For my beautiful wife, Alicia



My Sweet Lilianna,


Itís been only a week since you left me, but those seven days have felt like an eternity.  All day I sit alone in your chair by the back window, looking out over the garden you planted, gazing at each of the flowers and shrubs you nurtured.  Sometimes I can almost see you there, crouched beside a flowerbed, a soft smile on your face as you tend to your plants.  You always looked so peaceful as you worked out there, and so content when you sat in this chair afterwards and viewed the fruits of your labour.


For so many years I didnít get how clipping bushes and planting seedlings could make you so happy.  I used to think that maybe you considered it good exercise or just something to help pass the time; but this morning, as the sun was rising, I looked out over your garden and I finally understood.  It was about building something you could be proud of, creating something you could truly call your own, bringing beauty into the world.


In many ways, what you were doing out in the garden was exactly what I was trying to achieve every day when I left you in bed and went out to work.  I was trying to build a life for us, build a home, give you everything you deserved.  Every morning I left for work and when I came home, I just kept on working.  I thought I was doing what you wanted.  I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do, providing for you, ensuring you wanted for nothing; but since youíve been gone Iíve realised just how little I gave you.


Was this what it was like for you every day?  Did you feel as lonely as I do right now?  Did you spend hour upon hour staring out of the back window, wishing things could be different?


As I lay in bed last night, cradling your pillow in my arms, I found myself thinking about the first time we met; the first time I ever saw your sweet face.  Some people know instantly when they meet the person theyíre going to spend the rest of their life with, but not me.  I was drawn to you immediately and, on some level, I suppose I did love you the moment I set eyes on you; it just took me a while to realise it.  You knew though, didnít you?  You knew right away that I was going to fall in love with you.  You felt it long before I did, long before I even imagined it possible.


I saw you the moment I stepped off the train.  You were beautiful, spectacular, breathtaking.  There have been times over the years since when Iíve almost been ashamed of the base, lustful thoughts I had in those first few seconds, but I couldnít help myself.  I am, after all, just a man.  Iíve certainly never regretted the flutter I felt in the pit of my stomach when our eyes met and you smiled at me.  I know Iíve said this to you so often the words may now sound hollow, but in that moment I honestly believed I was looking into the face of an angel.


You were wearing a red dress that day, a dress so flimsy it was almost transparent.  Before our eyes met, before I saw you smile at me, I noticed that dress.  I noticed the way it clung to your body, the way it hugged your breasts and hips, the way it flowed around your knees.  I think what I remember most clearly is how the colour of the dress contrasted with your skin.  The crimson fabric looked so striking against your porcelain flesh.


It was captivating, spellbinding, but when I looked up and saw your face I found something even more spectacular.  I became enchanted, entranced by this pair of sparkling green eyes, so full of life, so full of wonder.  As I gazed into those emerald orbs I felt as though I could see right into your soul, as though somehow I knew you.  I could almost feel what you were feeling, see what you were seeing, and it was magical.  It was as though you were seeing beauty in everything around you, wonderment in the mundane, and for a moment I could see it too.


And that's when our eyes met.  That's when you smiled at me.  It was a smile that seemed to change your entire face.  I thought you were beautiful the moment I saw you, but then you smiled and...if there are words to describe how you looked then, I'm sorry, my love, but they escape me.  Perfect, angelic, astounding, none of these words do justice to your beauty.  All I can tell you is how I felt inside, the joy that seemed to fill me, the excitement, the passion; I just felt as though I had to be close to you, to touch you, and even if I'd had the power to stop myself, I would have still gone to you right there and then.


Strange.  Itís been nearly fifteen years since that day; fourteen years, eight months, twenty-seven days; and I can still see that smile.  If I close my eyes I can replay that scene in my mind and itís so vivid it could have happened just minutes ago.  Yet whenever I try to picture your face the last time I saw you, the image just slips from my mind.  My sweet angel, my precious Lilianna, you seemed to get more beautiful every year, but when I close my eyes itís the nineteen-year-old girl in the red dress whom I see.


Why is that?  Why is it that I can remember every detail of your appearance that day so long ago, but I can barely recall how you looked just last week when we said our goodbyes?  Am I once again trying to protect myself from my own emotions?  I know my heart will break every time I think about the day you left me, every time I picture the aching sadness in your eyes, but I need to remember it.  I need to remember everything, every last moment, but it just seems to be slipping away.


The day after we parted, I tried to remember our wedding day, but it wasnít until I found the pictures that the memories came flooding back.  That was the happiest day of my life, but in some ways it was also the saddest.  I donít think I ever told you this, but that morning I almost got in my car and drove away.  I almost left you on our wedding day.  I almost ran away like a coward.  It wasnít that I didnít want to marry you or that I wasnít ready to commit; it was because I knew I didnít deserve you.


I actually felt selfish when I resolved to go through with the wedding.  I felt as though I was robbing you of the chance to be truly happy, just so I could be with you.  Looking back over our life together, I know I was right to feel that way.  I know you could have been happier with someone else, or perhaps even on your own.  I think you knew it too, but you never showed it.  Well, maybe you did and I just wasnít paying enough attention.


I kept putting my work first, telling myself that I was working for you, for us, to create a better life.  I convinced myself that you needed things; expensive clothes and jewellery to accentuate your beauty, a big house and garden for you and our children to enjoy, magical holidays in exotic places.  I worked so hard, so many hours, just so I could give you those things, but even in success I somehow managed to fail you.  I gave you money so that you could buy nice clothes, but I never took you anywhere you could wear them.  I bought you the big house and garden, the perfect foundation for our family, but every time you tried to talk to me about having children, I fobbed you off with some excuse, told you it wasnít the right time.  As for holidays, well, apart from that one weekend in Paris, I never took enough time off work to take you anywhere.


I failed you, my love.  I tried so hard to give you everything you deserved and failed to give you much of anything at all.  My sweet Lilianna, what astounds me most is that you stayed with me for so long and did so without a word of complaint, without allowing your smile to ever falter, without looking at me with anything but love.


They say hindsight is twenty-twenty, my love, and theyíre right.  If I had the chance to do it over again, Iíd do so many things differently.  Iíd spend more time with you, give you the children you always craved, take you to far-off places, pursue each and every one of the dreams we talked about when we first met.  I should have said and done so much more.  I made so many mistakes.  I have countless reasons to despise myself for letting you down, and yet because of you I have cause to smile as well as weep.


You see, my love, no matter how late I worked, no matter how long I kept you waiting, every night I would find you waiting for me in bed.  Every night you would greet me with a smile, lift the covers for me and then take me in your arms, kiss me, hold me, show me over and over again that no matter how badly I failed you, the love you felt for me was unwavering.  If ever I felt I wronged you, all I had to do was look into your eyes and I would find forgiveness there.


As much as I want to hate myself, to condemn myself for all the ways I let you down, I canít.  I canít do it because I know you loved me; and I think thatís why it hurts so much now youíre gone.  No matter how much I let you down, no matter how inadequate I was, you never lost faith in me.  Sure, you got angry with me from time to time, frustrated at my many failures, but you always forgave me, always believed I was capable of making you happy.  You filled me with strength, encouraged me, supported me, showed me love in a thousand different ways.  Even those days when I spent a matter of minutes in your waking company, I never felt alone.  I always knew you were there for me, waiting for me.


But now I am alone.


You were my anchor, but now I feel as though Iím adrift at sea.  Iím lost without you.  Iím nothing without you.  You gave me purpose, a reason to live, a reason to get out of bed in the morning, to bathe, to dress, to eat, but now youíre gone and life is unbearable.  I want to die.  I want to take my life, to escape the darkness that seems to have consumed my soul, to end this agony; but I wonít do that.  I made you a promise, and I wonít fail you again.


Oh, my sweet Lilianna, you have no idea how much it hurts right now.  You have no idea how many tears Iíve shed since you left me.  So many people have told me that eventually the pain will subside, but Iím not even sure I want it to.  This pain, this grief, itís all I have left of you.  Itís the only real testament I have to the love we shared, to the life we built together, to the future we were supposed to have.


I keep thinking about our last conversation.  You were so brave, my angel, much braver than I.  You knew that the end was close, that the cancer had beaten you, but still you held on, struggled for every last breath.  At the time I told myself you just didn't want to die, convinced myself you were fighting to hold on to life for as long as possible, but I knew in my heart you were staying for my sake.  You knew how it broke my heart to see you lying there, to see you suffering, but you also knew that the pain I felt was nothing compared to how I would feel when you were gone.  If our positions had been reversed, if it had been me lying there, you would have told me to let go, to end my pain, to close my eyes and let death claim me.  You would have offered me support, reassurance, comfort, but I didnít have the fortitude to do the same for you.


I could barely stay upright as I walked to your bedside.  It took every ounce of strength I had just to reach out and take your hand.  Even though you were weak, so close to death, your grip was still stronger than mine.  You must have been in so much pain, you must have felt so much fear, but when I looked into your eyes I saw only love.  Right up until the end, I saw only love.


I couldnít bring myself to speak.  I tried, my angel.  I tried so hard, just to tell you I loved you, but I knew that if I uttered even the slightest sound I would break down beside you and I wanted so much to be strong.  I just didn't want to lose you and I feared that if I tried to speak I wouldn't say what I knew you needed to hear, but instead would beg you not to die, plead with you not to leave me.  And so I held my tongue, just leaned over and kissed you softly on your forehead, caressed your cheek with my hand.


I stood beside you for over an hour, watching you, willing you to keep fighting, but the light in your eyes seemed to grow dimmer with every passing moment.  I knew it was coming.  I knew you were slipping away.  I should have used that time to apologise for all the ways I'd failed you, told you how much I loved you, how much I will always love you; but I couldn't.  The rational part of my mind knew that I was running out of time, but I felt as though if I spoke the words, if I said what needed to be said, I would somehow be hastening the inevitable.


Finally, though, we both knew we'd run out of time.  You took my hand, lifted it to your lips and kissed me.  You looked up at me, looked straight into my eyes, and smiled.  It wasn't the same smile as the one you offered me on the day we met.  It was a smile tinged with sorrow, tainted by grief, but you were not mourning yourself, you were mourning for me.  I opened my mouth to tell you I loved you, to say that I would be alright, but the words just wouldn't come.  In the end, it was you who broke our silence, who initiated our final farewell.


ďDonít let my flowers die,Ē you told me.  ďLook after my garden.Ē


ďI will,Ē I replied, my voice cracking as I spoke, my lower lip quivering as I fought back the tears.


ďI want you to promise me,Ē you said, your voice strained.  ďI want you to promise that youíll take care of my garden.  I want you to promise that every month youíll bring me a flower from my garden so that I know theyíre still blooming.Ē


ďIíll bring you a flower every week,Ē I nodded, my throat tightening as I spoke.  ďI promise you.Ē


ďAnd promise me youíll keep goingÖĒ


ďHush now,Ē I urged, stroking your forehead gently.


ďNo,Ē you answered, wincing as you spoke.  ďI want you to promise me.  Live the life we should have had.  Iíll be watching.Ē


ďLiliannaÖĒ I croaked, turning my head away as the first tears escaped my eyes.


ďPromise me.Ē


ďI promise,Ē I nodded, brushing away my tears as they flowed down my cheeks.  I took a step back, turned towards the window, stared out at the cold grey sky beyond.  I didnít want to look away from you.  I didnít want to abandon you, but I needed a moment.  I needed to get control.  I needed you to be able to look into my eyes and see the love I felt for you rather than the misery and self-pity that was consuming me.


ďI love you.Ē


Your voice was weak, barely audible, but I heard you say it.  I heard you tell me you loved me, and the moment those words reached my ears I found the strength I needed.  I wiped clean my cheeks, dried my eyes, chased away the darkness that had built inside me and let your love fill me.


ďI love you too, my princess,Ē I replied, turning back to you, taking your hand; but it was too late.  You were already gone.


I felt as though my life had ended the moment you died.  There really are no words to describe how I felt the instant I realised you were gone.  Part of me wanted to break down and weep, to mourn your loss.  Part of me felt relieved that pain was finally over.  I felt guilty, happy, miserable, angry, and yes, perhaps even a little envious.  I know it sounds perverse, but I was actually jealous of you.  I envied you because your pain, while unimaginable, had lasted for mere months and was finally over, while mine was just beginning and would last for the rest of my life.


Most of all, though, I just wanted you back.  I needed you back.  When I think of the days, the hours, the minutes that lie ahead of me, all of them without you, I feel despair, hopelessness.  I want to give up, to end my life, to join you, but I made you a promise.  I promised you that I would keep going, and thatís why Iím writing this letter.  I know youíll never read it, but it really isnít for you, is it?  Iím writing this for me, so I can read it whenever Iím feeling weak, whenever Iím ready to give up, so I can remind myself of the vow I made to you and the reasons why itís so important I keep that promise.


You were the only source of light in my life and now youíre gone it feels as though the night is eternal, but somehow I will find my way through the darkness alone.  Somehow I will be strong.  I made a promise to you and I will keep it, if only because I broke so many others.


And now, my sweet Lilianna, I must go.  I made another promise to you that day and as hard as it will be to leave this chair, to leave this house, I will keep my word.  I can see it already, my angel.  I can see the flower Iím going to bring you.  A rose.  A single, yellow rose.  Your favourite.


Sleep well, my angel.