‘I’m so sorry Laura, I’m not going to make it this week,’ my friend said over the phone.
It was a Sunday morning in spring 2010 and a group of us were supposed to be meeting for our weekly walk in Yorkshire.
‘Feeling a little worse for wear after last night!’ she joked – and she wasn’t the only one.
One by one our group numbers dwindled, with everyone feeling the effects of a little too much to drink the night before.
‘Looks like it’s just you and me then,’ I said to Nigel Glanville, 40, the only member of our walking group remaining other than myself.
‘Looks that way indeed!’ he smiled.
Nigel was a friend of a friend who we’d been walking with every Sunday for the past few weeks.
We’d spoken briefly along the routes, but that Sunday we were finally able to get to know each other properly.
He told me about his work as an accountant, and I spoke to him about my job as a psychology teacher at a secondary school.
We were both very busy with work, but shared a love of spending time outdoors and looking forward to our Sunday walks in the countryside – so hit it off straight away despite never really having spoken properly before.
We met the following Sunday, and then every weekend for the next six months, walking with our friends or just the two of us if the others were busy.
I always ended up gravitating towards Nigel, and before long, our friendship blossomed into romance and we became a couple.
In summer 2010, I got a job offer for a new teaching role in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, and upon telling Nigel, he announced he would come with me.
‘As long as that’s what you’d want?’ he asked.
‘Of course it is!’ I smiled.
We were blissfully happy, and after spending nearly four years in Lincoln, we moved to York, Yorkshire, in 2014, which we knew would be the place we would forever call home.
‘I love it here,’ I said to Nigel after just a few days of living in our new city.
We’d discussed marriage before, but neither of us were religious and so we decided it wasn’t something we were in a rush to pursue.
Children, on the other hand, were definitely something I saw in my future, and Nigel felt the same.
Being 16 years older than me, he worried about our chances of conceiving – but in 2017 those worries were put to rest when our little boy, Noah, now two, arrived.
Nigel was such a hands-on dad from the beginning, even offering to go part time at work when my maternity leave was over so that he could be there for Noah and I.
Noah was an absolute monkey from the moment he could crawl, giving us both a run for our money to try and keep up with him!
‘He’s going to be running faster than us soon,’ Nigel joked when Noah took his first steps.
And he was right.
Noah was full of energy, living his little life to the full and taking everything in his stride.
‘I’m worried I won’t be able to keep up with him,’ Nigel said.
I had been afraid of the same thing, and had started Couch to 5k in a bid to get fit so I could run around with Noah as he grew up.
Nigel and I had always enjoyed our walking, but that had taken a back seat since having a baby and the two of us realised we would like to be fitter.
‘I might give running a go,’ Nigel announced four weeks after I’d started the Couch to 5k programme. ‘I really fancy doing it too – I want to be the best dad to Noah I can be, and being able to run around with him would be a great start!’
‘You’re already a fantastic dad,’ I reassured him – but I knew exactly how he felt.
The following Saturday – 8th February 2020 – the three of us headed to the shops to get Nigel kitted out with some new running gear.
We talked about how running could be something new for us to do together, and planned joining some park runs once we’d built our fitness up.
Heading home with a new pair of shorts, some sports socks and trainers, he was ready to go.
‘Are you heading out now?’ I asked when we got back.
‘I think I’ll wait until it’s dark,’ he laughed. I knew he was self conscious about people seeing him run, I was too when I first started.
A couple of hours later, once dusk had fallen, Nigel came in to see Noah and I all kitted out in his new gear.
‘Right, just off for a run,’ he smiled in anticipation.
‘Bye daddy,’ Noah waved.
I started to make Noah’s dinner, and then moved on to mine and Nigel’s, before realising he’d been out for quite a while.
Checking the tracker app on my phone which we’d downloaded so Nigel knew when I was nearing home so he could put the dinner on, I noticed he wasn’t moving from one spot.
‘Maybe he’s having a little rest,’ I thought to myself – it was his first run after all!
When I checked back a few minutes later, his location still hadn’t moved, so I thought maybe his phone had fallen out of his pocket and he’d return home shortly worried about where it had gone.
But when he still hadn’t returned home – and wasn’t picking up my calls and texts – I began to worry that he’d hurt himself.
‘Come on Noah, let’s go and find daddy,’ I said, scooping him into the car.
The spot where it said he was wasn’t too far from home, but I thought it wiser to take the car just in case.
As we rounded the corner, I saw an ambulance directly at his ‘location’ – and pulled over.
‘I think you might have my partner,’ I said, walking towards the paramedics.
‘Who’s your partner?’ they asked.
‘Nigel Glanville,’ I said worriedly. ‘Is he OK?’
‘I’m so sorry madam…’ the paramedic said – and without another word the magnitude of the situation hit me.
Nigel wasn’t injured…
I tried to focus as the paramedic told me that Nigel had passed away while on his run.
I screamed and sobbed at the same time, hysterical, as I tried to process losing the love of my life.
He had been found by a couple collapsed in the street, and despite their best efforts using the community defibrillator, they hadn’t been able to save him and he had died at the scene.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and couldn’t contemplate how it could be possible.
The next few weeks passed in a blur – we celebrated Nigel’s life at the funeral, all knowing full well that he hadn’t lived enough of it and was taken from us far too soon.
A post-mortem revealed that Nigel had had an underlying heart condition which had caused plaque to build up in his artery.
The running had dislodged the plaque and caused a heart attack, and doctors reassured that his death would have been instant, and he wouldn’t have felt a thing.
It felt like a small reassurance, to know he hadn’t suffered, but nothing could bring him back.
Noah still asks for his daddy daily, telling people that he ‘doesn’t have a daddy anymore’ and that ‘daddy was hiding on a run but hasn’t come back yet’.
It breaks my heart every time, but I try to be as honest with him as I can so he doesn’t have any false hope that Nigel will return one day.
As Noah grows up, I’ve decided to plant a tree in the garden which we will call ‘daddy’s tree’ and as the summer approaches, we’ll pick a star in the sky and that’ll be daddy.
Because Nigel and I weren’t married, I have come across an awful lot of obstacles and discrimination since his death.
Almost immediately following Nigel’s death, I found myself thrust into legal limbo, despite being his partner for the last nine years and the mother of our little boy.
Instead of spending Valentine’s Day with Nigel, I had to register his death and begin to organise his funeral. It was the worst time of my life.
But I struggled to even complete the paperwork and was recorded as ‘person organising funeral’, rather than his partner or the mother of his child.
According to the law, I don’t count. I even had to register him as ‘single’.
Grieving families are still being denied benefits of up to £7,700 because the government only makes support payments to married couples – despite a decision in the Supreme Court 18 months ago that ruled its position was unlawful.
I have now launched a campaign to end the heartless discrimination unmarried parents suffer when their partners die, and will do so in Nigel’s memory in the hope that no other family has to go through the same.
He was a wonderful father to Noah, and a kind man who I loved so dearly and lost so tragically – but we will make sure he is never forgotten.