Aisling Pont, 43, Miranda, NSW
How do you heal a shattered heart? It's a question I've asked myself every day since I lost the man I love. I met Nick 12 years ago at a house-warming party. I'll never forget how we spent four hours deep in conversation, oblivious to everyone around us. Just 10 weeks later we moved in together and when we married I felt like the luckiest woman alive. A keen sportsman with a job as a roof tiler, Nick was my soul mate and I was his. In 2003 we welcomed a son, Dylan, and Nick was a doting dad.
Three years on, our future was looking bright. We were planning some renovations to our house and I'd recently returned to work in retail. At home one evening during a busy week, Nick, 35, and I tucked Dylan into bed, before listening to music, having a couple of drinks and chatting. I'd just gone up to bed when my hubby yelled out from the lounge room. I rushed down to see him clutching his chest. 'It really hurts,' he gasped. Earlier that day he complained about terrible indigestion. We'd put it down to a hot dog he'd eaten for lunch, but as Nick turned pale with agony, I knew something more terrifying was going on.
In a panic, I watched him turn from fit to frail in seconds. As Nick was rushed to hospital and worked on by paramedics, I waited for his sister, Jennifer, to arrive so she could mind Dylan. My heart was racing as fast as my thoughts. I can't live without Nick. He can't leave me... Just then, a cool breeze brushed my cheek. I felt as if my man was standing by my side. In that moment, deep down, I knew he was gone. 'Please don't...' I sobbed. But rushing to hospital my instincts screamed that I was too late. Devastatingly, they were right.
A doctor explained they'd done all they could. But Nick suffered from an undiagnosed heart condition which had claimed his life. Numb with shock, I tried to make sense of it all. Drowning in a sea of tears, I could hardly bear to leave my love. But our son needed me...
At home, I slipped into Dylan's room, relieved to see him sleeping soundly. How would I ever find the words to tell my baby? In bed that night, I could smell Nick's aftershave on the pillow. Although my eyes were heavy with grief, I couldn't sleep for worry. The next day, somehow, I found the strength to sit Dylan down and tell him gently what had happened. I explained that his daddy had got really sick during the night and had to go to the hospital. But the doctors couldn't make him better and he'd gone to heaven. Dylan asked lots of questions and I answered as best I could. But how could I expect a child to understand? His dad had been wrestling with him on the bed, just the night before. I was still struggling to believe Nick was gone myself.
It was only when my family arrived from Ireland to support me, that I realised I hadn't eaten for two days. A week later, they joined me, Dylan and 500 others at Nick's funeral. I lost a part of my soul as we said goodbye. The next few months were even harder, as I was reminded of my loss constantly. I'd dream of Nick, only to wake to the same horrifying reality. He was gone.
Desperately, I turned to the internet for support. But I was shocked when I couldn't find a group for young widows with children. I can't be the only one going through this, I thought in despair. Friends put me in contact with a lady called Louise who'd also lost her husband six years earlier. 'I think I should start a group for other women like us,' I told her. I'd been thinking about it for a while and she loved the idea. If we reached out to others perhaps we'd feel less alone. We approached a local paper who printed a story and within a week, we had 15 women eager to join.
Our group, Ever After Widowed, was born. Three months later we held our first meeting. Listening as each widow shared her story of loneliness and despair, I realised their feelings echoed mine. When it was my turn to speak, a wave of relief washed over me. It was wonderful to meet people who understood. We held fortnightly meetings with guest speakers, counsellors and financial advisors offering advice. Six months later, I met Maria. She was a 36-year-old mum who wanted to learn more about the group. Her husband, Dan, had passed away just four months after my Nick, and I was shocked to find she only lived five minutes from our home. 'I could have used a friend like you,' she said, explaining she was 12 weeks pregnant when she lost Dan to a stroke.
Like me she had a fantastic family, but sometimes she wanted a friend to cry with, or share her fears. Maria helped me expand the support group by creating a website and, inspired by her motivation, we quickly became friends. We spoke regularly on the phone and met up each week. If I was having a bad day, not wanting to worry my family, I'd call Maria instead. Together we went to meditation classes, we took the kids to the park and enjoyed weekend outings.
For the first time, hope flickered in the darkness. Today, I'm proud to say our group has over 500 members and Maria and I have just written a book, Forever Loved - A guide book for widows and widowers, to help other young people who have lost a partner. With our wedding anniversaries a day apart, every February we go out for lunch in memory of our beloved husbands. We remember the good times and as our friendship flourishes so does our courage to face the future.
Maria Carr, 41, says
When I lost Dan, I had a baby growing inside me who needed me to stay strong. After having my son, Daniel, I was grateful for this gift but so sad Dan wasn't there to share it. I wanted to be a good mother but first I had to heal my soul. When I found Ever After Widowed, it was a relief to meet people who understood my grief and I received so much comfort. I've made wonderful friends, especially Aisling, who I know will be with me for life.