Love after death

In the midst of two tragedies, something wonderful happened

Published by: Jemma Gillard and Jemimah Wright
Published on: 13 December 2012

My boys could barely contain their excitement.
‘Santa's been!' Drew, six, squealed as he ran over, followed closely by his four-year-old brother Sam.
‘Wow, a new bike,' Drew whooped. ‘Thanks, Daddy!'
‘My pleasure,' Matt, 36, smiled. But a lump caught in my throat. Only I could see the pain he was hiding behind his eyes. You see, my husband had terminal cancer and he was only just able to hold it together.
‘You should stay in bed today,' I said softly to him.
‘Don't be silly,' he said, defiant.
Watching him now, taking such pride in his sons, I felt so angry yet so sad. I was losing the man I loved. I couldn't imagine life without him. But, it was the way he was such a fantastic dad and now our sons were having him snatched away so cruelly that made me the most angry.
Behind all those smiles that Christmas morning, life was hard. Our world had been turned upside down three years before, when Matt had noticed a marble-sized lump on his left thigh.
‘I'm afraid you have cancer of the muscle,' the doctor had explained. We couldn't believe it.
A week later, he had the lump removed and started treatment. But, two years on, the cancer had spread to his liver and lungs.
‘It's terminal,' the doctor gently told us.
Matt was silent. Walking back to the car, he finally spoke.
‘I've got to be around to see the boys grow up,' he cried, breaking down in my arms.
That's why, despite being so weak, he'd been determined to get up and see our boys open their Christmas presents. He had to do this. He was only able to get caught up in their excitement for a few hours before he had to go back to bed.
‘It was worth it,' he smiled. Leaving him to doze, I went back downstairs to play with the boys.
But, two hours later, I heard Matt suddenly cry out.
Rushing upstairs, I found him struggling for breath. He looked deathly pale.
‘I can't die on Christmas Day,' he rasped.
But, at 6pm that night, Matt couldn't hold on any longer. His breathing slowed until he gently passed away with me beside him. As I listened to the boys laughing and playing downstairs, I leant my head on Matt's chest and wept.
Grief-stricken, I kept myself busy with the funeral preparations. Only after burying my husband did the realisation hit. I missed him so much already. How was I going to bring up the boys alone?
Desperate for a chat with a friend, I met up with my pal Colleen, 36, just over a month later.
‘Have you heard about Cathy Spehn?' she asked.
‘No, I don't really know her,' I frowned. ‘Matt mentioned her occasionally.' I also knew that she lived nearby.
‘She passed away last week from cancer,' Colleen explained.
It turned out that only three weeks after Matt had died, Cathy had started getting headaches. Doctors then discovered she had an inoperable brain tumour. Just 17 days later, she'd tragically passed away.
‘How cruel,' I gasped. ‘At least I had time to prepare myself for losing Matt.'
Even though I'd never met her, I felt like I needed to pay my respects at her funeral. She'd been a wife and mum to three kids, Charlotte, 11, Jack, seven, and Dan, three. Feeling like I could relate to her story, I went along, too.
After the service, I was about to leave when a man headed towards me.
‘You must be Gina,' he said, unexpectedly embracing me.
‘Yes,' I replied, looking into this stranger's sad eyes.
‘I'm Michael, Cathy's husband,' he said.
We found a quiet spot at the back of the church and he explained how he knew me.
‘Cathy told me about Matt,' Michael, 43, explained.
Apparently, before Cathy passed away, she'd told him to call me as she thought I'd be able to help. Tears stung my eyes.
‘I guess she thought you'd know how I'm feeling,' he sighed, sadly.
I understood completely. For the next few hours, we sat talking about how our kids were coping and how much we missed our partners.
We exchanged numbers and arranged to go for dinner a few weeks later.I began to look forward to our chats.
Shortly after, my boys met Michael's kids. We all started going on day trips to the seaside together. We laughed and had fun and I began to feel like myself again.
‘You've been spending a lot of time with Michael,' Colleen commented one day.
‘I wouldn't have coped without him,' I replied.
But, a year after meeting,
I realised my feelings were deeper than that. I felt like I was falling in love again.
Instantly, I felt guilty. But then I remembered something...Matt had made video diaries for the boys before he died. He wanted to give them advice about everything from girls to school. Digging out the tapes, I sat down to watch them.
‘If your mum ever loved somebody enough to marry them,' he said. ‘I want you to love and respect that
guy, too.'
Seeing him on screen made tears run down my face. He was so close that I felt like I might be able to touch him, but I couldn't. He was gone.
That's when it hit me. By saying that, he'd given his blessing for me to meet someone else. He was saying it was okay for me to move on. So, later that day, it felt right to take off my wedding ring. Then I called Michael over...
‘I don't know how to say this,' I mumbled across the kitchen table. ‘I have feelings for you.' I couldn't look him in the eye. But, suddenly, I felt his hand reach for mine.
‘I feel the same,' he smiled. ‘I was too scared to say anything to you before.'
‘What about the kids though?' I worried.
So we decided to call a family meeting with everyone.
We were both really nervous of their reaction. But, luckily, they were fine with the news. We were both so glad we'd got their blessing.
Just a year later, me and Michael were walking along the beach when he proposed.
‘Absolutely,' I cried, hugging him tightly. Six weeks later, we wed in my parent's garden.
Of course, I still missed Matt. But I only needed to look at my boys to know he is still with us.
That first Christmas together with Michael was so perfect. After a massive roast, I got out all the home videos again. That way, Matt would almost be there with us, too.
Looking across at Michael, who was wearing a cracker hat, I realised just how lucky I had been. I'd been fortunate to have these two wonderful men in my life.
I believe Cathy and Matt wanted us to find each other. I know they're smiling down, happy that Michael and I found our happy ending after tragedy.
Gina Spehn, 43, Michigan, USA