The Story of Us

A few members of a widowed support group to which I belong have been writing down the stories of how they met their partners and how they found themselves widowed as a way to get to know each other. I was so inspired by other members’ stories that I decided to write a very brief story of Terry and Mandi. The words just flowed and it was painful to write, but cathartic at the same time. As many of you only knew Terry and I briefly, or for one part of our relationship, and others of you don’t know me at all, I decided to share it here: Terry and I met at London Gatwick airport in May 2006. How romantic, people would say when we told them this, just like in a movie! In truth, Terry’s dad worked in motorsport and had moved the family to Indianapolis in the states when they were younger and they ended up living right next door to the man who would marry my sister. Terry was best friends with his younger brother and when I studied French in Toulouse while at university, my sister recommended that I travel to England and stay with this family that her husband had introduced her to when they lived in London. My brother in law sent an email to Terry asking if he could host me for a few days and he responded by jokingly asking if I was hot. In hindsight, she said she knew that we were both single, but had no idea that we would hit it off as well as we did. Terry picked me up from Gatwick aiport on a flight that arrived 2 hours late from Dublin. I spotted him first as he had fallen asleep waiting in a Costa Coffee. He was gorgeous. I still reread my travel journals from those couple days where I wrote down my reaction to meeting my future husband for the very first time. I was to stay at his house for two nights and then spend two nights down in London before flying home to Nashville, however we got on so well that I cancelled my trip to London and spent the entire four days with Terry. We took a few hikes to some local pubs and explored Oxford together. He was a rubbish tourist guide, but oh so cute! I couldn’t understand everything that he said, but I absolutely adored him. We kept in touch via e-mail over the summer and I booked a flight back to the UK to visit in December where he introduced me to all of his friends and family as his girlfriend. I graduated from university in July 2007 and was offered a job in West Africa doing small business development with the Peace Corps. It was my dream job, but my mom told me that if I accepted the job Terry would break up with me as no man would just sit around and wait for me for two years. I was terrified to tell Terry that I had taken the job offer, but he was so proud of me! He thought it was the most amazing opportunity that he had ever heard of and immediately made plans to visit me. I moved to Senegal, West Africa in September 2007 and lived there for 2 years. During that time Terry came to visit me twice and my whole town fell in love with him, as did my coworkers. I flew up to England to visit twice as well. There were 43 of us that arrived in Senegal together, many of whom were in relationships, but at the end of those two years Terry and I were the only couple that was still together. We knew then that our love could survive anything. I moved back to the States after my contract in Senegal was up and took a job at a call centre to raise money for a huge backpacking trip that Terry and I spent hours on the phone planning. When he came to visit me in December of 2009 he proposed. As we were saving up all of our money for a backpacking adventure, his mother recommended that we get married first and turn our trip into a honeymoon. She meant have a proper wedding, but Terry and I booked a two day stopover in Las Vegas and were married on March 8, 2010 at the Chapel of the Flowers, with Elvis singing I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You, I had always wanted to get married in Vegas in a fabulous dress and shoes and we were so happy with our wedding, Feelings were hurt that we eloped and didn’t invite many to the actual wedding, but we were so very happy. The next day, having won $300 on Keno machines the night before, slightly hung-over and feeling like the luckiest two people in the whole world we flew to Hong Kong to begin our six month honeymoon throughout Southeast Asia and the USA. We spent 14 weeks backpacking around Asia before flying home to the States where we began a two month road trip to visit our friends and family that were scattered across the country. Terry loved the idea of a big American road trip, he loved being able to drive for 24 straight hours and still be in the same country, and he loved nothing more than buying big cups of root beer for less than a dollar, which he did at every gas station before he put on Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again as we took off to our next destination. While on honeymoon in Southeast Asia, I got a job offer to teach English in the north of France. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t take it, I told Terry. When he asked me why not, I said because we were now married so I couldn’t just move to France. He told me that was the silliest thing that he’d ever heard and that he would rather I spend a year in France if that’s what I wanted to do than listen to me complain about that one time I could have moved to France but didn’t for the rest of his life. Go, he said, and I never loved him more than in that moment. And go I did to Amiens where I taught English to primary students for seven wonderful months, spending all of my weekends exploring Paris, which was only an hour away by train. Terry came to visit at least once a month and we had so much fun exploring the north of France together. While in France, I applied for my UK Spouse Visa through the Paris consulate and we were devastated to find that our application had been refused on the grounds that they didn’t think that Terry could support me on his salary alone with accessing benefits to which I was not entitled. We appealed the decision and were ultimately successful, but I cried every day for the ten months that it took us to win the appeal. I was finally able to move to the UK on 28 December 2011 and we were so happy. We moved into a beautiful one bedroom house in Bicester, close to my beloved Oxford. I took a job at Starbucks in Bicester Village while Terry continued to work as a carbon fibre technician for his dad’s company. I was accepted to train to teach at Oxford University and Terry was so proud of me. He bought me a bottle of champagne and cooked me steak-frites – his specialty – to celebrate. Terry hadn’t done very well in school, failing most of his GCSEs and was so proud of his clever wife. He used to hope and pray that our children got my brains – while I used to hope and pray that they got his common sense and his beautiful blue eyes. I finished my teacher training and got a job at a wonderful girls school where I passed my first year of teaching with flying colors. Terry was so supportive and would run to the store for Ben & Jerry’s when he came home to find me crying after a bad day at work. I love you, he would tell me, everything will be fine! And it was. We both had jobs that we loved and, having spent five years living in different countries we were finally together and we loved every single day that we got to spend together, truly we did. As a result of so many years of international flights, an Oxford education and some compulsive spending habits, Terry and I found ourselves £50,000 in debt. We knew we were in over our heads and vowed to become financially stable before starting the family that we so wanted to have. Beginning in March 2014 Terry and I decided to stop spending money unnecessarily and to put all of our extra money towards our debts, aiming to be debt free in March 2017. We paid off over £10,000 in the first seven months alone and we celebrated with a bottle of prosecco and steak frites on Saturday 27 September 2014. The next day Terry went to a race with some friends and came home with a sore throat. He went to bed early and was up all night violently ill. We both thought that he had food poisoning. He stayed home from work on Monday with a fever and texted me at lunch time to let me know that he had called the doctors, who had told him that it was most likely a viral infection, so he took some ibuprofen. I left work as soon as school was over to go home and care for him, only to find him unconscious on the couch. When I hear the word unconscious, I think of someone lying there peacefully, but in truth it was nothing like that. He was breathing, but was making a horrible noise doing so, I called 999 and the ambulance rushed my husband to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where he had been born thirty years earlier. His family rushed to meet me and we stayed by his side until the early morning. The doctors suspected that it was bacterial meningitis and told us to hope for the best, but to prepare for the fact that my husband might die. We went home to try and sleep and were back by Terry’s side early the next morning. Hours later, the doctors would perform a brain apnea test that Terry would fail and Terry would be officially pronounced dead, 36 hours after coming home with a sore throat. Everything went black, and then numb. Hours after his death, Terry fulfilled his lifelong wish of donating all of his organs and his donations saved 6 lives, which makes me so very proud, Afterwards, many of our friends would register to donate their organs in Terry’s honour. Terry and I were together for 9 years, were married for 4 ½, but only lived in the same country for less than 3 years. Ours is an unusual love story but, as I used to tell Terry, ours is one of life’s great love stories. When I said those words to my husband so many times, I pictured a happy ending to our love story, but ours was destined to be a tragedy. I try so hard not to cry that it’s over, but to smile because it happened at all and truly I was blessed to love and be loved so deeply by such an amazing man as Terry. For a few short years, I was the luckiest woman in the world.

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