When Michelle Bourke, 58, from Taylors Lake in Victoria found herself widowed after nearly 25 years of marriage, she found a novel way to keep her hubby's memory alive. Here, she tells her story in her own words...
Most men don’t like to talk lots, but my husband Paul would follow me around the house, chatting!
After nearly 25 years of marriage though, I knew most of his stories.
‘I’ve heard that one before!’ I’d tease him.
Paul was my soulmate.
The plan was to grow old together and travel the world as grey nomads.
But for almost eight years, Paul had been battling a rare melanoma, leaving him wheelchair-bound.
With our 25th wedding anniversary around the corner, he was terminal.
‘I wonder what happens after you die – what if there’s nothing there?’ Paul asked.
‘My darling, what if there is? How wonderful would that be? You could haunt me!’ I grinned.
‘What will you do when I’m gone?’ Paul asked another time.
‘I’m going to pack a photo of you in my suitcase and travel the world!’ I declared. ‘I’ll take pictures of us at all the famous landmarks.’
‘You’re not, are you?!’ Paul laughed.
‘Yeah, I am!’ I promised.
We made the most of our time together, holding hands and talking for hours.
Paul took his last breath on May 20, 2016, surrounded by family. He was just 61.
Taking our dog Ollie for a walk the next day, I looked up at the beautiful blue sky.
‘Good morning darling,’ I said to Paul.
The next year was an emotional roller-coaster for me and the kids, Garry, 38, Brendan, 36, Matthew, 26, and Sarah, 24.
But I knew Paul was still with me and would want me to keep living my life.
So when I saw that Paul McCartney was performing in New York, I had to go!
Why not travel across the US and Europe for nine weeks? I thought.
And I hadn’t forgotten my vow to Paul.
Should I get a banner? I wondered.
‘What about a cardboard cut-out?’ my cousin Peter said.
It was genius!
Googling, I found a company that would turn a photo of my spunky 36-year-old groom on our wedding day into a life-size replica!
My Cardboard Paul stood at 175cm and was gorgeous!
Family and friends were curious about my plans.
‘Does he need a passport? Have you booked him a seat?’ they joked.
A few months later, I folded Cardboard Paul up and packed him in my case.
Arriving in Los Angeles, I pulled him out and laid him on the chair to stretch out.
On a 16-day tour, I’d be sharing my room with another lady. I didn’t want to scare her! But I needn’t have worried.
Widowed for more than 20 years, Pauline from Perth and I, instantly clicked.
‘This is amazing!’ she exclaimed, admiring Cardboard Paul.
A few days later, I shared him with the rest of our tour group, and that night, I took Cardboard Paul out for dinner. We even had a spin on the dance floor!
Standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, tears rolled down my face.
‘It’s spectacular,’ Paul would’ve said.
As Pauline took our photo, we got some funny looks, but many wanted to hear our story and wished us well.
Cardboard Paul and I saw chipmunks in Yosemite National Park and posed by the Golden Gate Bridge. It was so windy I had to hold on in case he flew away!
‘You must’ve really loved him,’ said a kind-eyed taxi driver in San Francisco.
‘Paul’s very quiet today!’ my travel mates were chuckling by the end of the tour.
Paul would be in hysterics! I thought.
Next stop was the Big Apple. Over a couple of weeks, Cardboard Paul and I explored Central Park, Times Square, then went to Texas.
Arriving in Paris, the city of love, was bittersweet.
Seeing the Eiffel Tower, I burst into tears. It had been our dream to see it together.
More than anything, I wished I was sharing this moment with the real Paul.
We saw Buckingham Palace and Stonehenge in the UK.
In Singapore, I could feel my husband walking with me at the beautiful Symphony Lake – he’d loved the water and our times speed-boating as a family.
Three days later, it was time to fly home with a well-travelled, very tattered and creased Cardboard Paul.
‘You seem different – more chilled and relaxed,’ Sarah said on my return.
Celebrating Paul’s 63rd birthday a few days later, I knew how proud he’d be.
Now I had the travel bug, I didn’t want to stop! A year on, last May, Cardboard Paul sat by the pool and watched the sunsets with me and Pauline in Phuket, Thailand.
It’s been three years since I lost my Paul. But I’ve learned that life is short, you’ve got to move on and live it.
In death, my darling Paul still makes me smile – even if he is a cardboard cut-out.
He might be gone, but our love will never die.
Michelle’s book, ‘Travelling with Cardboard Paul’ is available on Amazon.