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…

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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

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