Widowed twice – by 30
Jessica Haslem-Bantoft found it hard to open herself up to love after her first husband died. Then, the unthinkable happened…
Widowed twice – by 30
Idon’t often dwell on just how unlucky I’ve been. Even after all I’ve been through, I try to remain positive. Funny, even. But sometimes the enormity of it slaps me in the face. I’ve married and lost two husbands – all before turning 30.
I never dreamed I’d have such tragedy before me when a mutual friend introduced me to Jason Haslem when we were 19. He wore tracksuits and smelled of the five dogs he owned. Not my type. But as I got to know him, I realised just how well we fitted – his laid-back nature relaxed my highly-strung one. He’d make me laugh with a single word.
We had Toby, now eight, and George, five, before tying the knot in a small ceremony in March 2013. ‘ We want the marriage, not the wedding,’ we agreed.
Then came the cherry on top – a third pregnancy. Before we’d had Toby, Jason had worried about how he’d take to fatherhood, but he shouldn’t have. He adored our boys, would’ve done anything for them.
At our 12-week scan, the screen was facing away from me, but when Jason’s face lit up, I knew everything was fine.
But two days later, our perfect world fell apart. No warnings. Just boom.
Jason was a catering engineer and no matter how late he worked, he always called to say goodnight to the boys. But on 28 August 2014, my phone remained silent.
I imagined wildly that he’d been in a car crash, or that he was leaving me. He wouldn’t, of course – he loved us all too much – but I was beginning to grasp at straws.
Then, at 9pm, there was a knock on the door. Two police officers. ‘Is it Jason?’ I burst out. Solemnly, they nodded.
They explained he’d been electrocuted at work and died instantly, at just 24.
I can’t remember the following days, I think I’ve blocked them out. George was too young to understand, but Toby was devastated when I told him Daddy had gone to be a star in the sky.
At first, I couldn’t bear to get rid of Jason’s things, so his toothbrush remained in the bathroom and his work clothes in the laundry basket. But it became too painful to see them, so I eventually packed them away.
Being pregnant got me through. I couldn’t feel alone, when I wasn’t really. ‘I’ll raise
this baby for Jason,’ I thought.
Barnaby was born in March 2015, with my sister, Becca, 31, by my side. For a while, I concentrated on the boys. But as the months turned into years, I realised I didn’t want to be single mum for ever, so I dabbled in dating.
It was unsuccessful, until I met Tom Bantoft, 30, in July 2016. I needed help with the garden at my home in Preston, so he’d come to give me a quote. And he was gorgeous. ‘It’s been a mess since my husband died,’ I told him.
Unlike most people, he wasn’t flustered. ‘ When did that happen?’ he asked.
It was only on our first date, when he mentioned he’d just returned to work after being ill, that I realised why he’d handled the news so well. ‘Man flu?’ I quipped. ‘No, cancer,’ he said. Most people would’ve cringed, we laughed. You can’t face what we both had without a sense of humour.
Tom had had lymphoma twice. ‘ Will it come back?’ I asked. I was wary of further heartbreak. But his doctor had said the chance was only five per cent, so I relaxed and introduced him to my three boys. They adored having a father-figure again. It had been so long since we’d been this happy.
But in December 2016, Tom started to have stomach pains. Despite the odds, the cancer had returned. For 24 hours, we were devastated, then we rallied. He’d beaten it before, he could do it again.
He had gruelling chemotherapy and in May 2017, a stem cell transplant.
It would take 100 days to know if it had worked, and we decided to take a break from each other. He needed to recover and, after spending so long nursing him, I had to focus on myself and the kids.
Then in August, he called. ‘I have another chance at a future,’ he said, explaining he’d been given the all-clear. ‘I want it to be with you.’
This time, there was no holding back. We were talking marriage and children. The treatment had left Tom infertile, but he’d frozen his sperm and loved the idea of adding to our family.
But our joy was short-lived. In December, Tom’s health deteriorated and on Boxing Day, he was admitted to hospital with graft vs host disease.
At first, doctors were optimistic. Even when he was moved to the critical care unit, we believed he’d recover.
But on 6 January 2018, the doctor explained there was nothing more they could do. Tom was going to die. ‘Anything to not marry me, eh?’ I smiled weakly. ‘Too late now, isn’t it?’ he asked.
But it wasn’t. I spoke to a nurse and within five hours, a registrar in shiny shoes and a bow tie appeared. ‘ You’re over-dressed,’ Tom observed, eyeing my dungaree dress and his hospital gown.
Throughout the vows, Tom was drowsy, and once he’d given me a bracelet in place of a ring, he fell asleep. For two days, he slipped in and out of consciousness before taking his final breath on 8 January.
At home, I told the boys. ‘ You promised he’d get better,’ Toby sobbed. ‘The doctors were going to fix him.’
And I understood his anger – I’ve been seeing a therapist to help me deal with mine. At times I feel it’s just not fair.
But I’ve also asked myself, if I’d known either Jason or Tom were going to die, would I not have married them? And the answer is no. The moments of joy they gave me make my pain worth it.
Jessica married Jason in 2013… … after they’d had Toby and George Tom came into Jessica’s life in 2016
Jessica was married to Tom for just two days Tom was a great father figure to Toby, George and little Barnaby The ‘moments of joy’ have kept Jessica going