When Luke and I first met at the University of East Anglia, I was instantly drawn to his warmth and open-heartedness. The attraction was mutual. Neither of us was particularly bothered about getting married, but the year before last, after 10 years together, Luke suddenly proposed and our wedding was just six weeks later. The reception was at our local in Norwich with a tiered stack of pork pies as a wedding cake.
True to the spirit of our lifestyle, we wanted an unconventional honeymoon. Luke took a six-month sabbatical from his teaching job, I left my position as an environmental consultant, we put our belongings in storage and set off on a tandem. We travelled through 13 countries, eating, drinking, making new friends. Just before we had to go back to work, we decided to get some winter sun. Luke fancied Egypt, I wanted South America. I felt uneasy about the Middle East, but I went against my instincts.
We travelled around Egypt, ending up south in the city of Aswan. We were pestered to go on boat rides, which didn't particularly appeal, but we ended up taking one at the last minute. We thought we'd regret it if we didn't. It was a three-day trip on a felucca, a traditional Egyptian boat designed for sailing in the calm waters of the Nile. The skipper was ill, so the trip was being run by his young second mate.
On the first night, as we were sleeping on deck, moored by the river bank, a freak storm blew up – extremely rare in an area where years can pass without rain. The boat was quickly deluged. The skipper told us to get below deck to shelter. It didn't feel like the right thing to do – it made more sense to get ashore – but we did as he said. Minutes later the boat overturned and sank.
We were trapped in the pitch-black cabin, which rapidly filled with water. It's hard to recall exactly what happened – I later learned I had fractured my skull when the boat capsized – but I now realise why they say drowning is a peaceful way to go. I do remember thinking, very calmly: "There is no air. My lungs are full of water." I must have lost consciousness, because the next thing I knew, I was afloat on the surface of the river.
Luke wasn't there. I kept desperately hoping he was stuck in an air pocket. For several hours, I refused to leave the spot where the boat had gone down. His body was recovered a few hours later. There was no British embassy in the town, and a power cut meant I couldn't access the internet or a phone. Everything we owned had been on the boat, so I had no money or passport. No one would help me. Eventually I got on to a cruise ship and called my dad at 4.30am his time. In shock, he contacted the British embassy.
After a two-day red-tape nightmare with the Egyptian authorities, I returned to Britain on my own. It felt like I had been torn in half. Initially I focused on Luke's funeral. Forever Young by Bob Dylan was played, the song we'd had during our wedding ceremony, and we all danced until the small hours.
The days and weeks afterwards were almost unbearable. There were many times I wished I'd gone, too. Our belongings were still in boxes piled up in one room. I couldn't bear to unpack them. The shock and trauma made me lose my short-term memory and I had to write everything down. I was permanently exhausted – nobody tells you how tiring grieving is. Sleeping was difficult, and when I did drop off, I would wake thinking Luke was still beside me. Friends and family helped me survive, day by day. Getting a rescue dog made a huge difference, too – Barney Bear is a big, lovable thing, exactly the sort of dog Luke and I would have chosen together.
A milestone was climbing the Three Peaks with some friends last August. For the first time I felt it was possible to do something on my own, that I would be able to exist without Luke. I am still grieving – for Luke, and for my future; a future that had included him. I can't go back to how I was before – I am a different person now – but I have come to understand that the richness of our life together has given me the resilience to make it on my own. Luke inspired everyone around him, including me, and that is what has kept me going.
• As told to Emily Cunningham.