"I really don't know where I would be if it weren't for Mountbatten's Hazel Centre."

I first came for bereavement counselling before Shirley died. I found it hard to talk about my feelings for Shirley and became so emotional that I would always end up crying.

One day after my counselling session, I sat down with two men called Michael and Lee. They told me about the social groups in the Hazel Centre at Mountbatten that they were involved in, how it had helped them, and the rest is history. 

Little did I know how important they would become in my life.

I have made many new friends over the two years I have been coming to the Hazel Centre. Friends with their own crosses to bear and their own stories to tell. 

Everybody looks out for each other, and the time we spend together is so valuable. There have been deaths along the way, and we miss those friends who are no longer here to enjoy activities such as gardening club, arts and crafts with Aylsa, music with Katherine and our build and banter group. 

The warm and welcoming environment of the Hazel Centre, the staff, volunteers, and my friends have become my sanctuary and an extension of my family, and I can give back to them as much as I get. 

"Some of the saddest days of my life were watching Shirley die, but I am so grateful she had the care and support of Mountbatten". 

One month after my retirement in October 2021, my wife Shirley was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. 

I thought we would be spending some quality time together, enjoying cruises like most other retired couples, but that was not to be. 

The care at home team would visit and see to her needs, giving her medication to ease her symptoms and talk to her about coming to terms with her death. But I could not bear to listen to it. 

I would get so upset and go outside into the garden to cry to myself. I could not come to terms knowing she was dying; I struggled with my conscience, saying "They must be wrong". 

Shirley was admitted to the inpatient unit at the hospice on New Year's Day 2022, 20 days before our 42nd wedding anniversary.

I would stay with her most nights, and we would chat to each other, but I would usually end up in tears. I didn't like to show my emotions in front of her in case I made her more distraught, but sometimes, it was just too much to bear. 

We knew Shirley wouldn't be strong enough to make it to our anniversary, so the staff did not hesitate to put on a little party for us and our family. It was a special moment to celebrate with her and our loved ones. 

It was just wonderful that they found the time to do that for us.

"Light up a Life is here for us to celebrate our loved ones, and that's what this time of year is all about."

Shirley was a treasurer at the bingo hall. They used to throw Christmas parties for staff and relatives, and we used to enjoy going and celebrating.

Christmas doesn't mean the same to me now without Shirley. 

Last year, I was invited to many memorial events around Christmas. I went to a few on my own, but being surrounded by families, I was the only person there on my own. You can be in a crowded room and still feel completely alone.

Coming to Light up a Life felt different. My friends were all there, people who also find it difficult, but we can support each other. 

During the service, the names of our loved ones were displayed on a screen. Seeing Shirley's name was a moving moment. I found it hard, but I had Michelle, a Mountbatten healthcare assistant, by my side, who made me feel safe.

To dedicate a light in memory of someone you love, click here.