by our house, through the centre of Oxford and on via Reading (one of the places you grew up) and London (where I grew up and Katie now lives), out into the ocean and on around the world, carried by tides and currents. 

The elements - fire, water, earth and air - were a recurring theme in your artwork.  On the way home after scattering your ashes, it struck me that your mortal remains had already passed through fire, air and water, so I completed their journey by burying the last few particles in the earth of the large pot in which the Japanese maple is growing, just outside the kitchen windows.  Its pink leaves and red stems light up the sideway in the spring, turn a beautiful fresh green in summer and glow yellow, orange and red like fire in the autumn.  A lovely reminder of you as the seasons pass.

In November, we scattered ashes on water again.  This time it was your mum's turn, in Bristol on the River Frome, and the occasion was marked by the family having tea and cake at the little refreshment kiosk at Snuff Mills.  Perhaps a little bit of you will be reunited with a little bit of your mum, one day somewhere out in the waters of the big wide world....

Knowing Christmas would never be the same without you, Jack, Katie and I opted for something completely different this year.  We rented a house in Bruges, went sight-seeing in Bruges and Ghent.  We enjoyed sampling gluhwein, waffles dipped in Belgian chocolate, frites dipped in mayonnaise and other local delicacies (but not all at the same time!) and I met up with photography friends while Jack and Katie explored Antwerp independently.  I think it helped us being somewhere completely different, but some things were still the same, including taking your thick, white walking socks to act as stockings for the kids' presents....

Our friend's Ian and Ruth came to my rescue on New Years Eve, organising a diner party with games so that I wasn't at home alone at the start of the year.  

Indeed, our friends have come to my rescue many times over the last 12 months, including me in invitations to events, meals and trips away in the UK, as well as offering and providing practical help and emotional support. My photography friends abroad have been wonderful too, not to mention other members of the family, especially those who live in Bristol whom I try to see when visiting Jack.  I am very fortunate to have such a good support network.

However, as a widowed friend of a friend said, "I have lots of people to do things with, but no one to do nothing with." And that's how it feels sometimes.  I still find it strange to come home to an empty house.  I'm still not used to the sound of silence (music is played more often now, as is the radio.) Cooking for one doesn't feel right ....perhaps I should invite people round for a meal more often.

I know from the phone calls, messages and cards that many of our friends have been thinking of me - and you - as the first anniversary of your death approaches.  They say I have been strong, but I have probably cried more in the last couple of weeks than during the last six months put together, knowing that this day was approaching.  

What is it about anniversaries?  They are just dates...days like any other day; they come; they go.  But they are a trigger for memories, happy and sad, the good times and the bad, and times for joy, quiet reflection or celebrations, depending on the occasion...I suppose it's because they are important personal milestones which mark the passage of time in our lives, that we cannot let them pass without acknowledging them in some way.

Even with family and good friends to support me, it goes without saying that I still miss you, even though its been a year now and life goes on regardless.

I miss the physical stuff...your presence, your touch; our morning and goodnight kisses; holding hands and having cuddles; dancing with you...  

I miss the sound of your voice; your laughter; your smile; the twinkle in your eye; your enthusiasm; your creativity...

I miss hearing your opinions - even though I didn't agree with all of them.  I miss your delight at solving a particularly tricky cryptic crossword puzzle and your patience when you had to explain some of the clues and answers to me - crossword puzzles have never been my forte.  I even miss those occasions when tensions had built up and you would loose your temper like an explosion, but you would calm down so quickly after letting off steam, rather than sulking...

I miss your practical help....my chauffeur has gone, along with the car; my IT consultant is missing (although Jack is a good substitute); I no longer have my design consultant (although Katie steps into your shoes when needed).  There's no one to advise me about the right screws and rawl plugs to use when putting things up on walls, hold the bottom of the ladder or the other end of a tape measure.  Google can fill the gaps in my knowledge but can't help to fold a king size duvet cover, which is a lot easier when there are two of you!  And of course, you were always much better at housework than me....

Until today, my last emotional milestone in the year since your death was yesterday - Valentine's day.  For more than four decades, I have received a handmade, personal Valentine card from you on this day.  I still have them all.  Looking back now, the card you gave me last year feels like premonition...why else choose the theme "Not Fade Away" inspired by the sixties song sung by the Stones and Buddy Holly.  

Of course, there was no Valentine card from you this year. But last year's card still sits on the mantlepiece in pride of place. The last creative act you did, the day before you died.  The ink may fade but the sentiment will not. 

I used to be a bit sceptical when people said they thought about their lost loved ones every day.  Now I get it.  It's not that you occupy my waking thoughts, all day, every day.  But after sharing our lives for more than four decades, you are woven into the fabric of my personal history and the lives of our children.  That doesn't stop, or cease to exist, simply because you have died.  

Having lived in the same house for so long, there are also many physical reminders of you everywhere, from the odd notes written in your hand scattered around the house, to your art work on the walls and the kitchen cupboards you built over 20 years ago...not to mention those personal effects which are still around....some now in use by me, others put away in a memory box, some still awaiting a decision or action.  

And so..it's arrived at last. The day I have been dreading. This time last year, there was pandemonium in the house, with so people coming and going - medics, GP, Police, the hospice nurse, undertakers.  Katie returning from a refresher driving lesson wondering why there was an ambulance in the street outside; having to tell he that her dad had just died.  Then having to tell Jack the same, by phone....then the rest of the family and close friends. There were tears, tears and more tears...No wonder I have been dreading this anniversary.....  

But now it's dawned, unlike last year, I feel strangely calm and peaceful, which has come as a bit of a surprise.  It's only the start of the day, I know....it maybe different when Katie arrives later....But we have made it this far, in spite of the overwhelming feelings of loss and grief which engulfed us this time last year and for a long time afterwards.

I still find it difficult to look very far ahead into the future. Nearly 7 years of not thinking beyond the date of your three monthly hospital assessment is a hard habit to break.  But now there are plans in the pipeline up until July, when Jack will once again be riding the Etape, the mountain stage of the Tour de France open to non-professionals.  I will be there as the support team this year!  

Between then and now, there is more traveling...picking up again on our extended grown up gap year so rudely interrupted in June 2009 when you were diagnosed with mesothelioma and told the average life expectancy was 12-18 months.  Belgium calls in March, followed by work in Guernsey, then a big trip to Namibia and shorter trips to Scotland and Portugal.

But apart from travel and photography, I have little idea where my life is going at the moment. There is no clear direction of travel. I am reluctant to make regular commitments.  I'm still living very much in the day. That's the inheritance of living with a mesothelioma diagnosis for so long.  Perhaps I shouldn't worry about it, but just carry on going with the flow....

However, there is one thing I want to progress this year, and that's the idea of commissioning an artwork as a permanent memorial to you to be installed at a place nearby where lots of people can see and enjoy it.  That can be my mission for 2017.  When it comes to fruition, I'll post another blog entry.

Until then, or until the next significant event or anniversary, in the words of the song "A love for real not fade away..."

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 forward...be 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!!!