In April 2006, fashion designer Richard Bloom was tragically and senselessly murdered – along with his friend, South African actor Brett Goldin – following a hijacking and robbery.

It was a sensational event that made headlines locally and internationally and once again highlighted the crime epidemic gripping South Africa. But for Bloom’s surviving life partner, Bryan Hellmann, the impact was much more personal: Suddenly, the life he and Richard had built together was violently ripped away.

Marking the second anniversary of this tragedy, Bryan has chosen to tell the tale of rebuilding his life and finding his path of healing in a new book, Soul Conductor: A Tale of Grieving and Healing.

Described as an exploration of the grief process which Hellmann, a practising psychologist, experienced as a result of the untimely death of his partner, it documents the tortuous process of grieving and eventually coming to terms with the loss.

When did you first meet Richard?

I met Richard in 2001. We were introduced to each other at a party by Brett Goldin. Richard and I had known each other since childhood, we grew up in the same neighbourhood in Johannesburg, but we met as gay men in 2001. There was an immediate, intense attraction and connection between us. We both knew this would soon become love and it did.

What attracted you to him?

He was the most gorgeous man I had ever seen. He was powerful, charming, friendly and extremely confident. His presence made me feel alive and so very excited.

How long were you two together?

We were together for five years. Our relationship was magnificent in every way. We adored each other, supported each other and functioned as a team. There was such intense trust and love for each other it made the relationship, in my mind, perfect. We always communicated and always respected each other’s feelings and wishes.

How did you learn about Richard’s death?

Thirty hours after Richard and Brett had been reported missing, I was sitting in my car outside the Camps Bay Police Station listening to the radio – they were running a missing story on the boys – and a policeman knocked on my window. I opened it and he said to me, “We have found them and they are dead.”

Do you think that as a same-sex partner you were given the same respect and consideration as a traditional heterosexual spouse?

I was most certainly given the most incredible respect and support from the entire community, our friends and families. There was never a moment when I thought I was being treated differently because Richard and I were a gay couple. At the time I was working for the Department of Correctional Services, and their response was as incredible and not at all dismissive. People were humbled by what happened; they mostly all showed me the highest level of respect. Some people did not know what to do or how to respond. This I believe was okay; it did not offend me.

How do you feel about the way that the media dealt with the event?

I felt the general media handled the situation with integrity, respect and dignity. They reported the story as it was; news. They respected my privacy and feelings.

What are your thoughts on the graphic photos of the crime scene published by the tabloid press?

I felt the naked pictures printed of Richard and Brett were completely disgraceful and disrespectful to them as well as to all their family and friends. I understand they were “news” however, they were undignified. One should never disrespect the dead. Never. The same story could have been communicated through the use of more appropriate photographs. I have discussed my reaction to the pictures in great detail in my book.

Is this book in some way, an attempt to claim your rightful place as Richard’s life partner?

No, Richard and I were partners until his death; I have never felt the need to claim what already was. This book is a tribute to Richard, an honouring of his memory and an exploration of the wonderful life and time we shared together as partners on Earth. It is also a book about grieving and healing; it serves to examine what I experienced after the murders in an attempt to help other people deal with or understand their own process of loss.

Were there any ways in which being gay resulted in a different experience from that usually experienced by heterosexual partners?

No. I received and still receive complete genuine equal treatment – from my parents to the police. Everyone has been remarkable toward me. I am very grateful for this, but I am not surprised. Homosexual people are treated equally if they see themselves as equals.

Some might say that we already read enough about crime in South Africa. How is your book different?

My book is an exploration of the grieving and healing process I experienced after Richard’s death. It is a book about love, hope, faith, acceptance and growth. It is in no way a book about crime.

You run therapeutic and support groups for people dealing with grief and loss. Did that come about as a result of what happened with Richard?

I am a clinical psychologist. As such, bereavement, grief, death and dying have always been a major part of my work. But my work changed after Richard’s murder in the sense that I now have personal experience to draw from and not simply the theory. In a sense, my experience has enhanced my ability to work in the field of grief but it did not birth it.

In what ways can a book like this help others dealing with similar scenarios?

When a person dies, be it through trauma or old age or illness, the overwhelming emotion experienced by the survivors is isolation and aloneness. My book can help lessen the feeling of isolation as it promotes understanding and empathy.

How much of writing it was a way to deal with your own grief?

The entire process of writing the book was done to help me deal with my grief. Writing the book was the most important decision I made after the murders.

How did Richard’s death change you?

It changed me entirely. The way I see the world, the way I interact with the world is totally transformed. This transformation has been extremely challenging and difficult but also miraculously healing. I have been able to create meaning out of my suffering; this meaning is explored in my book.

Do you feel any guilt about not having been with Richard that night?

No. I believe everything happens for a reason, there are no coincidences. I was not meant to die that night. I do, however wonder, sometimes, if I had been there would things have been different? This is fantasy not guilt.

Was it difficult to write about such intensely personal details and emotions knowing that many others would read this?

I sincerely believe a person can only keep what they have learned if they share it with others. Through sharing my story I do not feel alone in it. Writing about what I experienced allowed the meaning-making process to occur for me and ultimately it has achieved a sense of personal growth and discovery.

Two years after Richard’s death, have you been able to move on? Is there anyone else in your life?

I have been able to put Richard into a good place i

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