Memorial Service: Save The Date

Dear all,

We have now confirmed the date of the Memorial Service as the 24th September, 2015. We will update with more details as we confirm timings, but the location will be Central London (near Gloucester Road).

If you would like to contribute to a part of the service, we will be creating a video to commemorate. Share any photos/ videos you would like of Maria, including, for example a 2 min film of yourself talking about your memories (most smartphones have the capability). Share any contributions with 

With much gratitude for all your support over the last weeks,

Andrey, Denny and Gigi


40 days: Ascension

Today marks forty days since mum died. In the Christian Orthodox tradition, it’s the day that the soul goes up to heaven – mirroring Christ’s Ascension. You mark it with a ceremony by the graveside, giving out “zhito” (plumped up pearl barley with cinnamon, lemon and lots of icing sugar) and a libation of red wine. Sarah, who was an essential part of the funeral service, read out the verses as we placed red roses on the grave.

It gave us a chance to reflect, be at peace – under the bright afternoon sun, on the slightly parched grass, wind frisking the trees. Forty days can feel like an eternity; it can also feel like no time at all. In forty days, you feel the full gamut of emotions: the feeling of living in a mirage, where you see everything through a sheath of tears; see-sawing between anger and resignation at the smallest IT glitch; waking up with that hollow, empty feeling; sometimes feeling nothing at all. In the early days, there’s a strange claustrophobia of “normal” things – overcrowded trains, loud music, seeing friends you haven’t yet seen. You’re living in the mirage and nothing can be the same old normal.

One thing that’s got us through, as well as hundreds of incredible people’s support, is the knowledge that mum would want us to forge on. She’d want us to take all the things she taught us, and go do things with them. That’s been the tiny glimmer of real in the mirage. There’s her unfailing optimism, her drive, her love of people and focusing on the other, her generosity. I’ve never felt so comforted by a long “To Do” list and doing Race for Life felt so uplifting, for all of us. My sister was amazing in getting her friends together for the Race; I’ve dusted skirting boards with great vigour.

One of the things that stands out in the mirage is meeting one of my coachees for coffee in Westminster Abbey cafe. It was my first week back at work, and it had been arranged before everything changed. I had woken up and it was a heavy sadness day. I was slightly dreading it, because I didn’t think I was in a place where I could offer anything useful when I really wanted to hide under a duvet for the day.  I started the conversation on autopilot: over time, it took me out of the mirage; the high vaulted ceiling seemed more real. I noticed and made a pleasant remark to the waiter. Talking over her experience, focusing on someone else’s challenges and asking a few questions – that helped. It was a lesson in that magnanimity, that generosity, that other-orientation mum was a maestro at. Even a much poorer attempt made a difference.

After the ceremony, we went to Bloom with my cousins. On saying goodbye, after tea and cake, we had a group hug. It felt “mum”.

This evening, we went for a walk along the river, as we’ve done countless times over the years. The Thames was that beautiful, shimmering silver at dusk. It looked like a Turner, or a Whistler, with a Gatsby-esque green light. Just over Hammersmith Bridge, the clouds had opened up, as if mum was on her way up – no doubt to go for a run, dance salsa, eat cherries, have a Skype session.

We miss you, mum. You are always with us. We always love you. 

Race for Life 2015 – thank you for sponsoring us!! 

Yesterday (Sunday 19th July) we ran a Race for Life 10k. Gigi and I had signed up while mum was still around. Running was always something she loved – we’d join when we were little, through the stroppy teenager years and then again rediscovered it. 

It was really strange to think she wouldn’t be there at the finishing line. A group of friends joined us: Candy, Margaret, Lizzie, Koral, Laura, Ellie, Anita, Sarah, Imogen and a strong team of supporters. Without you, and the support, I’m not sure we would have got through the run. 

Everyone was amazing, and such a nice atmosphere. When we were sipping the pink bubbly Jim had arranged, it felt like mum had been running with us throughout. 

So far, we have raised an outstanding £5,522.29 for Cancer Research UK – absolutely mind blowing. As a team, we couldn’t have done it without all your support. 

Remembering Maria – from Dimitrina Petrova

From Dimitrina Petrova
It was in a tunnel that I first became aware of Maria’s presence. It was dark and there were enormous chrysanthemums everywhere, and the sound of guitars in the distance. The tunnel was formed by lines of boys and girls, twenty or thirty of us, holding hands up to make an archway. One boy or girl walked through, choosing a partner and thus de-coupling a couple, then the new couple walking under clasped hands to take their place at the back of the tunnel, as its last segment. The abandoned partner went to the front, entered the tunnel, walked through, chose another partner, de-coupling a couple, and led them to the back, holding hands, while the new abandoned partner went to the front of the tunnel, walked in, and so on. No it was not monotonous. We were 15, and hearts were beating fast – will he choose me? This was a flirtation game. He chooses her, she chooses him back when her turn comes, the message is clear. Or she chooses someone else to make him jealous, but then he too chooses another and she is in agony.
So it was in a tunnel, in a lovely village, Surnevo perhaps, or was it a different name, with those unbelievable chrysanthemums in late September, bigger than a child’s head, in a dozen of bright colours, in every front garden. This is where I became aware of Maria, during one of those autumn spells of agricultural work to which we were taken by our school, the English language school of Burgas. She was that other girl whom he kept choosing in the tunnel, time and again, to my despair. He was my current teenage infatuation but of course he knew nothing about my feelings and never noticed me once, in the darkness. He was choosing the glowing Maria, all the time, every evening. I don’t remember his name. I was falling in love secretly at least once a week in those years, so no wonder time and self-importance have erased everything except that he was, naturally, divinely handsome, tall, with dark hair, and telling the best jokes.
What else? The roosters crowing at sunrise, the crisp and cool air after rain, the autumn skies, and yes, she was a beauty, my adversary, the winner, and she possessed the most gorgeous hair, and walked like a princess, tall and proud on thin adolescent legs. Maybe we spoke, maybe not. My memory wouldn’t divulge any more details. I can’t even say for sure that this is when we actually met. It is only this awareness of her brilliant presence, of her glowing existence. She went on to graduate with a gold medal from high school.
I never heard of her again, for four decades within which my life ran its course. But then we met again, just a few years ago, this time for real, and did speak and speak and I re-discovered the buried treasure from childhood. We had so much to talk about. Starting from a similar background, we had wound up at the same final destination, and built lives here, in London. That felt like happiness. She had invented a way to build a unique career, and she kept building her company with that brilliance she always had about her. Not in the sense of “brilliant!” that is the everyday cliché uttered by the British (including us, I am afraid) a hundred times a day in the most trivial of situations (“Would you please pass me the butter? Brilliant, thanks.” “You are giving me a doctor appointment for June 15th next year? Or brilliant, huge thanks!”). No! She was brilliant in the true original sense: far better than “good”, better than “excellent”, genuinely exceptional.
We started meeting from time to time, for delightful walks, to appreciate how lucky we were to be living in a big secret garden called England, and to sit for a cup of tea and scones in one of the welcoming shops of the National Trust. One doesn’t make friends at my age, not me for sure, but we became friends in no time. It was always a pleasure to discuss with her and Andrey this subject or that, and there was never enough time, so bye-bye now and back to our relentless schedules, until next Sunday. Yes, always intending to meet a week later but it was more like several weeks each time, in the grip of demanding jobs and perpetual travel. There was never enough time.
Oh, the day I learned she had cancer! She dismissed it cheerfully: “I had a small health problem here, sorry I wasn’t available for a while, when are we going for a walk?” And then all these months, for over two years, I was watching her fight the disease, with such determination, courage and grace.
The fact that she lost is life changing for me: if anyone could possibly overcome stage 4 lung carcinoma, it should have been her. She was brilliant every step of the battle. But if she lost, then no one could have won. Her dying forced me to rethink my own possible responses, when my time comes.
Maria! You have remained an enigma, but whatever you felt inside, you remained, to the end, defined by these two words that flashed in my mind every time I saw you: your courage and your grace.
I missed your funeral, and at some level, as you know, I didn’t. The very hour you were laid to rest in London, we were having a glass of red wine on the 18th floor of a Hong Kong hotel. It was 9 p.m. We were looking at the beautiful harbour and the futuristic skyline of Hong Kong Island across the stretch of South China Sea. You had already been there while still alive, but I was there for the first time and no one had warned me about the beauty of the place. As such, I was crying. But you were happy by my side just out of the window, in the air, with your undefeated smile; and with your unique voice you were discussing feng shui and ways to build high rises so as not to upset dragons, as the ridges of the mountains were the dragon spine, and the dragon needed to pass through the buildings in order to drink from the sea. “Always remember to leave a hole for the dragon in whatever you are building”, you said and laughed.
Good bye now, Maria. See you in a bit. I will recognise your face glowing in the star dust, at the end of the tunnel, and may I be blessed to walk into it with a piece of your courage and your grace.

4th July and wedding anniversary 

Yesterday was my parents’ 28th wedding anniversary. The joke was always: “we got married on Independence Day for the irony”. It was another of those difficult days, when we were very conscious of the canyon-like hole in our lives. 

First thing, we went to visit mum, take some flowers. It feels therapeutic, quiet – see where she’s resting, tell her our plan for the day. Tell her how much we love her. 

Coming home, we packed a picnic and went to Fulham Palace. The weather was beautiful, and we found a shady spot under a tree.

There was a children’s birthday party, but that was mostly humming in the background. 

In usual Jichev occasions style, we booked Temple at the Donmar. Overall, good play – Simon Russell Beale is always a favourite, interesting tension between progressive and conservative elements of CofE. Some of the other characters could have been developed more, but we enjoyed it. 

This was all followed up by moules et frites at Belgo Centraal opposite. We ordered our usuals, from many post theatre dinners past. Dad told us more about their wedding day, the plan for a small wedding and over 100 guests rocking up. All about the fusion of music – Russian, English, Bulgarian, French, Italian… The little bridesmaids who fell in the sea during the reception. 

It was lovely, and mum was with us all the way. In a different way, but nevertheless with us. 

A photo from but after that time (with baby Denny):  

And always a classic: 


From Manuel 

Dear Gigi and Denny,
I hope this finds you both well and I can’t even appreciate how intense these last days would have been for you.
It’s wonderful how you manage to let everyone take part in the mourning and share words and thoughts of people who have been close to Maria.
Last Friday at the time of the funeral, as I couldn’t join you there unfortunately, I lit a candle for Maria in another part of the world.
Sarah, my partner, would like to join you on the ‚Run for Life‘ and we wanted to know how to sign her up for your team.
With all the best wishes,