KATIE Paul didn’t expect her new partner to stick around in the aftermath of her ex-husband’s suicide. But he did, and they learnt to make every day together count.
Nothing could have prepared me for what my husband did. I’d known him for 19 years and we were married for 16, yet I never had a clue he was so troubled.
Our separation was amiable. There was no fighting or finger-pointing; just a realisation we no longer belonged together. In March 2010 I moved out of our three-bedroom home into a tiny one-bedroom flat a few streets away.
At 45, after almost 20 years of being in a monogamous relationship, I was enjoying being single. My husband knew I’d started dating and seemed to accept the situation.
I went out with a few men I met through an online dating site. They were all charming, but I didn’t connect with anyone. Then I met Simon. He was handsome, funny, intelligent and warm. I didn’t want to see anyone else. Within days of meeting, we were a couple.
I took the easy way out when I told my husband I was in a new relationship – I sent him an email. He responded by telling me he needed time to sort out how he felt. It was the last time I heard from him.
On a sunny Thursday in April 2010, six weeks after I’d moved out – and 10 days after I’d met Simon – the unthinkable happened. My husband’s boss called, concerned he hadn’t seen him for three days. I’d been trying to reach my husband, too, and had left messages on his voicemail. I thought he might have gone on a drinking binge and was lying unconscious somewhere, so instead of heading to work, I went to check on him at home.
As I walked through the house, I called out his name. I found his body slumped in an armchair, surrounded by papers, photo albums, ashtrays and empty beer bottles. In one instant, my world changed. I stopped being an independent career woman with a charmed life; suddenly I was a suicide widow.
Simon hadn’t signed up for any of this. I thought he should leave me to my grief and guilt. I was at my worst; I swung between feeling responsible for my husband’s death, angry he’d willingly ended his life and sad he’d been in so much pain.
But Simon refused to leave my side. He was there when they wheeled out my husband’s body, when the police questioned me, when I forgot to eat. He held me when I sobbed and didn’t let me go until I could breathe again.
On the day I found my husband, I told Simon I loved him for the first time. I didn’t say it because I was in shock; I was simply affirming life and love in the face of death.
My friends couldn’t understand how someone who was a stranger less than two weeks ago could stay in such a situation. They were afraid it would be too much for him and he’d leave, breaking my heart again. So I tried to push him away, but he wouldn’t let me.
“I would do all I could to help anyone this happened to,” he said. “You’re my girlfriend; of course I’m going to stay with you.”
The difficult part was that I was happier with Simon than I’d ever been. My life was full of intense pleasure and intense pain. I felt guilty for feeling joy when the worst thing imaginable had just happened.
I think the love Simon and I share was shaped by the experience. We stopped worrying about the trivia of day-to-day living and focused on making each moment count. You can’t wait for the ‘right time’ when you don’t know how much time you have left. Each kiss is treasured as the last, each word is burned into our memories and intimacy is precious. Nothing is taken for granted.
Most of the time I feel the circumstances at the start of our relationship are irrelevant. Once we were connected, nothing could tear us apart.
I still deeply mourn my husband’s death, but I’m celebrating that love can survive even in the face of terrible loss. My heart was shattered by death and has been healed by a man who gave me love.