In Loving Memory

If you’ve known me for a while, you’ll know today is the hardest day of my year.  If you haven’t, it’s likely you’ll feel really sad after reading this and never be able to look at me in quite the same way again.  I can tell.  There’s a pitying gaze tinged with horror and a hue of sorrow that I’m well used to by now.  In the first couple of years, I had to tell everyone.  I had to justify why I must have looked so constantly haggard.  More recently, I made a clean break from that bit of my past and made a point of not sharing this story.  New friends had to become very close before they knew.  In the past year or so, it’s become more relevant, so maybe everyone knows by this point. I’m not sure.

In October 2011, I lost my first love and fiancée Holly Miller when we were both 25 years old.  After a dogged nine month fight with ovarian cancer, Holly died peacefully with her hand in mine and is buried with the diamond engagement ring I presented to her a few months before the end.  Still open on Holly’s laptop was the wedding planning spreadsheet she worked on during her last few lucid moments.  This is just one example of Holly’s eternal legacy; she never, ever, gave up.  People call me inspirational on a daily basis but I will always shrug that off because Holly’s courageous fighting spirit in the face of certain death is the very definition of the word.  In comparison, nothing I’ve done comes remotely close to deserving that epithet.  I can only hope to emulate Holly’s quiet dignity when my own demise draws near.

We celebrated every Valentine’s Day not just because it’s what couples do.  February 14th is/was Holly’s birthday.  This is the part of the story that seems to really get to people.  Perhaps it’s because if you’re loved up on a day like today, the prospect of losing someone you’re so intertwined with is unspeakably, maybe even unthinkably horrific.  This unfortunate coincidence of the calendar the only way to make losing your partner even worse.

I’ve approached this day in many different ways over the past decade or so.  Flowers at Holly’s grave of course, especially to start with.  When I found myself in a relationship one year, there was a profound awkwardness and it didn’t go down well that I didn’t want to see the person on the day and that my romantic gesture of roses would be given to someone buried deep underground.  This isn’t the only factor that doomed what, looking back, was a horribly toxic relationship, but holding a candle to your dead girlfriend is a bit of a mood killer.  With even more hindsight, I deeply regret giving what little echos of romantic love I had left to my only living ex, but am proud to say I saved Valentine’s Day to honour Holly’s memory, despite the emotional fallout that followed.

More recently, I’ve run to and from Manor Park Cemetery to complete about half a marathon.  Holly was a national level swimmer, progressing through the age groups on a trajectory that could have taken her to the olympics before an injury ended a promising sporting career.  Holly’s mantra was simple yet tremendously effective. ‘Just keep swimming’.  How could I not just keep running?  It’s gotten me through some tremendous feats of endurance and in the darkest moments, it’s what comes to me.  Despite the unimaginable suffering that was almost constantly etched on Holly’s face towards the end, she never failed to make the most of every day, even if she didn’t leave her hospital bed.  What’s my excuse?  Even today, in a state of perennial fatigue and nausea, I can’t claim to have one.  Not really.  I’ll always ask myself ‘what would Holly do?’

Running isn’t going to work today, but that’s not to say I’m not continuing to ‘just keep swimming’.  It just so happens that keeping my head above water is plenty for today and there’s no chance of breaking into a sprightly front crawl.  I’ve not needed to visit A&E so far this year and I’d better look after myself so I can keep it that way.

But if not in deeds, I can remember Holly today with the some of the words I’ve felt but never really expressed.  All I ask is that if you’re lucky enough to be with someone you love today, please – for me and for Holly – cherish them.  Make them feel truly valued and unquestionably loved.  Do it now. Say it now.  Because one day, you could be expressing your love to a headstone and you’ll wish deep, deep down that you’d found those words when they were alive to hear them.


  1. Fellow stage 4 colorectal cancer patient here. Your blog really touched me. In fact it made we weep, for the first time in a while. We must cherish our loved ones. Thank you for being a source of inspiration 🌻

    • Thank you! Your words mean a lot and wishing you the very best, whatever that looks like today.

  2. I can remember hearing from your parents their immense distress at Holly’s illness. My own daughter has recovered from cancer. Those nearest and dearest also suffer. We are thinking of you a lot and hoping that the current chemo does not cause too much nausea and pain. Much love.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thanks for submitting your comment!