The Familiar Abyss

“What are you scared about the most?”

It was a question that cut to my core. Innocuous, it would seem, as something that we all ask of those that we know; but given the right context and timing, it cut to my core.

“So, what are you scared about the most?”

It’s a pretty normal question, a conversation starter, or a “getting–to-know-you” group question, but this time, because it was asked the evening after I had received the diagnosis of the presence of a moderately active cancer in my prostate, it was particularly pertinent. That I received this news two days after we commemorated the first anniversary of Ngaire’s passing wasn’t lost on me either.

After the initial blow subsided, the clouds cleared and I, again stood looking into this seemingly bottomless abyss of the unknown and unfriendly. It seemed strangely familiar and not quite as fearful as I remembered it. In fact, as I talked to a friend about it later in the day, it dawned on me that there was actually treasure to be found here. However, I will have to climb down into this hole; at some point, I will have to leap across the gap, and I will get to the other side.

There is a pretty good success rate with this type of cancer. For the sake of those who love me, I’ll do all I can to make sure that I’m in the positive percentage. Nonetheless, it is quite sobering knowing that I have “the worm” inside me: that which could end my life is resident within.

The reality that we tend to ignore rather well in our society, is that we are all terminal and, as C.S. Lewis said, “Death has a way of focussing one’s attention.”

So, what am I scared about most? Oddly enough, it’s not that I might die, or the numerous unpleasant procedures involved; it’s my mental health.

Since a couple of years before Ngaire died, I found myself gradually sliding from being my normally robust, buoyant self into being frequently depressed, anxious and fearful, particularly through the long hours of the night. To even contemplate the possibility of entering that darkness again, having been free of it for many months now, is more frightening than anything else.

As always, there is tremendous strength drawn from the love of my friends and my boys; I am grateful beyond words.

Well over a year ago, I committed to document Ngaire’s journey towards a lung transplant; within a few months she was gone, having never made it that far. The documented journey became the path of grief and so many aspects of relationship and love lost, all the way through into the open space.

So now it’s time to head off into the woods again – pop on the boots, tighten the belt and strike up the hiking song……whatever. I may not be the Happy Wanderer, but I hope to walk this path with a great degree of peace. Thank you to those who are walking with me.

Stay tuned for updates.

One Year

Yesterday marked exactly one year since Ngaire died. For those who have followed this blog, you will know what a journey it has been.

At the start of the day our small family went up to Ngaire’s grave for a time of reflection. I took the page of notes that she hurriedly wrote in her shaky hand just before she was sedated that final time: words of love to us four of her boys.

From the middle of the day, we had open house for any of her friends and family who wanted to share in remembering her. It was a beautiful time and the sheer number of people who came is a testament to how much she continues to be loved. I shared a short message with those who were there and a number asked if I would send it to them. So here it is:


“It is one year since Ngaire died. Even now, to say that is still a little confronting.

Nonetheless, a year has passed and in my mind it is harder now to go to a cohesive portrait of her in my mind. Mostly it is just bits and pieces of smiles, laughter, cheekiness, her moments of fear, sadness, enduring love. I have one picture in my mind that recurs when we were in our late teens; I was sitting on a couch in her parents’ home; she ran into the room and jumped onto the couch, bouncing on her knees and smiling cheekily at me. That’s it, just a moment, seemingly of little consequence, but it outlives all the other moments as a benchmark of who she was to me.

As I wander in my thoughts, perhaps the thing that is most missing in our household since she left is just that: her zest for life, her verve and passion to not waste a day. Very often it would be her motivation that would inspire me to action, and over the past year it has often been a battle with self to cover the everyday things of upkeep and maintenance – both of self and home. That being said, we haven’t totally fallen apart! Life for each of us in our family has moved into new phases, and a fresh vision of the future is often itself inspiring and motivation enough.

Yet, her spark is missing; and it was a very bright spark as so many of us who loved her will confirm. Even in her last days and weeks, when it was so challenging for her to even move, she would spend much of her conversation affirming and inspiring. One of her greatest strengths was her ability to empower others, to let them know that they were loved and that what they thought and felt was of value. In this ego-driven, self-protective world, such a person is rare and a great loss.

So, at this point I find myself reflecting on her legacy, what Ngaire Susan Wills left for posterity, as it were. I am tempted to say her art, because she was a very fine artist and illustrator. But that was not who she was. Though she loved beauty and had the constant eye of an artist, that is not what most of us will remember her for.

Her legacy is what she planted in each of us who knew her: Ihave value; I am loved; I have great potential unrealised; I am of tremendous value to others, especially those who love me; I matter.

To some degree or other, Ngaire lived those truths in her relationship with almost anyone she had more than a two-word conversation with, which is virtually all of us here. We can all recall those moments where Ngaire was calling us up into our true selves.

Now that she is gone, that is what remains for me: that cheeky girl bouncing on the couch who faithfully loved as a wife, mother and friend. And one of the key ways she showed herself faithful was in her desire to validate and empower others.

I firmly believe that I would be far more constricted in my ability to love as a father and friend had Ngaire not been the great encourager in my life, and so I will continue that legacy. May it be perpetuated in our family and amongst you, our friends, from generation to generation, so that there will never be a doubt in any mind that each has value and that they are loved.

So I would like to raise a vote of thanks to Ngaire Susan, for all that she deposited into our hearts, and for that spark which we all have the opportunity to continue to fan into flame.”


At that point we all applauded Ngaire.