Sitting in a stark waiting room at the local register office, I was beginning to become hysterical.
I was there to record the death of my beloved partner Paolo, the father of our young son. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life — and nobody was listening to me.
Instead, they were telling me they didn't know who I was or why I was there — even though my sister had rung ahead to make the appointment — and, worse, that I wasn't allowed to be the one to register Paolo's death because they didn't recognise our relationship.
Cold and unhelpful, they left me feeling utterly abandoned.
Think of the pain of losing the love of your life without warning. Now imagine that, as your world shatters, you are simultaneously catapulted into a bureaucratic nightmare and made to feel like a worthless adjunct to your partner's life.
It happened to me — and it could happen to you, too, if you are part of a family and don't get married.
When my fiancé Paolo died suddenly in July 2017 at the age of 39, I was bereft. We had lived together for eight years, had a toddler son and were planning a second child.
Dealing with my agonising grief while caring for Connor was all-consuming. And when I most needed the support of the authorities, I was frozen out.
Legally, our relationship meant nothing. I'd always believed we were 'as good as' married. But despite widespread use of the term, there is no such thing as common law marriage in Britain — and when Paolo died, I had no rights at all.
Data released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics revealed cohabiting couples are the fastest growing type of family in the UK, with 3.4 million couples living together without being married or civil partners.
Other research has shown only 26 per cent of them have made wills.
Paolo died suddenly in July 2017 at the age of 39, Gill was bereft. They had lived together for eight years, had a toddler son and were planning a second child
This terrifies me. How many of those couples realise that if one partner dies, the other won't automatically inherit their property, or be entitled to their pension or life insurance?
How many of them are aware that, unlike a bereaved married person, they might have to pay significant tax on anything their partner left them?
Nobody likes to think about death and disaster — but the sky can cave in at any moment.
Paolo and I met in 2009 on a night out in London. Tall, dark and handsome, with a strong Italian accent, he was a huge character with hundreds of friends — totally in contrast to me. But, as they say, opposites attract. He was caring, funny and generous.
We got engaged the following year, then bought a house together. In 2016 our son Connor came along.
Paolo was the most loving, hands-on dad. Sometimes, he'd fall asleep with Connor in his arms, and I'd watch them together, my heart full of happiness. An only child himself, Paolo wanted a big family.
But when Gill tried to register Paolo's death, the mother was told she wasn't his relative; and because he had died at a different address, she wasn't even seen as a significant other
We always intended to get married — Paolo had even picked out the church in Italy — but we had other priorities, like our careers (I work as a dental hygienist and Paolo was a product manager for a travel company) our home and our son, so we hadn't set a date.
I've never been that girl who dreams of a big wedding, and I didn't think there was any urgency. We would get around to it one day, probably after we had our second child.
So many couples now live together, I took it for granted that this type of family was recognised by law as well as society. If we could get a mortgage together and register our child's birth together, surely our relationship meant something legally?
By the summer of 2017, when Connor was 17 months old and I was 42, we were in the process of selling our house in Surrey and planning to move to Cheshire to be nearer family.
Paolo had already got a new job in the area and would spend weekdays there before coming home to us on Friday.
When one weekend he said he felt very tired, I just thought he'd caught a virus and had been overdoing it. On the Tuesday, he called from Cheshire to say he'd been sick and had a bad cough. I told him to get plenty of rest.
The next day, I thought it was odd that he didn't reply to my texts. When he didn't phone me at lunchtime — something he'd done every day since we met — I called his work and they told me he hadn't come in.
Gill said this was all made was so much worse than it had to be - purely because she wasn't his wife (Pictured, Paolo and his son in 2016)
That's when I started to panic. Desperately, I phoned local hospitals and his landlady, begging her to check on him.
Paolo bounced out of bed every morning and I can't remember him ever taking a day off work. His grandma lived to 104 and we used to joke he'd have 40 years on his own because I was bound to go first.
But that evening as I turned into my driveway, I saw a police car — and everything went into slow motion.
I watched as the policewoman got out of the car, put her hat on and started walking towards me. I kept saying, 'No, no, no, no,' over and over.
Paolo had been found dead in his bedroom. The official cause of death was pneumonia, but the coroner said he'd never seen a case like his before. It was inexplicable.
I was in shock for many months, barely able to function. The worst thing, even now, is not knowing exactly how he died. It haunts me.
Organising the funeral — which more than 400 people attended — was horrible. But, for me, the torment was just beginning.
Then she had to deal with informing everyone of his death, closing his bank accounts and credit cards, and sorting out his pension (pictured with her son)
When I tried to register Paolo's death, I was told I wasn't his relative; and because he had died at a different address, I wasn't even seen as a significant other.
Then I had to deal with informing everyone of his death, closing his bank accounts and credit cards, sorting out savings, his pension and trying to transfer things to my accounts so I could pay the bills.
I knew it would be a tough job, but it was so much worse than it had to be — purely because I wasn't his wife.
Every single call was an ordeal. When you're grieving, it takes all your energy just to pick up the phone. Being told, 'Sorry, I can't talk to you because you don't count,' is like a slap in the face.
Because we weren't married, I had no entitlement to Paolo's last salary — which I needed to pay our mortgage. The bank would pay that money only to our son Connor, who didn't have a bank account.
Foolishly, we hadn't written wills — although we'd talked about it. Instead, I had to go through the complicated process of probate, which took months, cost thousands in solicitors' fees and is subject to inheritance tax, which I thankfully didn't have to pay because our property was in our joint names and I was under the financial threshold. But widows never have to pay it.
What's more, if Paolo and I had been married, I'd have automatically received a benefit called Bereavement Support, which at the time was a lump sum of £3,500 and 18 monthly payments of £350 (it's since been reduced). As it was, I didn't get a single penny to help provide for Connor.
Other bereaved partners still aren't getting bereavement support payments — even though it's ten months since the Supreme Court ruled that this is unlawful.
But the financial side of things was only half of it. Every form I filled out gave options for single, married or divorced people. Our relationship fitted into none of these categories.
Absurdly, if I had been his ex-wife, I'd have had more rights. I lost count of the number of times people said: 'So, Paolo was single.' Each time it felt like a dagger to my heart.
My phone call to the Department for Work and Pensions was particularly distressing. The man I spoke to had a monotone voice without a trace of sympathy. He just kept repeating: 'Was Paolo married, single or widowed?' When I said: 'He was my partner,' he just flatly repeated the same three choices to me, until I lost my temper and told him how disrespectful he was being.
Data released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics revealed cohabiting couples are the fastest growing type of family in the UK, with 3.4 million couples living together without being married or civil partners. Gill (pictured with her dog) says 'This terrifies me. How many of those couples realise that if one partner dies, the other won't automatically inherit their property, or be entitled to their pension or life insurance?'
If Paolo had suffered from a terminal illness, I could have married him prior to his death, and had full rights as a widow. But we never had that chance.Perhaps, though, if others can learn from my experience, it hasn't been in vain. It would be so easy to educate people about this.
When unmarried couples go to register a child's birth, their lack of legal rights should be explained to them. According to data from the Office for National Statistics, in 2017, there were 1.25 million unmarried, cohabiting families with one or more dependent children in the UK.
The Cohabitation Rights Bill, which aims to provide extra protection for cohabiting couples, is passing through Parliament now, but its progress is slow.
Until that happens, I'd urge any committed couple, especially those with children, to get married as soon as possible. You don't have to have a party or wear a big white dress. It's not about the wedding, it's about being protected.
When I joined a group called Widowed & Young (WAY) two months after Paolo's death, I met many others in my situation — and far worse. I was lucky I had savings to tide me over.
But I met people who had lost their homes after their partners died, been forced to move back in with parents because they couldn't afford to rent on their own, or had to claim benefits in order to survive.
The saddest thing is that Connor will miss out on the most amazing father. While I know I'll never meet anyone like Paolo again, if I ever do have another serious relationship, I'll make marriage a priority — and I'd urge anyone in that position to do the same.