My heart hammered as my boyfriend, Phil, 54, gazed sadly into my eyes.
"Don't bank on me, sweetie," he warned. "I haven't got long left."
Blinking back tears, I shook my head defiantly.
I'd only been going out with Phil for a month and knew he was the man for me.
He wasn't my first relationship, but I'd all but given up on love when I met Phil through my work as a chef.
He was a general services manager at the hospital I cooked in.
With his cheeky smile, sparkling blue eyes and sexy English accent, I couldn't help but develop a crush.
Thankfully, the feeling was mutual. Phil loved my crass sense of humour.There was just one catch: Phil was sick.
He had a family history of diabetes and despite being fit, he'd been diagnosed with type two.
To make matters worse, he'd also been born with only one kidney.
The meds he needed to keep his diabetes under control were slowly destroying his only functioning one.
We didn't know how long he had left.
A transplant was his only option.
I knew the risks of falling in love with Phil but I couldn't stop myself.
He moved in with me and my mastiff ridgeback, Hallie, two, who he adored.
We often joked that our relationship had been love at first sight – just not between us, but he and Hallie.
One morning, in bed, with Hallie at our feet, Phil nudged me.
"Do you want to get married?" he asked.
"That was a bit of a letdown of a proposal," I joked. "But why not?"
But one thought niggled at me. How much time would I get with Phil?
"I don't want to become a widow right away," I warned half-jokingly.
Phil chuckled. "I promise you'll get at least five years of marriage out of me."
We couldn't ignore the issue of death so we discussed what we wanted done with our bodies once we were gone.
We chose cremation but didn't want to leave poor Hallie behind.
"Our ashes can be mixed together once all three of us are gone," Phil suggested.
There wasn't anyone else I'd rather be laid to rest with.
Nine months later, Hallie sat at our feet with a white ribbon tied around her neck, as we exchanged vows in a garden ceremony.
For the next five years, married life was bliss.
"You've gotten more than you bargained for with me," he joked when we reached our seventh anniversary.
But then Phil's health declined.
He became fatigued and nauseated. Some days he couldn't get out of bed.
He started dialysis at home and was put on the transplant list. Hallie never left his side.
I was pottering around the kitchen one day when Hallie sneezed blood.
Phil and I raced her to the vet.
"She has a tumour in her nose," he explained sadly, after running tests. "It's inoperable."
He suggested putting her to sleep.
Phil and I fought back tears: we knew it had to be done, just not yet.
Over the next couple of days, we took Hallie to the beach and she indulged in her favourite treat, sausages.
When the vet came over, Phil and I huddled together, our baby cradled against our chests.
"I love you so much," I choked as she slipped away.
We had our girl cremated, like we'd planned, and kept her ashes in an urn in the lounge room.
I felt terrible every time I left for work when Phil was sick in bed.
He no longer had his special buddy at home to keep him company.
As the months passed, Phil deteriorated.
Five months after Hallie's death, he called me at work.
"Sweetie, they've got a kidney for me," he said.
If all went well, the kidney would buy us a few more years together.
Docs had to act quickly so I didn't see Phil until he woke from surgery.
The poor thing looked like he'd been run over by a bus but he still flashed his gorgeous smile.
At first, the kidney responded well.
But within a month, there were complications.
The meds Phil was on to help his body accept the kidney caused dangerously high blood pressure and heart issues.
His heart health was so dire docs were forced to remove the kidney.
He was left with his original organ, which was on its last legs.
I blinked back tears as I held Phil's hand in hospital.
"You gave me the best years of my life," he said. "And Hallie was the icing on the cake."
Shortly after, he was moved into palliative care where I stayed with him.
Ten days later, I lay down on his bed, cuddling into him.
"I love you but it's okay to let go," I cried.
I sobbed as I watched him take his final breath.
We'd always known we didn't have forever but losing him still took the wind right out of me.
Phil didn't want a funeral so instead I had his body cremated then hosted a wake at our home.
After a week I poured Hallie's ashes in with Phil's.
Finally, they were together again, just like we'd planned.
Two weeks later, my phone rang. It was the company that had cremated Phil.
"I don't know how to tell you this," the woman started. "We think you have the wrong ashes."
I blinked in surprise.
"We have Phil's ashes," she reassured me. "But we gave you the wrong remains."
I was so stunned, I couldn't even blink.
"But I've mixed them with our dog's ashes," I replied. As I processed the reality of it, I let out a scream.
I'd trusted this funeral home with one important job and they'd screwed up.
Now some poor stranger was mixed up in an urn with my precious Hallie.
I fell to the floor sobbing.
All I wanted was for my husband's ashes to be treated with care and respect, they hadn't even managed that.
Days later Phil's ashes were delivered and the cremation company had managed to separate the ashes of Hallie's and the poor stranger.
Apparently dogs and human ashes have different textures so it was easily done.
"I'm sorry. We take full responsibility for this mistake," the company said.
But the apology meant nothing to me.
When I got Hallie's ashes back, the remains were so much smaller than they had been before.
I knew I didn't have all of Hallie. It was like I'd lost her all over again.
Phil and I had wanted us to be together but now that would never happen.
My ashes could still be mixed with his but I couldn't risk mixing a stranger in with us.
My husband's dying wish was destroyed by this company and I want everyone to know.
Our loved ones deserve respect. I don't want this happening to anyone else.