Antonia Lovell describes the grief and loneliness of being widowed young and the journey of rebuilding her life and discovering love again.

My first husband Brian was a Falkland War veteran; he had been pensioned out of the army due to disability after an accident.

Five months after we married, I became pregnant and then very ill. At 20 weeks we discovered that we were expecting twins and that I had severe Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. I spent 2 months in hospital and we had the boys 3 months early. Three weeks later, we celebrated our 1st anniversary. What a first year!

Nathan came home on oxygen the day he should have been born and 100 days after they were born sadly Samuel died. We spent a year and a half nursing Nathan on oxygen and tube feeding him, but despite being very small, he thrived. When he was a year old we moved back to my home country, Northern Ireland, where we had more family support and a couple of years later we had another son who we named Joshua.

The boys were still quite young when Brian’s health deteriorated and along with his physical health problems, he became severely mentally ill with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD. As a family we struggled with both his disability and failing mobility and his severe mental health problems. He regularly attempted suicide and spent long months in hospitals. We were also told he would die young from his physical problems.

Somehow, we managed to keep going. Then in December 2009, Brian went into hospital with another suicide attempt and told the Crisis Response Team that he had been having thoughts of ‘taking us all with him’ for several weeks and explained in detail how he had been thinking of killing us, as he couldn’t bear to see us all suffering any more, so he thought we should all go together. Child Protection kicked in and our children were placed in my care as long as Brian didn’t come home.

In January 2010, he was homeless and took the first house he could get – which was not adapted for his disabilities. He seemed to be coping really well and after some months the child protection was lifted from the children and they were able to visit him and see him regularly. We hoped we could get back together. Then, in September 2010, he tragically fell down the stairs and died in his own home, we found him the next day. I was 41 and our boys were 15 and 18.

I thought I had been grieving for the man I married for many years already, but how painful the journey was after he died. I was terribly alone. I didn’t know anyone else who had been widowed young and I felt so isolated in my grief.

It was a number of months later when I contacted Care For The Family and was soon allocated a ‘Widowed Young Support’ telephone befriender, someone who I could tell what I was going through and how I was feeling, who understood the grief of a young widow first hand and was caring and compassionate.

In October 2011, I went to a Care for the Family Widowed Young Support weekend. I met other young widows and widowers who were going through the same deep grief and loneliness that I was, and even though the journeys which had led us there were very different, there was an incredible unity in finally being with others who understood the pain and challenges first hand, and knowing I wasn’t alone on this horrible journey.

I didn’t think I would ever marry again, I thought I always be alone. However, In January 2012 I received a friend request on Facebook from a guy who was posting on a Christian TV channel’s wall where I was also sharing and praying for people. Initially it was just a mutual interest in reaching out to others through our faith but then we began to fall in love. He had never been married before. He lived in England and I was in Northern Ireland, so it was a strange way for us to meet and as we couldn’t meet in person we spent many hours talking and getting to know each other. By Easter we knew we had to meet as we wanted to know if this was real. We spent a few days in London and before I left to come home Rob proposed to me.

I never expected a new hope, a new love. I was so unprepared for falling in love again but here it was. Several job opportunities came up for me, where Rob lived, so we were married in November 2012 and I moved back to England. Rob is such a blessing to me, he isn’t jealous of Brian, if he had been I couldn’t have married him, and he is very supportive when I am struggling with my grief especially around anniversaries.

Marrying again doesn’t take away the pain of our grief but we learn to live with our grief as our own life continues. I often say that marrying again is a bit like having another child after losing one. Rather than one love replacing another, our hearts expand to allow room for another person and a new love to grow.

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