Friday, April 29, 2011

Not lying down in the ashes of a forest fire

People who don't get it just want to see you getting better ... they don't understand the length of time that it takes to start a new life when your old life has been completely annihilated ... they probably don't see that your old life has been completely destroyed ... they probably think that, "well, you lost a husband but the rest of your life is still in tact so you just need to carry on," ....

but, in fact, even if the framework looks on the surface like it's still there (you have a good job, a nice house, etc..), the entire landscape (inner landscape) has been destroyed ... how do you carry on walking through the woods after the woods have been burned to the ground? You can walk ... but it is sort of aimless walking ... well, at least it's walking, not lying down in the ash ...

but real walking and enjoying the forest doesn't happen for a long time because you have to wait for new trees to grow!


Thanks Kendra for your support, as always.


My old school friend who selflessly helps me through her own pain. She walked through the ashes for a long long time, and as you can see ... the new trees did grow again in her forest. Here she is in that very forest, doing even more than walking.

riding our own waves of grief - together - on a day of calmer seas (Singapore 2010)

Monday, April 25, 2011

enough already

Goodnight baba. Thank you for the glorious sunset.

I forgot something. You taught me never to give up. Never. So I shall not give up. Ever.
To do so would dishonour you. It's okay to grieve. But not for days and days on end. I also promised you that I wouldn't do that again. And I promised you, as you were dying that I would be okay, that it was okay to go. I need to deliver on that promise to you. It was the last promise I made you. How could I break a promise to the one person, the only man who never, not once let me down.

The sun will rise again tomorrow and I will shed this attitude as it does so. For you. For me. For love. And Light.

and I shall remember these words, written in Zulu ... and honour you.

(Go well brave warrior woman, for the sun will rise again tomorrow.)

And rise it shall.

And rise I shall.

... for Love is stronger than death.

Easter Monday

Today I'm despondent, missing you and lethargic.

Laying on my sofa with our dogs, still in my PJ's.

The house is a tip. The mail remains unopened for a week. Phone calls un-returned.

I opt for solitude because I can cry unashamedly and often. I can speak to you. With you even. I opt for solitude because it feels as though I am with you.

The leg of lamb I bought at a reduced price (you'd like that) as a treat for the dogs still remains in the freezer, for I cannot bear the smell permeating our home, as it would have done, had you still been alive.

Subjected to a fourth night of sleeping on this sofa because of the spider in our bedroom.

I've stayed in since Friday morning when I spent those hours in Stockbury, and missed all that lovely weather. Just as I have missed you.

I activated our old AOL email addresses on my iPhone because I finally realized that I still had those even though I changed my internet provider. It hurt to see the business address there. Your construction firm's address. Another reminder of broken dreams. It hurt to see a couple of emails received from friends addressed to both of us. Us. Before. My old life.

I look in the mirror these days and don't even recognize myself. The sparkle in my eyes has turned to a deadness. My smile is forced. My cheeks sunken. I look like a fucking heroin addict. I don't look like your Boo. It would sadden you and worry you so much and it makes me feel like I've let you down.

I've done a lot of grief work which is reflected in the amount of posts to my blog. It's exhausting, it bares my nerve endings again whilst healing me some more. It brings me some peace, but at a cost.

Time to have a break from grief work now.

Back to work tomorrow.

I miss you so much it's unspeakable, baba.

Is that why you keep coming to me in my dreams? Please don't stop. Not yet.

The Grief Recovery Handbook

yeah, right I hear you say.

Because that's what I said.

But I was willing to work through this book and give it a go ... and wanted to share my experience of doing so with you. I've completed some of the assignments and already feel more peace for doing so. And after my BFF and I have read each other our letters (at the end) I'll let you know if it helped.


This book approaches the subject from an emotional viewpoint, rather than intellectually. And I liked that they immediately explained that Kubler-Ross' concept of stages applied to dying, not grieving, which reassured me, along with the fact that both authors had experienced deep loss themselves. They explain that anger is an emotion that not all of us who grieve experience. I know that I've only felt anger, true anger, once ... so it made me feel a little more "normal".

But what really kept me reading the book were these words:

"Not forgetting" becomes incorrectly entangled with the idea of "not getting over". This crippling idea keeps the griever's heart eternally broken, does not allow for recovery ...

they suggest that we say, "when I am reminded of his struggles and death, my heart feels broken. Other times, remembering his wonderful qualities, I feel happy and pleased to share my memories about him." instead of "I have a permanently broken heart."

That closure is an inaccurate word. That a lawsuit cannot help you become emotionally complete.

That instead of using the word Guilt, we use different, better, more

That using the word survivor isolates you even more in our society, that every relationship is unique and therefore every loss is unique.


The lessons:

1. What we have been taught about loss/things people say to us -

Don't feel bad (don't cry)
Replace the loss (you can marry again)
Grieve alone (go to your room and cry - as a child) (others react uncomfortably to tears)
Give it time (time heals)
Be strong for others (being told to be strong for your mother if your father died)
Keep busy (it's only a distraction)

Even a well-meaning friend who has a parallel loss does not know how we feel. It's only an intellectual fact, not an emotional truth.

2. How people react to our grief -

they are uncomfortable or even afraid of our feelings (be strong / be brave)
they change/shift the subject from you to the deceased (I feel so sad .... but she's in a better place now)
they intellectualize (she led a full life / you'll find someone else because you're young / the living must go on)
they don't hear us (we don't need to be fixed by them, just listened to)
they don't want to talk about death (he passed away / Dad's gone)
professional distortions (grief is normal reaction to loss, it is not a pathological condition or a personality disorder. PTSD / Depression - incorrect use of these words is misleading)
they want us to take pills to make us feel better (grief is painful and sometimes in the short term benefits the grieving, however in the end approaching grief naturally is shown to have more long term benefit. Our society deals with upset this way when we are children: "Don't cry, have a cookie."
they want us to keep our faith (you shouldn't be angry with God)

We are taught that we must act "recovered" in order to be treated in an acceptable manner. Putting on the "I'm fine" smile. Intellectualizing increases our sense of isolation and creates a feeling of being judged and even criticized. So we focus on only fond memories, even enshrinement (keeping large numbers of objects that represent the person lost, and look at the relationship as only positive, not remembering anything negative at all ... or we focus only on the negatives ... and it is critical that we are honest with ourselves and others about the person and our memories.)

Unresolved grief tends to separate us from ourselves. It saps all the energy from us. It takes everything to get out of bed and go to work.


The Road to Recovery

What do you wish had been different / better / more?

e.g. you were unkind to the person the last time you spoke to them.

Write down what you wish had been different / better / more.

I wish that I'd had more time with you. That I'd helped you more renovating our home. That I'd realized I was depressed about losing our dog and talked to you about it. That I'd been more proactive about taking you to be checked out instead of telling you to see the doctor. That you felt you shouldn't worry me about your deteriorating health, that I either didn't see or sub-consciously denied. I wish I could have had your son. I wish we could have retired in Spain, or that I'd thought of my plans for living in Spain before, so that you could have retired ... and you might have lived longer and stress-free.

Realize that others are not responsible for our feelings. We cannot change others' actions but we can choose how to feel/react to those actions. We turn ourselves into victims. We are advised to let it go or to move on, but as humans we simply don't work that way. We cannot recover until we stop seeing ourselves as victims.

Choose whether to work alone or with a partner (who is also grieving a loss - any loss is fine). If working with a partner, lay some ground rules:

agree a safe meeting place, bring tissues, crying is natural, so is not crying, agree whether hugs are acceptable (but wait till the end of the exercise to hug as this can stop feelings coming out), treat this as two friends having a conversation). Be totally honest, maintain confidentiality, respect the uniqueness of their loss - do not compare losses.

I'm intending to complete this with my BFF who has lost her mum.


Review the myths and cliches you have heard:

e.g. don't feel bad and she led a full life

At least you're young, it could be worse.
He wouldn't want you to be sad.
Life goes on.
Time will heal.
At least you experienced real love, I haven't.
Everything happens for a reason.
Be strong.
Be brave.
You should be getting better now.
Why don't you take anti-depressants? So what if you are on them for the rest of your life?

Discuss the misinformation you have been taught or told. Discuss the impact it had on you. Discuss how you have been using some of these concepts to deal with your loss.

Short-term Energy-Relieving Behaviours:

these give relief in the short-term but are damaging in the long-term. Examples of STERBS are:

Fantasy (movies, books, TV)

Some of these are not harmful in themselves, only when you use them for the wrong reason.

Identify your use of STERBs

Internet use - Facebook, Blog etc
Refusal to change anything in the house from the day he died
Minimizing my loss in comparison to widows in the Third World
Focussing on others' loss instead of my own

Create a loss history linear graph of your losses, starting with your birth year and ending with this year. Write down all your losses along this chronological line (e.g. dog died, divorced, mother died, spouse died). Then draw lines downwards for each one. The longer the line (downwards), the greater the pain associated with the loss.

Share this with your partner. Don't interrupt your partner if it is their turn to talk. If you cry, try to keep talking, don't choke the feelings off. Remember to include any STERBs you used during these losses, the myths or cliches you were told and how that influenced your grieving.

Now choose one loss that you want to work on.


Create a relationship graph in the same style as the last graph. The difference this time is that you include happy memories (above the line) and negative stuff (below the line). Again the length of lines above or below denote how positive or negative these experiences were.

Start the graph on the year that you first met and be totally honest.

Share this with your partner and as before, don't interrupt them etc.

Using your graph categorize all the events into the following:


for being impatient and ill-tempered after working too hard
for not noticing that your health was deteriorating
for not being strong, so that you always had to be
for not vocalizing how I felt sometimes
for not giving up smoking
for making you feel that I didn't listen to you anymore. I did but I am sorry that you thought I didn't.
for being jealous sometimes
(Note: there are more apologies but they are private and will only be shared with my partner)


I forgive you for being nasty to me for the first two days of our cruise.
I forgive you for ruining a Christmas because you were angry that you couldn't buy gifts for everyone and you took it out on me and got drunk.
I forgive you for the birthday when you inexplicably turned on me and really frightened me because I couldn't understand what I had done wrong, and I still don't know.
I forgive you for always "picking on me" when you were uncomfortable in anyone's company because it must have made you feel better. You were never really horrible but it made me not want to visit some people with you after a while.
(Note: there are more notes but as before these are too private)

Significant Emotional Statements

I love you
I think I have loved you since I was 18
I shall always love you
You are my "one"
I shall never feel the same
You let me retain my innocence and made me safe
You gave me everything
I remember your words and lessons. I listened.
You made me feel beautiful and special for the first time in my life
You loved me more than anyone could
You knew me better than anyone could
You taught me so much and still teach me
I shall never stop missing you
I'm so proud to be your wife
You are a man.
You healed me.
You gave me confidence, support and a safe environment in which to grown.
You sacrificed an entire life for me and never once complained.
You worked so hard for us.
You are so smart and patient.
You would have died for me.
I would die for you.
I've never been as happy as I was with you.
You are my world.
You gave me the best days and memories of my life, and more fun than I ever had in my life.
I still want to be with you, but I'm learning to cope.
I promised you as you were dying that I would be alright, and I need to deliver on that promise.
You never let me down, not once, and that is why I find it so hard to believe that you can't come back.

Read this out to your partner, without interruption or hugs, whilst reading it. Try to carry on reading if you cry. Don't discuss this with your partner afterwards. It is what it is.

Now write your completion letter. Review your assignments already completed first. The purpose of this is to say goodbye to the pain you associate with this relationship, including unmet dreams. It signals the end of this communication BUT NOT THE END OF THE RELATIONSHIP. It is crucial to end the letter "goodbye).

One format to use follows:

Dear xxx

I've been thinking about our relationship and want to tell you some things.

xxxx, I apologize for xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (how many you want to include)
xxxx, I forgive you for xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (whatever you wish to say)
xxxx, I want you to know (emotional statements)

I love you, I miss you. Goodbye xxxx
(Note: I have decided that when I write this letter I will not publicly share it)

As the listener, be a heart with ears. Do not interrupt. Do not touch. If tears well up leave them there. If you wipe away the tears you give the reader the message that tears are bad. Do not judge or analyze. As soon as the reader says "goodbye", hug them. Hold them as they cry.

As the reader, close your eyes and get a mental image of the person whom you have written to. Open your eyes and read. If you cry, keep reading otherwise you will swallow your feelings. Before reading your final sentence (say goodbye), close your eyes and imagine the person again.

You have said goodbye to unfinished business, emotional incompleteness, pain, isolation and confusion and the physical relationship that you had.

You are not saying goodbye to fond memories. It doesn't mean you will no longer feel sad, it just means you don't have to go over the same things that were bothering you, especially feelings of guilt in my case.

It's ok to add a P.S. to your letter if more things come to mind.

After completion you may find you want your external environment to match your internal thoughts. e.g. cleaning up and sorting through physical reminders of your loved one. Don't rush this. Having a friend to help you is recommended. Tell them (or talk out loud if alone) about memories attached to the clothing. Place it in three piles: keep / dispose / unsure. Put the keep pile back in the closet. Dispose of the dispose pile appropriately (give to friends/relations/charity), box or bag up the remainder. After a month, bring out the unsure pile and try again. After 3 months, try again. Eventually you will make up your mind about everything in the unsure pile. Eventually you may choose to put the "keep" pile somewhere else in the house.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Delerium - Silence (ft. Sarah McLachlan) - Tiesto remix.


Give me release
witness me
I am outside
give me peace

Heaven holds a sense of wonder
and I wanted to believe
that I'd get caught up
when the rage in me subsides

In this white wave
I am sinking
in this silence
in this white wave
in this silence
I believe

Passion chokes the flower
'til she cries no more
possessing all the beauty
hungry still for more

Heaven holds a sense of wonder...

I can't help this longing
comfort me
I can't hold it all in
if you won't let me

Heaven holds a sense of wonder...

In this white wave
I am sinking
in this silence
in this white wave
in this silence
I believe

I have seen you
in this white wave
you are silent
you are breathing
in this white wave
I am free

Re-visiting old homes

Recently I have "accidentally" visited most of the homes that I shared with Cliff.

Unfortunately, my BFF had lost her mum, and I had to park in a "two hour max space" when I got to the wake. To be honest, I was relieved to just stop driving because I felt shaky after attending the first funeral since Cliff's, which was held in the same place his was.

My goddaughter (my BFF's daughter) and I ran into the pub, both relieved that that part of the day was over, even though it had been a lovely service, culminating with Adagio for Strings being played. I was still trying to figure out why I had played this non-stop during the one hour drive to the crematorium, because it kept me calm, only to be stunned when I read the service to find it on there. Strange. Not creepy, kind of comforting, but strange nonetheless. And when the classical version played, I felt the tears come.

After an hour I mentioned to my BFF's boyfriend that my parking time was running out and he said he'd come along to direct me to a safe and FOC place to park ... and so I found myself zoning out and simply following his directions ... until he said, "this is it. Park there." I froze. He looked at me trying to fathom out my reaction (or lack of).

"ohhhh," I said. "That's our first home. The first place Cliff and I lived that was ours. The White House. Oh wow," as memories coursed through my mind - our first Christmas tree, being burgled, how he had not given a thought to the high rent "if I was happy there", the excitement of moving, loving one another and our new found privacy. My emotions were huge - missing him, but above all, my heart was just bursting with love, and tenderness for how innocently I had viewed the world back then, thanks to him. An intimate memory made my cheeks burn.

I took a photo or two just in case I never had the courage to revisit the house intentionally. Then we turned the corner, and I said to my BFF's boyfriend, "and then we lived in that flat for a short while before moving from Broadstairs to Margate." Again, he looked worried, expecting my calmness to break ... but it didn't. For I was squinting up into the flat's front facing windows, looking for us, remembering more happy times. I actually expected to see a mini-movie of us through those windows, so high up. I remembered him plumbing in my washing machine, shopping for kitchen utensils with him (the first place was fully furnished), arranging our bedroom storage, learning more about people and the world and not liking what I found, which resulted in me not wanting to leave the little safe bubble in that apartment ... and his patience and understanding of me. His encouragement. That despite my neurosis at the time, how happy I had been there with him, and with our friends who visited us there. Another vision of us came to me so vividly and I smiled, feeling myself blush. I also remembered him telling me how beautiful I was. Twice. Once when he lifted me onto a kitchen counter top and put his finger under my chin, tilting my face towards him. And again while I was relaxing in a hot bubbly bath with the door open. I remembered him gently splashing me with water and feeling so safe, so loved, so enveloped in this man's love and protection.

Then I looked down the road at Grand Mansions and drew in a deep breath. It hurt. I remembered an eighteen year old wearing baby blue dungarees with pink clogs, walking up all those stairs carrying burgers and coffees for Cliff and his crew ... when I first knew him. How the wind had almost blown me off the huge flat roof that he was working on. How I had known, even back then that I could trust this man. There was always a connection there.

After the wake, I went to visit another good friend and took a wrong turn ... finding myself at the turning into the road where we lived in Margate, after leaving our apartment (above). I stared at the road sign in disbelief, saying the words out loud to ensure that I was right ... that this was the road we lived on when my father died and how he had held me, standing against the lounge wall for 6 hours until he told me I had to stop because he was crying too. The home where we got our rottweiler (Hammer). The home where I took a break from working, because I needed to and because he let me. Another home we were so happy in. I didn't drive up the road and look at the house because I could visualize it ... and us, more memories without seeing the place through today's eyes. I remembered carrying my puppy up the hill in the snow, his little button eyes looking at me while I told him that he would always be with us and that we would love him. How Cliff had lectured me for a long time about the "rules" - the dog was not allowed in our bedroom blah blah blah ... and when I stepped over the threshold with him, Cliff picked him up and said, "oh, you're far too small to sleep alone" and after feeding him, promptly took him up to bed, only for me to find them both sleeping. This huge man in comparison to this tiny puppy who was snuggled into the crook of his arm.

We had moved from there to our amazing apartment that overlooked Margate Harbour (from where the first firework housing his ashes was launched). The apartment where we really revelled in entertaining friends, where Cliff healed me from my fears of the ugliness in the world and where he re-built my confidence. These were some of our happiest times. We got married while we lived here. Wonderful memories with friends and with him. A closeness that most will never experience. Celebrating NYE 2000. Being so in love. The home we passed in the hearse on the day of his funeral, where I sat disbelieving, wanting to escape from that ghoulmobile and run up those stairs to that apartment so damn fast, that I might find my husband and dog up there, that I would find "us".

Due to my job relocating, we had moved an hour away to a rented place here in Larkfield whilst we house-hunted to buy. I remember the excitement, the sense of being alone and a pioneering spirit. We were going to make it. We had everything going for us. Both of us working hard, celebrating our first wedding anniversary in Paris, loving each other always. How he always thought of me and put me first - that is what is clear now.

And then here. I remember standing on our patio, our arms round each other, watching our dog exploring his new home the day we moved in. "We're all home now" Cliff said. A couple of wonderful magical Christmases (they all were, but two stand out today), going on a cruise for my 40th, exceeding at work due to his support and encouragement, yet realizing he resented my time and attention being taken, that he regretted insisting that I should seek promotion in my career, that he hadn't realized what this would entail. Feeling more secure and at home than I had since I was a small child, if not more so ... and telling him. Him working so damn hard on this house and for the house, accumulating a massive deposit in only 6 months. My bathroom. "I did this for you, you know, for our anniversary." Today, feeling as though he is washing me when I sit in the double jacuzzi, and it's like he's wiping away my tears when I take a shower. How amazingly happy I was, and how today it hurts me to look out the back windows at the garden, because every time I do I see him rubbing his back, having planted the lawn seed. How I wished I'd helped him more, but working, commuting, cooking and trying to clean took all my energy. But I still feel bad. Being depressed after Hammer died and how we reacted differently. He got busy on the house and I wanted him to be with me. I sat on that sofa every weekend upset about my dog and wished selfishly for him to sit in misery with me. I remember painting our lounge at the back of the house - our music/bar-room and having so much fun doing so, and I remember how great it looked all decorated for Christmas with our two latest dogs. How charismatic he was. How I loved serving his drinks and sitting on his lap. How much fun we had. And how I kissed the walls that he built, plastered and painted with his hands, after he died. How I would lean against the coolness of those walls and just breathe. And today I am irritated with myself because the santa's are still up from Xmas 2008. I still can't walk in that room. If I've needed something from there, I fly in and out like a bat out of hell. I will never entertain in that room again ... there is a hole in that room that threatens to swallow me whole. I lived the dream in this house. I lost my dream and my entire world in this house. I wandered through its rooms searching for him ... and sometimes I still do. It is my sanctuary and I'm stunned at what he did for me, thankful that I told him I appreciated him when he still filled that huge hole in the back room. The room I remember him standing in looking so sorrowful, the last time he played music in there. I was rushing around doing chores, and I felt the pull of him. I knew he was calling to me without speaking and went and softly swept my hand down his face and we held each other. "What were those two songs?" I asked. "They're just on this album," he showed me it was Mandolin Wind and Tom Traubert's Blues by Rod Stewart. An album we played songs on regularly enough, and somehow I had never heard these tracks. "It's beautiful" I said, but I hadn't heard all the words. Until recently. I went into the room and found the song that he had last played. The song that I realized he was playing, knowing that time was running out, and a song that made him mourn his BMF who had died a couple of years earlier. He cried and told me, "it hurts, I miss him so much." and I just held him and led him up the stairs to bed, to make him feel better the only way I knew how.

I played that song, and a couple of Frampton's when I visited Stockbury. The words reached me and I cried unashamedly, for he died in the coldest winter in 14 years and it snowed that day. His only thoughts were for me as he died. That IS love. As for Frampton's Show Me The Way, there's no need for explanatory words is there? It was a favourite of his, and it is one of mine too now. When I heard the words, "this cannot be happening to me," I started to laugh. With Cliff. If that doesn't sound too woo-woo.

It hurts so much, baba. More than you missed Dave. Did you know? Did you know how broken I would become? After all that time and love and patience that you took to heal me?

I miss you. I love you. I want you. I need you. The pain remains the same. All that has changed is my ability to cope. I just want to be with you. Nothing else. I've looked for you in all these places and all that is apparent is how much you loved me, how much you did for me. And my heart threatens to explode with my love for you.

It breaks. It realizes that I cannot find you in any worldly place. No home we shared. Nowhere, no matter how far I travelled. Australia proved that to me. Forever.

Forever is such a big word especially when I know that home is with you. Not a place.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cliff's lantern

You may remember that I wrote about releasing some lanterns on Cliff's birthday. Well I did release most of the lanterns. All bar one. They were beautiful. But when it came to lighting his one. I. Just. Could. Not. Do. It.

So my friend Shirley and I released Cliff's on Thursday evening, I felt ready. And I don't feel bad for my attitude when doing so ... he'd have loved to see me react like the old me. And you are getting a taste of the real me ... as I didn't realize my iPhone was recording.

Click below to see serenity personified (not).

Visiting Cliff as a child

Cliff was fostered at the age of three with his older brother.

The foster family had two sons of their own and only took them in for the money, not for love. The three year old did not know what he ever did that was so bad, but he was always blamed for any wrong-doings in the house. One of their sons was a spoiled vindictive and sneaky child who singled him out, often tittle-tattling on him about things that held no truth. Or he did not understand that he should not touch their toys. It was only Cliff who was treated this way. The youngest in the house. Regardless, he was punished and harshly. Beaten. Scared. Not understanding. Fear. One day he reacted to this treatment – this constant state of unhappiness and fear. And in an expression of anger, he smashed all of the model aircraft that this son of theirs had collected, which were displayed in his room. Which he had touched or played with and … been beaten for doing so. So he smashed them all to smithereens … because even at that young age where he was helpless and powerless, he had no control over his situation but his attitude was forming. It was a statement. An expression of his anger and fear, of how unjust his treatment was. That if he was going to be blamed and punished for playing with another child’s toys, he may as well wreak havoc and destruction. But he never imagined how far their wrath would extend when their son howled with disbelief, upon discovering his collection of airplanes destroyed.

And Cliff told me that they really did beat him … “and I don’t really remember the rest of it, it goes kind of black,” he laughed, but with a laugh that is delivered with a shaky voice, a voice that is trying not to cry or show too much emotion. A memory that had been suppressed too long and too often. It did not go black … he blackened out the memory because it was too painful to recall. But he did recall it that once, to tell me … and I remember feeling my heart break for the little boy in him, wanting to turn back time and hold him safe, make it better. After he died I remember wanting to find out who these people were, to hunt them down, to hurt them, really really hurt them physically.

He and his brother returned home and this little boy starts to believe, slowly but shakily that his ground is solid again. But his faith is misplaced. And he is to be fostered once more.

When he has his worst fear confirmed, his little body reacted to the stress so severely that his little limbs swelled to twice their normal size. He was sent for blood tests, more and more blood tests to try and find out what was wrong with him. It was stress and fear. Terror in a child’s mind. Unspoken and not understood. In the end all the tests did for him was give him an irrational but very real fear of needles. He was needle-phobic for the rest of his life.

I remember this feeling of love and protectiveness emanating from me towards him, touching him, and empathy. But I never shared my opinion on what had happened … I’m sure he knew me well enough to know my thoughts, but he didn’t need to hear them. I saw nothing positive coming from voicing them. I hated what he went through, it affected me on a level that I can’t find words to express … and I had no understanding whatsoever for how this had happened to him. My own childhood – my point of reference – had nothing like this in its data banks. Nothing I could refer to. At that age, our worlds were poles apart. My heart wanting to rewrite history for him, but being powerless to do so.

Months, maybe a couple of years afterwards, we had had “words”. He shouted at me that he had told me more about himself, more about his life, than he had with any other person. He shared everything with me, so that I understood him … knew him better than any other person. All of him. That he had never told anybody else everything. He’d never bothered but he had wanted to share his whole life with me. Hold nothing back. So that we would stay together always … so it would work.

Strangely, instead of shouting back, I broke. Out of nowhere, but somewhere in my subconscious, my heart broke and I told him … wailing, “I want to go back in time, I wish I could go back to when you were a little boy. I would go back and protect you from what happened, for what those fucking bastards did to you. I want to go back and hold you safe and tell you it will be alright. Make it alright. Protect you from what happened. It breaks my heart to think about that …”

He stood there. Stunned. Speechless. The stupid argument was forgotten. Our eyes speaking to each other. Both feeling the emotions passing between us. An understanding. He looked almost comforted, almost healed or satisfied … as if my absorption of his pain as a child – my empathy and my retelling his story, albeit from my viewpoint, had given him confirmation that I had listened, really heard him … and he knew with conviction, that I loved him enough to hurt when he did, even if it was in a past that I had not even been alive in – not yet born.

With hindsight, I now understand that he’d finally been given validation. That what he’d had to endure as a child had finally been validated.

And with my deeper understanding of love and loss, two years after his death … I now know that it proved that my love for him was eternal, it was true and endless, it crossed borders of time. That I had loved him his whole life, that I had known him his whole life, even thought I physically hadn’t, somehow I did. He really did give me his whole life. He did more than share his life’s memories.

And so, Cliff and his older brother were sent to their second foster home. This time it was an entirely different experience, thankfully, and made as big an impact on him as the first foster home. “ They were an old couple,” he told me, “well they seemed old to me. They loved us and were kind. They fostered because they wanted kids, not because they were paid to. They understood me. One day, I decided to go for a walk. Their land was so big, it seemed huge to me at that age. I couldn’t see where it ended, so off I went exploring, not knowing the worry my absence would cause. The panic that I might have fallen in the pig pen because I loved to feed the pigs. They were always telling me not to lean in too far, to be careful. Always reminding me that I mustn’t do it on my own. Unknown to me, the whole place stopped, everyone ... all the farm labourers were pulled in to search for me. When they found me, I knew something was wrong. And I thought it was all going to happen again. You know, that I would be punished, beaten. But they understood little boys and they understood me. They cared. They knew how to deal with me. They told me, ‘this is your tree’ and that became my special place that I could go to alone … and safely. It was a compromise that I loved. It was mine. I had no desire to wander off anywhere else. They loved us. I’d never felt so safe and happy as a child.

Cliff explained, “Then one day my father appeared to take us home. I didn’t want to leave them. He had to carry me, kicking and screaming.

Afterwards I found out that they’d applied to adopt us both.

Imagine how different my life would have been? The opportunities I would have had?”

I commented that we might never have met if he’d lived that life. That he was the person that I fell in love with, the man who had been formed by his life experiences.

He said that fate was fate and we could have still met.

Then I added I didn’t think he’d have been happy cooped up in an office, conforming to a corporate world.

It was the only time I saw that tiny piece of him – as an adult - that expressed a wish for things having turned out differently should he have had the opportunity. He stated, “how do you know what I would have liked?”

And I realized that he was right. I explained that I saw him as a free spirit, self-governed, and the thought of him sitting in an office cube was tantamount to a tiger being caged. He concurred, but added that he wondered how things might have turned out for him, for us, if the cards he had been dealt had been different. That we might not have had to go through what we had. That we might have had our own kids or adopted some. That we’d have longer together, because his life would have been so different, that his lifespan would be longer.

He told me that he’d never resented that his parents couldn’t give him those choices. He understood. He never blamed them and never would. “But imagine …” he said to me. It made me sad to hear his broken dream. It made me feel guilty that I hadn’t made the most of the chance I had had laid on a plate for me. It made me finally understand what my father had done for me … yet I was happy with my life as it was. And he never once resented my background. It takes a man, a special person to go through all the adversities he did and come through it without bitterness, only strength, understanding and love.

I was quite shocked as he’d always insisted that he’d lived three lives and, “I wouldn’t care if I died tomorrow if I wasn’t with you Boo. I want to live longer for you.” He knew that his lifestyle leading up to when he met me, even though he slowed down with me … would mean he couldn’t have the years he wanted to give me.

His regret. Not self-pity. Just a wish that things could have been different, but they weren’t. He knew, he somehow knew all along that we wouldn’t get as many years as he wished for, or that I would long for after he had gone. Even in our first year or two together, he almost broke one day after we had talked about the Aztec prediction of the world ending in 2012, as if he knew that he wouldn’t even make it that far … his voice broke, his face dropped, he looked away and told me, “we’ll have to make the most of the years together then, really live while we can,” but he never spelled it out because he always knew what I could and couldn’t cope with … he knew me better than myself, but he hinted, he tried to prepare me gradually.

Hindsight and time to reflect gives you such clarity. That’s my regret. That I couldn’t see it all, that I didn’t decipher the words before. That I can’t tell him that I get it. Finally. But perhaps, he intended it this way. There is no doubt in my mind that he protected me always, but yet again, I recall his words, verbatim ... and after losing him, I understand what he told me fully.

I loved him with all my being and would have lived with him, penniless in a mud hut. That said, for his own fulfilment, this man who was more intelligent than most, whose intellect surpassed mine, who was capable of learning anything and quickly, who could have turned his hands or mind to anything – architecture, archaeology, a passion as opposed to the best he could do with the opportunities he was given who nevertheless earned a lot of money, and I mean a lot of money, but through taking risks and/or working untenable hours. Yes, he could have earned it with stability, learned with passion, and perhaps fate would have been kind enough to reunite us in this lifetime, and grant us longer together. He’d have still been the same man, had the same heart and soul and I would have recognized him and loved him as I did and still do.

We both felt it was strange that our home, our real home, the last home we shared and bought – was only minutes away from where he’d been so happy all those years ago. And now he finally had happiness again. The two times in his life he had been truly happy – played out in the same geography.

Yesterday, I went to walk along the flint wall that he told me of. The flint wall he walked along everyday en route to school. In his words, "I'd know it. I'd recognize it if I saw that wall - it seemed so big to me then." And in my mind I saw that little boy, happy and safe. I saw his little sturdy legs march across the landscape, solitary, exploring, fearless and adventurous. The little three year old that his older brother can only remember being happy (as a small child) when he lived there. The little boy who loved animals and always would - the catalyst for this being the "Lassie" dog that lived on the farm. And I left that little boy there, where he is safe. I took some flowers along too, from me and from him to say thank you to them and tell them he’s come back to see them.

They were called Mr and Mrs Walls and they lived in Stockbury. His brother and I are going to spread some of Cliff’s ashes there. It feels like the right thing to do. I know he’d like it.

I watched, through watery eyes, the sun rise over the landscape that is only 10 minutes away from home. The landscape that his eyes had known all those years ago ... that we never revisited together ... perhaps indicating that for Cliff in his own words, "you can never go back. Leave the past in the past, but carry the lessons with you into the future."

I have a feeling the landscape was firmly imprinted on his heart and memory, leaving no need for him to see it physically to remember it.

But yesterday I had to go. I can't explain it ... I just had to. I touched the flint wall that he touched as a child ... I could see his little chubby hands and I lost it. I felt him there. And I knew that he knew I got it. Finally.