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среда, 29 марта 2017 г.

'Together we learned to love again'

When these women's lives were ripped apart by grief, the friendships they formed gave them hope for the future

From left to right: Johanna, Gemma and Sarah are now good friends

'I felt I betrayed his memory'

Gemma Greenbank, 29, is a secretary and lives in Thulston, Derbyshire with her four-year-old twins, Holly and Ellie-May. She was widowed four years ago.

"When I married Carl in August 2004 and promised to be with him 'till death do us part', I never imagined those words would come true so quickly.
Just two years later, I wept as I watched him take his last breath and felt his hand go limp in mine. He'd lost his battle with the disease that he'd fought twice before.
Cancer had been a part of our lives since we first met in 2002 and Carl was in remission after treatment for leukaemia.
Soon after, he said he'd always wanted children, but had been left infertile by chemotherapy. However, he'd had some sperm frozen so he could try for a family when he was ready.
Some women would have run for the hills. Not me. I was already in love with Carl. Nothing could change my feelings for him.
We married less than a year later after he proposed on my 22nd birthday at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
A few months after our wedding, we started IVF to try for a baby. Our third cycle was successful, but by the time we found out, Carl was in intensive care with a serious chest infection.
Thankfully, he pulled through and a few weeks later we went for an early pregnancy scan. As a heartbeat pulsed on the screen, Carl's hand tightened around mine. Then a second dot flickered to life beside it - we were having twins!
But as my bump started to grow, Carl's health faltered. He kept getting chest infections and was always on antibiotics or in hospital.

Carl with newborns Holly and Ellie-May
Doctors explained that the bone marrow he'd received to treat his leukaemia was attacking his lungs. He needed another transplant, but he was too weak for surgery. There was nothing more they could do. The handsome, strong man I'd married just months earlier became grey, and needed oxygen 24 hours a day.
Still, he came to every scan and read all the baby books with me. Then, when our daughters, Holly and Ellie-May, were born by Caesarean on May 11, 2006, weighing 5lb and 5lb 1oz, Carl was the first to hold them both. 'This is a new chapter of hope for us,' he smiled, kissing my cheek.
I tried to believe it was true. But once the girls arrived, Carl's fight disappeared. I often wonder if he hung on just long enough to meet his daughters.
Within two weeks Carl was so frail he couldn't get out of bed. He was just skin and bone and was too weak to feed himself, let alone cuddle his daughters. I felt helpless.
In July, he was transferred to hospital. One night he said to me: 'You know I won't be here to see the girls through school, don't you?'
I just smiled and told him to be positive, to stay strong. We never talked about him dying. From then on, Carl slipped in and out of consciousness. He died on July 28, 2006, aged 31. Our girls were just 11 weeks old.
With my new friends I could be honest about how I felt
At first I was numb. Then came the crashing, overwhelming grief. I don't know how I'd have functioned without our babies. When the twins were asleep, the silence closed in around me. I was 24, a widow and a single mum. How was I going to cope?
After the funeral I looked for support groups, and came across the WAY (Widowed And Young) Foundation, which helps men and women whose partners have died. I began chatting to other widows and widowers online.
I didn't want to worry my family with how low I was feeling, but with my new friends I could be honest about the darkness I really felt. They shared their stories and reassured me that's perfectly normal.
Some members spoke about dating again, though I wasn't sure if I'd ever be ready for that. Then, in April 2007, I met Justin online. His wife Jacinth had died from cystic fibrosis earlier that year, aged just 26.

Gemma married Justin last year
At first, we just chatted about our lives, and how we were coping with our loss. Then we met in person on a WAY weekend event.
I was surprised to feel an attraction to him. He was warm and kind, and friendship blossomed.
When he asked me out to dinner a year after Carl's death, I felt guilty that somehow I was betraying his memory. But we realised we couldn't change what had happened - we had to carry on with our lives and try to find happiness. Slowly a relationship developed.
I was nervous about telling Carl's parents about Justin, but they were pleased for us. Justin and I got married last September and we're expecting a baby in August. The girls love him and often call him Daddy.
There are pictures of Carl everywhere at home. He'll never be forgotten. He's their father, my lost love and will always be a special part of our family."
'I was a bride, then a widow within a year'

Sarah Wilkinson, 34, a property developer from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, was widowed in 2005.

Sarah has found support from her friends at WAY
"It was 5am on June 12, 2005, when I heard a knock at the front door. Pulling on my dressing gown, I went downstairs, fully expecting to find my husband, Jason, on the doorstep.
He worked the night shift as a supervisor on the railways and it wouldn't have been the first time he'd forgotten his keys.
But it wasn't him. It was two policemen. My body began to shake uncontrollably as they told me the man I'd married just seven months before, my soulmate, was dead. He'd been hit by a train while overseeing the laying of the tracks.
I refused to believe it, and it wasn't until I saw Jason's bruised and battered body in the morgue the following day that I finally accepted he was really dead. My tears dropped on to his face as I kissed him for the last time and whispered goodbye. He was just 33.
My body shook as they told me my soulmate was dead
Days later, over 400 people attended his funeral, many standing outside because they couldn't get a seat. Organising the service gave me a focus in those first, horrible days after he died. Jason wasn't religious so we had a humanist service and played some of his favourite music, including One Step Beyond by Madness - I knew it would have made him smile.
I didn't cry at the funeral, I felt too numb. But alone in our bed that night, I sobbed for hours, my grief so raw it hurt.
Just three weeks after Jason died, I returned to work as a recruitment consultant. I thought going back to a routine and doing normal things would help me. It didn't.
I'd snap at the smallest thing. I spent my days biting my lip to keep the tears inside until I could run to my car and weep, huge waves of grief washing over me.

Jason and Sarah on their wedding day
At home by myself, I couldn't bear to watch TV or listen to the radio. Even eating and sleeping were difficult. It all seemed too normal. Instead, I sat in silence, staring at photos of Jason and remembering his laugh - it broke my heart. He looked like a real tough cookie in all the pictures - bald and broad - but I knew the man inside...marshmallow, soft and gentle.
We'd moved to a bigger house just before Jason died because we'd wanted to have a family. Walking around the empty rooms at night when sleep escaped me, I couldn't help but think I should have been pregnant. I should have been turning the spare room into a nursery. Jason should have been getting excited about being a daddy. I'd been robbed of the future we should have had together.
Three months after Jason died, I was diagnosed with depression and referred to a counsellor. She told me about The WAY Foundation, explaining I might benefit from talking to other people who'd lost someone. I wasn't sure. Sharing my feelings with a bunch of strangers? Then I thought about Jason and how he wouldn't recognise the woman I'd become since he died. Maybe talking to people in similar situations would help me find the old Sarah...
So, I went to a social event organised by the group. And, surrounded by people who understood, I didn't have to pretend that I was fine when really my heart felt as though it had been ripped in two. They'd all been there, they knew how it felt.
Since that first meeting, I've made some very close friends through WAY, including Gemma. We meet up regularly and it's so wonderful seeing her bump grow.
Recently, I've even started dating again. I'm very upfront, and tell the men I meet about Jason. So far, every man I've been out with has been kind and understanding.
I know Jason would want me to be happy, but I've still not met anyone who matches up to him. Maybe I never will. But I'm young and don't want to be alone forever. I hope one day I'll be able to love again."
'I didn't know how to be on my own'

Johanna Horne, 32, a project manager from Silsden, Yorkshire, was widowed in 2006.

Johanna has found happiness four years after Matthew died
"I remember going to a wedding six months after my husband Matthew died. Someone tried to introduce me.
'This is Johanna...' they began, not sure what to say next, still afraid to mention his name in case I dissolved into tears.
I didn't know who I was either. I met Matthew in 1995 when I was 17. We'd been together 12 years, all my adult life. For so long I'd been one half of 'Matthew and Johanna'; I didn't know how to be on my own.
Matthew was a big character, with a sense of fun and adventure. Life was never dull with him. His hobby was racing motorbikes. He loved the speed, but I was terrified he'd hurt himself.
When he decided to stop racing because we were planning a family, I was relieved. 'I just want to compete in two more races,' he told me. That was in July 2006. And a month later, the first of those final races was his last.
I was at the race but I didn't see the crash. I noticed the red flag, which signals there's been an accident. I strained to see Matthew, but I couldn't, so I ran towards the medical centre.

Johanna and Matthew tie the knot
The doctor explained Matthew had been taken to hospital. I prayed he'd be OK, thought he must have broken an arm or leg...But a nurse gently told me Matthew was dead. He was just 32. The crash had killed him instantly.
She led me to the room where Matthew lay. He was still warm and looked like he was asleep. I took his hand in mine and begged him to wake up. How could his heart, so full of love, not be beating?
Returning home that night, I just couldn't believe he'd never be there with me again.
I helped organise his funeral, but it passed in a blur. I didn't feel like I was there.
For months after his death, I got angry when I saw a couple holding hands. And seeing a woman with a baby was torture, because they had something I'd lost.
One night, unable to sleep, I went online and came across the WAY website. At first I chatted with other women, then I started going to the meetings. It felt wonderful to cry with people who sympathised, but didn't try to fix me; to laugh and not feel judged for being happy. And I've met some great women, including Gemma and Sarah.

Johanna and Ian with son Harry
Gradually, I began to realise I might one day be ready to meet someone new. That happened in June 2008, when I met Ian in a local bar. We hit it off straightaway.
As soon as things felt serious between us, I gently told Matthew's mum and dad about Ian, how understanding he was and about his gorgeous children, Oliver, nine, and Laura, 13. I even suggested they might like to come and watch Oliver play rugby -one of Matthew's favourite sports.
They were amazing, and have really embraced Ian. Now, our son, Harry Matthew, born on August 21 last year, has five grandparents who all love him so much.
Ian lost his mum and brother in a car crash, so he understands grief. Losing a husband and meeting someone new is like having a second child - you don't stop loving the first one, you just find more love for the second.
On the anniversary of Matthew's death, I did a skydive. It seemed like a fitting tribute. I hoped he could see me and that he would be pleased I've found happiness again."
Celebs who've loved and lost

Courtney Love, 45 (left)
Lead singer of Hole, Courtney was widowed when her husband, Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, then 27, committed suicide in 1994. Their daughter Frances Bean was 20 months old.
Faith Evans, 36 (middle)
Despite having separated from Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious BIG, Faith was devastated when he was shot dead in 1997. He was 24. She continues to raise their son, PJ, now 13.
Natascha McElhone, 38 (right)
Actress Natascha was 36 when her plastic surgeon husband, Martin Kelly, died from a heart attack in 2008. The couple had just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary and Natascha was three months pregnant with Rex, now 18 months old. The couple have two other sons: Theo, 10 and Otis, seven.

This article has 7 comments
i lost my soulmate ,best friend ,husband of 24 years, in january 2009 aged 46 we were childhood sweet hearts had been together 32 years he died suddenly of a heart attack 13 days before our 25th wedding aniveriary .we have 2 grown up children and 3 gransons we all miss him loads the pain is sometimes to great to bare . but my gransons put a big smile on my face which helps with the healing process and i think i might join as you don,t like to bother people with your pain but i assume a problem shared makes it better .
By gwen moss.. Posted August 9 2010 at 11:57 PM.

I found your stories profoundly moving and I am so sorry that you all went through this too. Well done for having the will and courage to carry on so bravely. Your stories were very sad but aslo inspiring!
I too have made some lovely friends thanks to the Way Foundation and I am so glad that this organisation exists.

I lost my dear husband 10 years ago, he was 46 and I was 42. Our children were aged 13 and 10. They are doing very well. My daugher having graduated from Leeds University now lives in Australia working as a geologist. My son is at Reading University. They are doing so well, and are happy and I am very proud of them.
I hope to meet someone again one day and I wish you all lots of happyness for your futures.

Many thanks for sharing you stories,
Best wishes,
By Lizzie Kerkhof-May.. Posted May 25 2010 at 7:22 PM.
Lovely to read your news. I lost my husband in Jan 2007 in a car crash and WAY offered me massive support. I have 3 girls who were 9, 7 and 7 months at the time. Chatting online to other widows who understood made a huge difference and I made some lovely friends. I met Gemma and Justin on WAY gatherings at Centreparcs and Stratford. Having been a bit out of the loop for some time I'm really happy to hear their news.
I was absolutely sure I didn't want another relationship but life is strange and I have met a wonderful man who I love very much. I agree with Johanna about being like loving a second child when you find a new love. It never replaces the person you lost but it takes somebody special to understand that. Myself and my 3 girls are in the midst of preparing to move in with Iain and his 3 children in halfterm next week. New beginnings. 
By Jane Pyne.. Posted May 24 2010 at 9:39 AM.
I lost my beautiful husband ten years ago this August he was 38 and we had four young children. I still struggle to this day its hard thinking about what hed be like now but I think he would be proud of us as the kids have done him and me proud. Our youngest has since been diagnosed with a life threatening illness and has had a huge battle for the last four years. My husband would be heartbroken to see what she has had to go through but as he donated his organs he gives us insperation to carry on he was and still is our hero. I bet there are so many young widows going through similar experiances and its nice to share storys. We are all very brave
By Liz Phillips.. Posted May 24 2010 at 8:04 AM.
i read the stories with interest the one difference being i was 53 when my husband died he had a heart attack and died Dec 29th 2005 i was devastated he was my life good looking loved life and so funny and worshipped football which he played he has been dead 5 years this year but i have this feeling in side which has not gone and i sleep on the sofa since the day he died i have my daughter and granddaughters but i am lonely but cant imagine life with anyone else but i miss a man's company and to talk to but i am 58 there's not much about for my age in my town Burton on Trent
By carol taylor.. Posted May 23 2010 at 4:37 PM.
Girls, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your stories, i too lost my gorgeous husband in 2006. Although i have built up a new life I still feel very, very sad and i struggle at times. I was a member of way but i just couldn't be bothered with anything and i forgot to reniew my membership. You have inspired me to sign up again, i think i under estimated just how important it is to talk to people who understand. I don't have many friends now as most of them drifted away from me when Ryan died, i think i probably did push some away too.

Thanks again, you are all brave and an inspiration!

Love Claire xxx
By Claire Hunt.. Posted May 23 2010 at 11:06 AM.
Well done girls ,I know you all through WAY and you are all beautiful Ladies with so much life .
IF anyone knows someone who is young and lost their partners please do not hesitate to mention Way to them .It has been my lifeline for 4 years now .

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