Thank you for listening

Thank you again to everyone who has read, shared and commented on the blog post I wrote detailing my complaint to Wolverhampton's New Cross Hospital about the way both Neil and me were treated days before he died.

I've had phenomenal support since penning this intensely personal story and last week appeared on the BBC News Channel, BBC One O' Clock News, ITV lunchtime and evening, and Sky News, who have kindly provided me with the above clip. I also spoke to BBC Radio Five Live and my audio was shared with various regional BBC radio stations. The Independent wrote an in-depth article and leader column about care for the dying and I've done a very sensitive interview this week with the Wolverhampton Express & Star. I had to turn down approaches from other national news programmes as I just couldn't be in two places at once.

This was because my blog post was picked up after being shared on social media by Joe Levenson from Dying Matters during their 'you only die once' awareness week. A report from the Royal College of Physicians said too many people dying in hospital were not being cared for as well as they could be. This was my opportunity to be heard, and thanks to Joe, I grabbed it with both hands. You can see there's a lot of emotion as I speak, my face is red and I only have to be asked a single question before I launch into recounting our family's turmoil, hardly drawing breath.

As you can imagine, for someone who wrote a blog post wanting just to be listened to, I never suspected I'd end up speaking to millions through national media. It was a cathartic experience for which I'm immensely grateful. Each and every journalist in touch has been hugely respectful.

I have plenty more I want (or need) to say about being bereaved and when I don't have a big pile of work to do, I hope to be back blogging.

Thank you.

'Not a single word of kindness': A letter to a hospital

I was very interested today to hear of a report from Macmillan which reveals cancer patients in the UK aren't treated with the greatest of compassion and are denied "a good death.

As I approach the second anniversary of losing our beloved Neil, I still carry the trauma of what happened in his last days in Wolverhampton's New Cross Hospital. 

Compassion was sorely lacking. 

I was commissioned to write about this some months ago for a national newspaper as a case study in a bigger piece about NHS failings. That piece never saw the light of day. So here I am getting it out there.  

My husband Neil died in May 2012 of melanoma, six weeks after his 44th birthday.

The hospital concerned has told us they are “deeply sorry” for some aspects of Neil’s care and in response to others, an action plan would be developed. In short, things were to change because of our experience and my complaint. I felt compelled to tell our story as too often now I’m being told it’s typical and I wanted to help prevent similar distress for other families in the future. Today's report from Macmillan tells us what too many people already knew.

Ours is not a headline-grabbing case of massive negligence, rather, to me and my family, a heartbreaking account of how so many basic things can be overlooked.

In writing a complaint letter to the hospital, I wanted to call for better training for staff on general medical wards so that other families are less likely to suffer as we did. To be honest with you I also want to tell this story as it hurts so much and I'm still getting flashbacks. 

I asked management to explain what training staff in general wards underwent to meet the needs of terminally ill patients and urged them to consider investing in increased/improved training.

I received five pages of apology.  

These are points, condensed but also added to a little here, that I raised:

Days before Neil died: 

  • Despite being admitted because of dehydration, he was refused a drink of water as we waited in the Emergency Assessment unit. He was given a drip sometime after we arrived (I don't recall how long this was, but certainly more than an hour) only to have it removed to stop porters, who broke into an argument in front of us, refusing to take him for an X ray. They rowed about this between themselves and didn't say or do anything to acknowledge our presence as the subject of their disagreement over whether you could take someone to an X ray with a drip attached. I watched them in silence. It would be up to a doctor whether Neil could have a drink. Every time I asked when the doctor would see Neil I was told: "Not a clue." Five hours later, at around 9pm, we saw one. I clearly remember wondering what the point of being there was and to this day, I have no answer.

  • Once he was on the ward, and this is an image that haunts me, Neil lay motionless half way down his bed, his face and clothes smeared with food, while plates piled up still stacked with uneaten meals on his over-bed table. I hated the way the nurses referred to Neil, for example when I  asked why he wasn't eating, I was told: 'He likes his independence too much.' To me, hearing a young man  of such fierce intellect spoken of in such patronising terms, as if he was a wilful elderly patient or child, was hard to bear. I pulled the curtains around his bed to stop other patients staring at him. I wanted him to have privacy and dignity, both of which were evidently lacking. A nurse immediately drew them back.

  • We were laughed at when we attempted to report his Kindle missing from his bedside and asked if it could have been stolen. In everything our family has gone through in recent months, the memory of a nurse laughing at me while my husband lay dying is one of the most painful. I couldn’t believe how nurses were interacting with me, with a sort of ‘enforced jollity’ hours after being told my husband was so desperately ill. I started sobbing that I wanted to take him home that minute. I'll let you imagine how we all felt that Neil's Kindle, a thoughtful birthday present from some of our friends, had been taken from his bedside in his last days. Later, as I aired my concerns about Neil's care to a senior member of staff, he admonished me for bringing in valuables. 

  • Neil was refused a wash and told he could have a shower in the morning. In the morning he didn't get a shower as nurses didn't have time. Me and one of my 13-year-old daughters spent an hour with Neil who could barely stand, in the ward bathroom, we were in a very distressed state but wanted to do our best for Neil to fulfil a basic need that had been refused. My daughter insisted she wanted to help, I was inconsolable that she would have this troubling episode as a memory so close to losing her dad.
  • Later a nurse came and said that they would have given him a wash but they were on changeover. If someone had explained this to me in a professional and caring manner then maybe it wouldn’t have been such a distressing turn of events but they didn’t. Instead I had been dismissed and made to feel unreasonable for requesting the most basic care.

  • A nurse in the emergency admissions unit met our repeated questions about what was happening with the answer 'not a clue'. Days later we requested a wheelchair so we could take him out of bed, the response was “Who’s Neil?”

  • He fell from his bed and no warnings about his limited mobility or danger of falling were displayed. What do you think I would like to say about that?

  • On another visit we were told that nursing staff had been unable to give Neil his prescribed medication as his notes couldn’t be found. As one of those medicines was morphine to control his pain, this was another cause of concern.

  • Some days (most I think in this short period, though my memory is blurred) I wasn't allowed to be with him at any other time than in visiting times and should have been advised of flexible times. This hurts so much, I think so often of that lost time with him and how I wasn't there just to hold his hand. I did ask for longer with him, out of normal visiting times but wasn't allowed before his last two days when we were told he would die in the ambulance if he was moved to St Giles Hospice.

  • With no staff in view, after giving him a wash, I said goodbye one night to Neil, an elderly man two beds down started shouting at me for help in finding something. I said I was sorry I didn’t work there. He became very angry and shouted at me some more. I was upset there were no nurses to look after someone else who was now berating me for not doing their job – an utterly chaotic and distressing experience.

  • When I took up all the above points with a ward manager, I was told there were patients “much more ill than Neil.”

  • Another scan we were told would be booked ASAP never happened. Four days later a forgotten request was found in Neil’s notes, despite assurances when I attempted to check on progress that efforts were being made to move him up the list. By this time, we were told there was no point in having more tests, Neil's condition had deteriorated to the extent he was going to die soon. I remember a conversation with a junior doctor I hadn't met before around this time whose words went along the lines of "I am sorry your husband has cancer." Baffled by his response to my questions, I replied I'd known a while.  

  • A palliative care team wasn’t informed of Neil’s presence in the hospital until 48 hours before he died, I felt so very strongly about the nurses’ dismissive attitude and the fact that we weren’t afforded a single word of kindness before Neil was transferred to the specialist cancer ward where he died after spending five days on a general medical ward.

  • Raising the point of how we were spoken to, I said in my letter to the hospital:  “You may not find this a significant complaint but I can assure you that faced with the anguish of Neil’s condition such dismissive treatment from an overworked nurse cut like a knife. In hindsight, knowing he had days to live, I am baffled how anyone working in such an environment could find this communication acceptable.” 

  • During our five-hour wait to see the doctor on the night of Neil’s admission, an elderly woman patient came and took Neil’s blanket, accusing him of stealing it from her. There was not a member of staff in sight to come to our aid in the face of a clearly agitated woman and I was alarmed by how she was scaring Neil. I told her to go away and leave us alone.

  • When Neil returned from x-ray after being admitted, I couldn’t find his drip. I found a nurse to tell and she said she had taken it off. I was worried about how long he had been without it but got no further explanation. I asked for it to be refitted and some 20 minutes later it was. Had I not have left Neil to go and find a nurse and request the drip was returned, I dread to think when this would have been refitted. I considered keeping a patient hydrated a basic part of care and was upset that this was not being achieved – especially when this was the reason Neil had been sent to hospital.

  • It is a huge source of grief to me that Neil’s last days were filled with such chaos. I feel so much grief that we didn’t continue to look after Neil at home instead of him enduring what we did.

My complaint:

I wrote seven pages of complaint to New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton around a month after Neil died when I could find the words. After a month my complaint hadn't been acknowledged so I rang and was told the letter must have got lost in the post. Later I was told more time was needed. The final response which came two months after I made it was five pages of apology which sought to reassure me my complaints were taken seriously and improved training/communication was under way. Reading the answer to the points I raised sent me into a panic attack - the second since I was given the news Neil would die within 48 hours.

The hospital’s response: (Signed by Kevin Stringer, Chief Financial Officer on behalf of David Loughton CBE, Chief Exec Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust )

An investigation was carried out.

On our care in EAU:

They acknowledge the way we were spoken to was unacceptable and apologise. They outline how requests for information should be met with respect and courtesy. They say we should have been treated with more sensitivity.

They say my raising questions about training was appropriate and outline the training they undertake and add that the EAU isn’t an ideal place for terminally ill patients. They say staff now work closely with the palliative care team to provide necessary support. (I think but can’t be sure this means a result of my letter which is a comfort.)

The missing scan request

They say it is not clear if the request was ever received.

Our experience with the drip

They say fluids should not have been stopped and are ‘deeply sorry’ for what happened, staff have been spoken to.

They say our experience was below standard and my concerns are being discussed further at a team governance (quality) meeting in order to ensure protocols are in place to prevent a recurrence.  

Neil’s fall:

They are “extremely sorry” he fell while in their care.
They apologise that no advisory signs were displayed over Neil’s bed.
All staff have been reminded of the importance of such signs

Visiting times

They apologise these weren’t extended for me

Lack of basic care and hygiene

They apologise that the appropriate care and attention required was lacking. All staff have been reminded of the importance of undertaking comfort rounds

They apologise that staff reaction to a request for a wash led me to take matters into my own hands

Loss of kindle

They apologised for the poor experience we experienced

Poor communication

They are sorry I felt we weren’t given enough information and also wish to apologise that I felt staff didn’t offer appropriate support at this extremely difficult time and at times they behaved inappropriately, adding to my distress.

My experience will be shared with relevant staff at team meetings and directorate governance forums. An action plan will be developed in response to my experiences.


They were very concerned to read of our experiences.

“Please let me say how sorry I am for the additional upset caused to you and your family at this time. I hope you are reassured that your comments have been taken on board by the nursing team and group managers.”

Important note:

The care Neil received in the specialist Deansley cancer ward at New Cross was amazing from lovely, lovely people. He was there for five weeks in one go at one time, and he eventually died there. St Giles Hospice were also phenomenal through their home care and counselling services and a bed was ready for him, but he never made it. Perhaps if the palliative care team at New Cross had been told earlier we were there, who knows, he may have. 

Macmillan blew us away, helping Neil walk so he could accompany me down the aisle at our wedding. A happier memory is how the nurses and doctors at Deansley stood and clapped as he inched his way down the corridor with a walking frame after weeks of not being allowed to move and losing all mobility, thanks to his remarkable determination and the unswerving commitment and patience of the Macmillan physios. His consultant Dr Simon Grummett never treated Neil with anything less than complete respect, care and dignity, his support for us and his hopes of helping Neil live longer through innovative treatment brought us great comfort.


So what happened in Africa?

It has been a long time since I have blogged here. There just haven't been enough hours in the day. But I have been itching to share what we got up to in Africa, how it went, the difference it has made to our family and to say another massive thank you to everyone who helped us get there with their kind donations.

In short, since losing Neil, I have never felt so alive as the time we spent with our fellow volunteers and the youngsters we met. Here's our story:

Watching my daughter Melissa set off to walk four miles carrying a bed for a nine-year-old orphaned African girl who slept among rats on the floor, I cried big fat tears of pride.

We were doing this in Neil's memory. I hope that one day there will be an element of our involvement that I can put his name to as a lasting reminder for all to see of his decency and compassion.
I find it amazing that such an unassuming, modest group of people should make such a difference and honoured to be allowed to walk alongside them. It's hard for me to imagine that mothers have so little that their newborns are sent away from hospital wrapped in newspaper but mind-blowing to consider women in my village are easing this burden.

Melissa trekked for hours along a dirt path to deliver the bed we had built together, while me and her sister Emily carried another to its new, less faraway but equally dilapidated home.

We were in a remote South African community fittingly called Share, in a region called Bush Buck Ridge.

Our mission was to start to help some of the continent’s poorest children. These youngsters had lost one or both parents to HIV and Aids or were devastated by a more sudden death.

Now they lived with their grandmothers, themselves often child-like through the effects of trauma, or a toxic combination of no education and deteriorating faculties.

As young brothers and sisters woke to the sight of their parents’ crudely etched graves in the heat and dust outside their bedroom window, facing hours of chores, there was little time to be a child.

We were helping a dedicated team of local women offer the children hope, through food, education and healthcare, with a small charity called Hands atWork.

The amazing women caring for these children – bringing them one simple meal a day -- and attempting to mend fragmented families had very few material possessions. But driven by a deep faith, they brought love by the bucket load. Each day their voices filled the air with soulful songs of celebration, giving thanks for the community.

The tiny British charity taking us there is called Link4Life – inspired by an aim of forging long-standing meaningful, relationships, working together over a lifetime to bring real improvements.

They asked us to put together beds for 12 children of the 50 they are able to help from their centre, and to help build a ‘long drop’ toilet so little girls and boys no longer had to crouch behind the centre’s walls.

We were part of a 14-strong team throwing ourselves into the tasks with aplomb. Colleagues from Link4Life had already painted the centre, set up a fence and embedded colourful tyres as play equipment.

In these still bleak surroundings, I was upset by the scale of deprivation. Yet my wise fellow team members could see how things were improving and thankful for the steps taken so far.

Our job was to cuddle the children, to play with them and show them love. We were not there to pity or point and say: “Oh how poor they are.”

There was no international marketing fanfare to throw Western money at these children  and impose our own solutions, we were there to listen to what they genuinely needed. Each day we listened and got on with it.

But they were also helping mend us.

My tears came not only from pride but from waves of understanding and grief. My beautiful brave girls getting blisters carrying the beds and laughing with the children in the playground, understood their heartbreak. They had lost their dad, my gorgeous husband Neil, just over a year before we found ourselves in Share.

The care workers and our companions from our local village community of Cheslyn Hay in Staffordshire told us they would be thinking and praying for us too, that we needed their love.

Having spent months attempting to come to terms with our grief and facing the future without Neil, to meet so many bereaved children and see the pain in their eyes was a cathartic and humbling experience, especially when their care workers recognised the same agony in us. Yet as we witnessed the difference we were making, since losing Neil, I had never felt so alive.

The reason behind our visit was uncomplicated -- to meet the children, be at their side and help tell their stories.

As the three of us made a hash of sweeping a grandmother’s yard during a home visit, he would have laughed fondly as she tutted and told us to do it again.

We also had the opportunity to visit a hospital in Durban, where babies are now sent home clothed, rather than in newspaper, thanks to a group of knitters, some of whom are just streets from where we live. This is the Baby Bear project.

As I helped hand over freshly knitted clothes to women in the last stages or of pregnancy or hours after they gave birth, I sat and chatted with a young mum of newborn twins. Rosie, 25, from a nearby village, who told me she would name one of her daughters after me.

Again, the tears flowed. This time I was crying with joy.

At a banana plantation where an international team of nurses ran a basic health clinic, I held a young girl’s hand while she underwent traumatic treatment to Impetigo on her head.

The festering lesions on Virginia’s scalp remained agonising as her aunt had refused to give her the medication needed. Now the sores were so serious, they were being cut out with a blade. There was little pain relief. As I sat and held her fingers in mine, urging her to squeeze my hand to take the pain away, she was so unused to anyone showing her such basic care, she didn’t know what to do and her wrists remained limp, her hands dangling as she screamed in pain. I will never forget Virginia, I ran to our van to get her some boiled sweets so she could somehow benefit from a sugar rush and take her mind off the stinging blade.

I’m not a religious person but could not fail to be moved by the dedication of those who used their beliefs as a reason to roll up their sleeves to see their hands at work among such need. Nobody was preaching,just getting on and helping in desperate circumstances. Perhaps the most moving part of our visit was spending a Sunday morning at a church built from sticks, with fabric oddments adorning the makeshift walls as underfed children in their best dresses sang hymns beautifully. Outside they played with toys fashioned from bits of old wire. It was heartbreaking but uplifting at the same time – you couldn’t help but be in awe of these children’s spirit.

My colleagues from the UK church said they felt God was there that morning. I couldn’t disagree, but Neil was there too I told them. Now, as I reflect on our time in Africa, my tears have given way to renewed commitment to help girls like Virginia.  There has been guilt since we returned as we squabble over which pudding to buy in the supermarket or which reality TV shocker we are going to settle down in front of. We don’t know we are born.

Still, my tears have given way to smiles as I think of the children we helped, including my own and a new little girl called Linda. 

We have a link for life.

How you can help

The Baby Bear project is looking for more knitters. Please leave a comment here if you can spare the time to get involved and possibly help clothe newborn babies or email me on linaitchison(at)

A direct debit of £15 a month feeds one child at Share. Please visit for more information. 

I've also included a Donate button in the top right hand corner of this blog to help me send money in a monthly direct debit. 


Dear bloggers, I'd love your help

Since losing Neil I've slunk away from life. I used to feel that I was part of a lovely online community of parent bloggers but lately my presence has been sporadic and jumbled. I really haven't shared much online about how we've been doing -- give or take the few posts here.

As well as doing my best to get through everything that has been thrown at us and sorting out all a lone parent needs to get on with, I've been hiding. I have watched Homes under the Hammer and Pointless until I can tell within seconds of the opening credits whether it's a repeat. The same goes unfortunately for the Millionaire Matchmaker. Did I really just say that out loud?

I've had lots of ideas about things I would love to do, stuff I would love to write, but I haven't quite got there.

Now I am finding my focus again. It's just two and a bit weeks until we head to Africa and I would like to throw myself hook, line and sinker back into the parent blogging community and ask for help.

Here's what we are up to:

In loving memory: our visit to to South Africa

Please can you help?

Here are three ways you can:

You could donate

I still need sponsorship to help fund our journey. I've been carbooting (is that a word?) and eBaying (that can't be) like mad to pull money in and am hugely grateful for donations from all the kind individuals who have contributed so far.

But I wouldn't be giving it my best shot if I didn't make one last shout out for support. Thank you so very much if you can donate, it really is appreciated. There is no minimum amount, every little helps. Thank you so much.

You could send me some old clothes

Seriously. Do you have any old stuff that you just don't need any more that you have been thinking about recycling but not got around to it? I will very happily take it off your hands -- whether it's for kids or adults. Please email me (linaitchison at gmail dot com) if you would like to send me even just a single garment, and I will send you my address. I can make use of these, taking some over to Africa, as we can leave the clothes behind when we come home, or by taking them to Cash for Clothes before we go to help fund the charity. If you email me, I can explain more. Thank you!

You could buy a copy of my book on freelance writing at a knock down price

I'm selling a small number of my book, called Freelance writing, straightforward advice from a woman who knows (such a modest title, I know, I know) for just £7 to include postage and packaging. The RRP is £9.99. If you would like one, please click on the donate button and when you get through to the actual donation part, add a little note that you would like one of the books. Or please email me after you have donated to let me know you would like a book -- thanks a million.

It would also be wonderful if you could look out for my posts when I'm back and help share the children's stories.

Thanks so much for reading.

What not to say to a bereaved family

A couple of weeks back I wrote a piece for Parentdish on this very subject:

What not to say to a bereaved family.

It was something I really wanted to write about and it was quite a cathartic process. My friend Helen read the piece before I sent it and said that I sounded very angry.

I think that's a key aspect of grief that can be overlooked. People think you will be sad, despairing, heartbroken you name it, and of course you are, but rage can be equally overpowering.

Think about it. Perhaps like Lisa, whom I quoted in the article, you lose your husband 24 hours after learning he is ill, you are 35 years old and you have two young children.

Then someone tells you: "I know how you feel, my rabbit just died."

I think you'd be pretty angry too.

It's a puzzle to me as to why we don't talk about grief much. I'm grateful for all the kind words and concern people have shown me over the past year or so. I'm sorry I sound so angry.

But I'm getting there.

Thanks for reading.

Getting on

Last night I dreamed me and Neil were renewing our wedding vows. There was a lot of kissing, laughing and cuddling and our girls were with us, smiling and so proud.

As I began to wake, I fidgeted a little in bed and reached out my arm to where Neil would lie. That brought me back to reality with a jolt and I cried my eyes out.

I dream about Neil regularly. There was a massive difference though this morning as after my tears I smiled and thought about how much we loved each other. So you could say my dream was a comfort, rather than something that only made me sad.

My wonderful friend Kim has always told me that when we dream about someone we love who is no longer with us, that means they are still here and want to remind us of that. She says Neil is telling me he still loves me and right now I choose to believe her.

In general things are getting better. I have had pneumonia and whooping cough and had to have tests on my heart, these proved to be absolutely fine so that was one hell of a relief. With a period of prolonged illness and the repeated experience of sitting in medical waiting rooms, there was a lot of time for memory and reflection -- much of it all-too painful.

But on a hugely positive note, my flashbacks have lessened.

People have been telling me for months that the "first" of everything after someone dies is the hardest -- a birthday, a Christmas, anniversaries and of course the day your loved one was taken from you. But I wasn't prepared for how much I would be bowled over by being ill. The reality of being a single parent and having to get on with all that involves really hit home, as well as the absence of a "rock" who has been there for so long, offering unconditional support emotionally and practically.

Then my girls went on a school trip for a week so I had the opportunity to head for Wales with my mum and our dog and I slept for days. I must have so needed it.

I feel like I have turned a corner, having recently spoken directly to a doctor who caused us untold anguish. When he apologised to me, I felt 10 feet tall, I came out of his room and said under my breath to Neil "I told him Darling, I bloody told him." That's after five pages of apology from the hospital, the spark for so many of my flashbacks.

I've also organised for a bench to be sited in a place that holds lots of precious memories for our family, with a plaque saying 'In loving memory.' This also brings me some comfort.

Day to day I am getting on, I have had a first session with a grief counsellor through an emotional well-being service and she couldn't get a word in. She said that it was very early days for me, that I am "incredibly self-aware" and that I am doing "amazingly well." I don't mind admitting that is good to hear.

I cried my eyes out in her session and when I asked her what she wanted to say to me as well as listen, she said: "What can anyone say to someone who has lost the love of their life?"

Then she told me it was okay for me to be happy again.

Whaoh, that's the big one. I think I'll get back to you on that x

Thanks for reading.

In loving memory: Our visit to South Africa

Thabo, Believe and Tholiwe. Photo from 2012 Link 4 Life project. 

In July this year, Melissa, Emily and I are heading for a remote area of South Africa, called Bush Buck Ridge. While there, we will meet children orphaned by HIV and Aids and help care workers who look after them day to day.

The reason behind our visit is uncomplicated -- to meet the children, be at their side and help tell their stories.

This is designed to be a lasting connection. There's no big charity fanfare, no massive building project, no international marketing effort, just the prospect of helping. You can imagine how much that appeals.

Each day, we will be guided by a team of care workers to let us know what needs doing and we will get on with it.

Experience of previous visits has shown that this is likely to be helping feed the children or washing clothes, plus a load of other straightforward tasks to lighten their day.

Me, Melissa and Emily have also been set the task of listening to a child's story and helping share it. It's as simple as that. And as someone whose life has been largely taken up by telling stories, it's a role I relish.

I'm doing this in Neil's memory. I hope that one day, maybe not this year, but one day, there will be an element of our involvement, that I can put his name to as a lasting reminder for all to see of his decency and compassion. It's such a cliche, but I know he would like that.

We're members of a 12-strong group travelling to meet and help the children, under a project called Link 4 Life, helping charities called Hands at WorkMercy Air and the Baby Bear Project.

Our stay comes days apart from a visit from my children's school, where older pupils, plus teachers, will also contribute.

Fellow team members have been so very kind to us, assuring us that our presence is special and that we will bring with us an empathy for children who have lost a parent. That makes me feel useful.
There's also an opportunity to visit a hospital in one of the country's poorest areas, where babies are now sent home clothed, rather than in newspaper, thanks to a group of knitters, some of whom are just streets from where we live. This is the Baby Bear project.

I find it amazing that such an unassuming, modest group of people should make such a difference and honoured to be allowed to walk alongside them. It's hard for me to imagine that mothers have so little that their newborns are sent away from hospital wrapped in newspaper but amazing to consider women in my village are easing this burden.

There's a yearly commitment for contact and support with the people in this part of South Africa from the Staffordshire villages of Great Wyrley and Cheslyn Hay. Some people come from our local churches, where we have been sporadic visitors over the years, some from business and some from schools. The aim is to forge longstanding links that will build to bring fruitful relationships.

Already young people from Cheslyn Hay and Great Wyrley are spending longer periods in the community to complete much-needed practical tasks.

Neil and me first heard of Link 4 Life in 2009. We were both interested in taking part, as we worked together from our offices on voluntary publicity material for local media about the project, led by local vicar Richard Westwood.

We looked forward to a day when our girls may be able to join a school group and chatted about how realistic a possibility either or both of us getting involved could be.

Richard was always hugely grateful for our help with fundraising and publicity and I don't think there was ever a time we spoke that he didn't tell me that. As non church-goers our paths didn't cross that often but we kept in touch to follow the progress of Link 4 Life.

And then, in the blur of all that has happened, Richard became a remarkable source of support -- for Neil, me and our wider family.

He married us in January and just months later, led Neil's funeral.

He spent time with us in our most desperate hours in a hospital room.

I can't remember when exactly the idea was mooted that the three of us should join Link 4 Life this year, but it was Melissa's idea and we have stuck at it.

So this has become our "thing", a focus for us to work towards. In our grief and shock, our commitment hasn't lessened. I'm not as far forward as I would have liked to have been with officialdom to do with the visit but I'm catching up now the best I can.

How you can help

I would like to ask for your help if I may, and this is connected with fundraising towards our trip. My daughters have plans of their own with the help of classmates and teachers.

I have £637 from the wonderful journalists' community at JournoBiz and we even went and packed bags at Asda. (I never thought I'd see the day.) We lasted at least an hour.

But now I need to step up my fundraising efforts. I'm going to self publish a book of short stories if enough people are interested, to help, and hope to tap into my lovely works colleagues' expertise for more ideas on generating some cash. The stories are a bit rude (as in earthy humour) and have been received well.

In the meantime, I have set up a donate button on this blog. I know that times are very, very tough for people, but if you would like to help me do this in Neil's memory, I would really appreciate any amount, however small, you can send my way.

You just need to click on the donate button and you will be taken through how to make a secure payment.

The button is here and also in the top right of the blog:

If you'd like to help but would prefer to send me a cheque, please email me linaitchison@gmail[dot]com and I will reply with my postal address.

Please also email me if you are interested in knowing more about the form my book of short stories will take.

This will be put towards airfare for the three of us. Should there be enough funds raised, more money will go towards local feeding programmes.

Thank you for reading.