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Thursday, May 26

Navigating The World Without Richard

We are wired for contradiction. This is one of the characteristics that keeps us from being dull and predictable.
 Like most of us, my husband was - and was not - what he seemed to be. 

Richard was a fact based scientist, who marveled in the unexplained mysteries of nature. 

He never attended church, but could not resist visiting churches, churchyards and cathedrals, everywhere we travelled. 

He was never happier than when snuggled up at home with a stack of good books, but equally game for most any adventure I came up with. 

He did not cook, but made the world’s best coffee and tea.

Richard was a dreamer and a realist. 

He was a scholar who delighted in school boy humour. 

He was worldly and innocent. 

He was optimistic and pragmatic.

He was open and cautious.

He was an introvert who loved entertaining. 

He was elegant and down-to-earth.

He was sensitive and selfish.

He was content and restless.

He was handsome and self-conscious.

He was funny and shy.

He was affectionate and remote. 

He was a brave man. The bravest man I have known. 

He was an Old World, over-educated, English gentleman, from his stiff upper lip, to the soles of his Clark shoes. And yet, when he finally got around to marrying, at the age of 49, he chose a twice married, exceedingly well-fed, Californian/Native American, serial entrepreneur, political activist, for his wife.

He was generous, genteel, cultured, inquisitive, intuitive, determined, domestic, poetic, solitary, double jointed, romantic, and tidy. 

He could wear white linen on a 12-hour, transcontinental flight, between London and San Francisco, without picking up so much as a speck of pepper. 

Today, Richard and I would have celebrated our 8 year anniversary. Our anniversary, like birthdays, was a big deal to us. Often, we spread our marital celebration over two or three days. One of our few traditions, was to travel the River Thames, by boat, to Kew Gardens. In a country packed with gorgeous gardens, the 250 year old Kew Royal Botanic Garden is likely the most famous.

Richard and I met on the internet, in the autumn of 2002. Living an ocean apart, I fell in love with his seductive, fertile mind, long before I had the opportunity to experience the rest of him. 

About six months into our courtship, before we met in person, I was talking to him on my mobile phone, lost in the bowels of Brooklyn. I had never been to Brooklyn before - and neither had Richard. In fact, he had never been to America - but that didn’t stop him from pulling up a map of the borough and skillfully navigating me back to Manhattan. 

Besides his talents as scholar, naturalist and chemist, Richard was the world’s best navigator. I was never once lost with him. Not only could he read a map better than anybody, in any country, he was equally gifted with an excellent sense of direction.

By the time he met up with me, on America’s east coast, nine months after we began our long distance courtship, he knew the lay of the land as well as I did. Equally impressive, he knew the Latin names for all our flora and fauna. He instantly recognized our birds by sound and sight, thrilling at his first sighting of iridescent hummingbirds in California, and brilliant red cardinals in Pennsylvania.

We married, at the end of a month long honeymoon, on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, joking we chose to go there because it was neutral territory.

Several months later, while travelling through California and Oregon, Richard could not resist buying hummingbird feeders and hanging them outside the door, or window, wherever we stayed. He introduced a lot of people to bird watching this way, including my parents.

A well exercised brain is irresistible. Besides being brilliant and well read, my husband was also the most observant man I’ve ever known. Nothing escaped his eyes and ears. He noticed everything, even if he didn’t comment.

The only criticism he leveled at others, was to observe privately with me, "I don't believe they have read much." This was, in Richard's world, a sorrowful situation.

One day, a short time after I moved to England to start our married life, my husband called me out to the front garden. Joining him on the lawn, he pointed out dozens of boring, brown, ant holes. “Watch this,” he said excitedly. “Any minute, thousands of queens will leave their nests, flying off to start new colonies elsewhere.” 

And they did, with hundreds of black, newly hatched queens, rising purposefully out of the ground and crash landing in my dark hair. Richard spent the rest of the evening carefully picking them out of my traumatized tresses. He didn’t want a single queen to perish. Had it been up to me, they would have been washed down the drain in seconds. 


My husband had enormous respect for all of life. He wanted to live more than anything, at any cost. In the three-and-a-half years he struggled to stay alive, he underwent seven surgeries and the lifetime maximum chemotherapy and radiation.

With each new treatment, intended to eradicate the osteosarcoma of the jaw threatening his life, my husband lost another vital part of himself.

His lovely voice and speech were amongst the first to be affected, along with his ability eat and drink.

Eventually, he lost the hearing in his left ear and one of his beautiful, hopeful brown eyes. 

He lost the ability to produce saliva and a good many teeth.

He lost the feeling in his mouth, lips and the whole left side of his face.

He struggled with post-chemo peripheral neuropathy in his hands and feet.

His back gave out.

He lost jaw bone, arm bone, back bone; and tummy flesh, as parts of him were harvested in an attempt to re-build everything the cancer, surgeries and treatments took from him.

When my husband could no longer eat or speak; 

when he was robbed of his hearing and vision; 

when he could not walk, or stand without falling;

when even I struggled to recognized him;

when he could not sleep for more than twenty minutes at a time; 

when he could no longer lay his sweet head down, because of the baseball sized tumour trapping his neck, or get comfortable in any position; 

when he was reduced to skin and bones; 

when he had not eaten, or drank anything in six months, with a plastic tube drilled into his deflated belly for nutrients;

when the pain was unbearable and nothing eased it;

when he was denied every single pleasure of being alive, including remaining in his home; 

when he was pumped so full of drugs he didn’t know what day it was, or my name, Richard continued to fight with everything he had left. He fought with his whole heart --- and most of mine. 

Forty months after the first surgery, my warrior of a husband was dead.

If not for Hospice in The Weald, I would have turned to euthanasia to relieve my husband's suffering. There is no way I could have witnessed what he went through, in his last six months of life, without coming to his aid. Even with tremendous Hospice support, there wasn't a day I didn't sob my eyes out over what was happening to my beautiful man. That euthanasia remains illegal in Britain and America, save for the states of Oregon and Washington, defies reason. No living creature should have to endure what we went through.

Knowing how desperately my husband wanted to live, makes me all the more determined to shout a resounding YES to life; to live with gratitude; to take absolutely nothing for granted; to be more compassionate; to spend myself wisely; to love; to listen to the silence; to revel in nature; to dance in the moonlight; to allow the raging river of tears to take me to another place; to journey forward with the full knowledge that life requires us to be our bravest self.

For Valentine’s Day this year, while too weak to leave his bed, Richard shopped online and surprised me with an update for our car's six-year-old satellite navigation system. This was the last purchase he ever made. He knew a part of me will always be lost without him.

Sunday Night Supper

Somehow, three or four years into our marriage, Sunday night became our night. We’d slip into our best pyjamas, black or red silk and lace for me; elegant cream linen for Richard. Silver ice bucket, with a bottle of Curve Royal (our favourite French sparkling wine) well chilled, on the dining table. A toast to the new week and each other, then while sipping our wine, we’d decide on which favourite egg dish to enjoy for supper.

The one food we always agreed on was eggs. We both loved them. Fried. Poached. Scrambled. Boiled. Baked. Omelette. Frittata. Souffle. Quiche. Egg on toast. Eggs Benedict. Egg and cress sandwich. Eggs were our thing and we had them every Sunday night for supper. 

When I moved to England, I was surprised to discover that the traditional English breakfast is much bigger and varied than the traditional American breakfast. In the States, a traditional breakfast consists of two eggs, streaky bacon, or sausage (rarely both) hash browns (shredded fried potatoes) toast, orange juice, and coffee.

Contrast this with the full English fry-up: two eggs, center cut bacon, pork sausage, fried mushroom, fried tomato, baked beans, black pudding, toast, tea, or coffee. Double the variety. Double the flavour. American breakfast is positively wimpy in comparison. 

Richard loved English breakfast for dinner, but his all time favourite was a simple 4-egg omelette, usually unadorned, gently cooked in butter, with freshly picked cress from the kitchen window box. It felt almost child like to prepare and eat such simple food. 

Though I usually insisted we eat at the dining table, Richard much preferred to sup, seated in his favourite leather chair, in front of the television. On Sunday nights, I happily went along with this arrangement, especially if David Attenborough happened to be working.

In winter, there would be a fire in the fireplace. In summer, the French doors, leading to the garden, stayed open. And on that rarest of occasions, when English weather cooperated, we dined al fresco, listening to screeching swifts soaring high above us.

These were the sweetest times I have known. There was a gentleness and graciousness to our lives. We were thoughtful and loving to one another. If an unusual moth flew by, or an unknown insect landed on the table, we would look it up in one of Richard’s many reference books. We danced together, in our tiny kitchen, to swing, salsa and diddlyi.

After dinner, I might convince my husband to indulge me with a board game. Sometimes, we would spread out a quilt on the lawn, cuddling, watching for bats, gazing up at the stars and planets.

Sunday evening was the one night of the week we did not answer the phone. We did not use our computers, unless it was to look something up together. We did not do chores, or talk about practical things, like finances. Gradually, Sunday night grew into “date night,” with both of us on our best behaviour, wanting to impress the other with our wit and conviviality. 

Life doesn’t get any better than two people loving each other over a plate of eggs.

Richie's Omelette 

What You Need 

Cress - generous handful

12-inch heavy bottom, non-stick skillet and heat-proof, rubber spatula

Butter - 1 heaping tbs

Eggs - 4 large, at room temperature

Coarse Pepper and Salt to taste (I use about 1/8 tsp each)
What You Do
Cut cress with scissors, wash and drain in colander.

Melt butter over low heat.

While butter is slowly melting, break four eggs into medium bowl. Whisk with fork (not a whisk) until yolk is broken and blended with whites. 

When butter is melted, swirl around to make sure the base of skillet is well coated.

Pour eggs into skillet, sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

Cook omelette slowly, slowly, slowly over very low heat. This takes a good 6 minutes on my gas hob.

Help it along by tipping pan from side-to-side, encouraging the egg to spread as it cooks. 

Dry cress with paper or cotton towel. Set aside.

When omelette is nearly set, with just a little liquid left in the center, turn off heat and add cress, reserving a sprinkling for garnish.

Using heat-proof, rubber spatula, carefully fold in half and gently slide onto large plate. You can also try flipping it, if you have fast wrist action. Flipping will usually result in a three fold omelette. Garnish with remaining cress and serve immediately.

Ideas and Suggestions

If you prefer your omelette with something extra (like I do) add it half way through the cooking process. Favourite combinations include: English cheddar cheese; ham and cheddar; bacon and tomato; bacon and baby spinach; soft cheese with chopped herbs; spring onion and tomato; sauteed mushrooms and sausage; steamed kale and parmesan; slender, sautéed asparagus tips.

The 2010 film Morning Gloria starring Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford, is the only film I've seen to cleverly resolve the plot with the making of a simple omelette. It's a fun romp of a movie.

Favourite Accompaniments 

Sourdough toast; crispy potato latke; sauteed potatoes; toasted bagel and cream cheese; seasonal, sauteed vegetables like asparagus; courgettes with flowers; courgette flowers; strawberries; purple sprouting broccoli; avocado; bacon; ham; sausage; wild salmon, lox, kipper, or trout.

Suggested Drinks

Champagne, sparkling wine; Mimosa; fresh squeezed orange juice; mango juice; Saint Clements (half orange juice/half bitter lemon)


My husband had hundreds of CDs and iTune downloads. His iPod was virtually bulging with music. He maintained dozens of music playlists on Spotify and when that wasn’t enough he trolled web radio and enjoyed BBC’s Radio 2 and 4. 

Some of Richard’s favourite artists were Eva Cassidy; Bob Dylan; Norah Jones; Katie Melua; Kirsty MacColl and Annie Lenox. He shared my love of Handel; Mozart; Beethoven and Vilvadi. I was delighted to discover he had a sumptuous Baroque collection, along with a little Medieval and chant. 
On Friday evenings, we often listened to 85 year old Desmond Carrington's old timey record collection, as he broadcast live from his home in Scotland. 

For his funeral, Richard chose four hymns and two long, glorious classical recordings: 

The first was the hauntingly dramatic "Allegri Miserere Mei Deus" by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) 

His second recording was "The Lark Ascending" by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 - 1958) I am certain I can never listen to either recording again without collapsing in a sobbing heap.

Many years ago, Richard introduced me to Canadian song writer/singer, Leonard Cohen. Leonard Cohen goes with everything.

 is the Cohen song I wanted my sweetheart to include in his funeral. He declined, saying "Too obvious." An Englishman to the end. 


By Leonard Cohen

Now, I've heard there was a secret chord 

That David played and it pleased the Lord

But you don't really care for music, do you?

It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair

She broke your throne and she cut your hair

And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name

But if I did, well really, what's it to you?

There's a blaze of light in every word

It doesn't matter which you heard

The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you

And even though it all went wrong

I'll stand before the Lord of Song

With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah