Nine years ago Big Man was an artificer instructor at HMS Sultan, which is a MOD establishment for mechanical engineers. He had been tasked with taking a handful of young trainees on an Outward Bound kind of course in the Brecon Beacons, lasting from Monday to Friday. The plan was that Big Man would take turns driving the mini-bus and leading the younger guys up mountains, and they would stay at a Youth Hostel place. He set off first thing on the Monday morning - not very willingly - though obviously I was happy at the thought of having the bed to myself for four nights. No change there then. I remember that we hadn't been listening to Radio 2 for very long at that stage and that I sent an email to Ken Bruce, asking him to say 'good luck to my husband and his boys, who were trekking up some Welsh mountains'. Big Man heard that because he rang me when they reached Brecon and said how surprised they all were, and how they'd taken the mickey out of him. He rang home every evening and said that it was hard going and that he was looking forward to getting home.
On the Thursday, July 4, I got home from work and the phone rang about 6pm. A distraught voice I hardly recognised gasped 'It's me....I'm at Abergavenny Hospital....they're saying I've had a heart attack'.
How do you react to that?
In my case, very badly, and I'll be ashamed of myself forever. I wouldn't accept it, wouldn't believe it - I insisted that the doctors were wrong. I was awful to Big Man for so many reasons. Plus I blamed myself for jinxing him by getting Ken Bruce to read my good luck message out. All I could think about was myself...MY loss of lifestyle; MY loss of a healthy husband; MY loss of the Navy 'family'. Not a thought for my hard-working, strong, dependable husband - fit, strong and only 36 years old. It was a very dark period for us and one that I don't think I can ever completely atone for.
My Big Man hasn't really recovered physically. He's lost confidence in his own strength and is aware of his body's fallibility every day.
He's not recovered mentally. He has only just finished three years of therapy (it's a measure of how far he's come that we were able to drive past Abergavenny Hospital when we went to Wales last month), and his image of himself as provider, protector and mainstay of his family has taken a real beating.
He had to leave his job in the Navy which was all he'd ever done and which he truly loved, because he wasn't ever going to be able to go back to sea again.
He, and we have had to change our lives totally. A heart attack doesn't just affect the victim...it affects everyone around them too. But we survived...HE survived.
And every year on the 4th of July we celebrate that.