Mother-of-three was widowed twice by the age of thirty
A woman who lost two husbands by the time she hit 30, has set up a blog in the hope of dispelling the stigma around people’s perception of widows.
Jessica Haslem-Bantoft, 30, a full-time mum from Preston, Lancashire, lives with sons Toby, eight, George, six and Barnaby, four.
Her first husband, Jason, was just 24 when he died in a fatal accident at work in August 2014, when Jessica was 12 weeks pregnant with their third child.
Two years after Jason’s death, Jessica hired a gardener, Tom, and the pair quickly fell in love.
Tom told Jessica he’d battled lymphoma twice in the past, and six months into the couple’s relationship, the cancer returned.
He passed away in January 2018, aged 32, just 18 months after the couple first got together.
Speaking of how writing has helped her cope, Jess explained: ‘I set up my blog To Widowhood And Beyond, Adventures From The Rainbow whilst still pregnant with Barnaby. It was something I started whilst sitting on the stairs each night, waiting for Toby and George to go to sleep. It was intended for them, to look back on and see my thoughts.’
Jessica Haslem-Bantoft, 30, a full-time mum from Preston, Lancashire, with their sons Toby and George. The pair were childhood sweethearts and had been married for a year when Jason was electrocuted at work and died at the scene
Jessica met Tom (left) two years after Jason’s death when he was hired by her to work as a gardener
Jessica and Jason had three sons together – Barnaby, four, Toby, eight and George, six (pictured). They keep their Dad’s memory alive by talking about him regularly
She added: ‘However, it caught people’s attention because widows are usually seen as people who are old and wearing black and depressed all the time. I gave another view that actually, life does keep going, and you don’t need to let someone dying define you.’
Since starting the blog, Jessica has received messages from widows and widowers all over the world.
‘They either ask advice or just simply thank me for being so honest,’ she said. ‘When I met Tom, my followers shared the joy. When he was diagnosed they shared the pain and when he died, they gave me love and compassion. My blog followers really are an amazing bunch.’
Jessica met her first husband Jason in 2009 and their son Toby was born in May 2010, followed by George in November 2012.
The loved-up couple tied the knot the following year, but by the time she was 12 weeks pregnant with their third child Barnaby, her husband Jason died.
Happy couple: Jessica Haslem-Bantoft and her husband Jason on their wedding day
Jessica, with sons Toby and George, was devastated when when police informed her that her husband Jason (pictured) had died
‘We had just had the scan two days prior to his death,’ explained Jessica. ‘Seeing our little tiny baby on the screen meant the world to him.
‘I couldn’t see the screen as the sonographer scanned me, but Jason could.
‘I watched his face as the nurse moved the wand around and it completely lit up.’
Then, on 28th August 2014, Jason went to work as normal as a catering engineer and the couple spoke at 3pm.
Pictured, Jason cuddling George – who was born in November 2012. The couple had a scan for their third child Barnaby just two days prior to Jason’s death
‘Our eldest was due to start school 11 days later, so we were excited and looking forward to big changes in the future,’ said Jessica. ‘At around 3pm, we spoke on the phone.’
‘He told me he was going to be working late. He was installing a kitchen in a primary school and the school re-opened the next week, so it needed finishing. We said we loved each other and then hung up.’
Then at 5pm, Jessica called to see if he wanted any tea saving – but there was no answer.
‘I called whilst the kids were in the bath,’ she explained. ‘No answer. I called numerous times before bed, knowing full well that Jason never, ever missed saying goodnight to the children, but still, no answer.’
She continued: ‘I put Toby to bed and sat on the sofa to breastfeed George. He had just gone to sleep when there was a knock on the door at 9pm.’
Jason (above) was working late as a catering engineer and was installing a kitchen in a primary school when he was electrocuted back in 2014
‘It was two plain clothes police officers. I had George in my arms, so I told them I would put him in bed then come and let them in, which I did. They told me Jason was electrocuted at 4.30pm at work and was pronounced dead at 5.19pm.’
With the children all in bed, a heartbroken Jessica waited until the next morning to tell them the devastating news.
‘I sat them both down, but George was too young to understand,’ she said. ‘I told them that there had been an accident at work and that Daddy wasn’t going to come home because he had to go and be a star.’
To keep his memory alive, Jessica said the family cope by speaking about him a lot – which helps to keep his memory alive.
‘They reminisce and ask me questions,’ she explained. ‘It is our was of keeping him alive. Barnaby was born in March 2015, 11 days “overdue.” It was a bitter sweet time.’
‘The labour was fast and easy, especially given he was 10lb4oz. But I desperately wanted Jason there. However, I dealt with it. I had one final gift from him and I was going to do my best to do him proud.’
Then two years after Jason died, Jess met Tom in July 2016. He was her gardener and the pair had an ‘instant chemistry and connection.’
To keep Jason’s memory alive, Jessica revealed that the family cope by speaking about him a lot. Pictured, Jason and son Toby
Jessica described giving birth to Barnaby (pictured) as a ‘bitter sweet time.’ She explained: ‘I desperately wanted Jason there. However, I dealt with it. I had one final gift from him and I was going to do my best to do him proud’
‘He was great with my kids, despite having none of his own,’ explained Jessica. ‘He made sure he got paid for doing the work he did, before asking if I would like to go for a drink.’
‘He knew I was a widow because I’d made a point of telling him that the garden was a mess since my husband had died. Partially excusing my messy garden, partially telling him I was single.’
But it was only on their first date that Jessica was delivered yet another devastating blow.
She explained: ‘On our first date he mentioned he had been off work for a while a few years previously. I joked and said, “why, did you have man-flu?” to which he replied: “no, Cancer!” ‘We both laughed, because the situation was so dark, it was funny.’
Jessica soon learned that Tom had lymphoma twice before at aged 17, and again at 24. But at the age of 31, he was feeling healthier than ever.
Speaking of what Tom (pictured) was like with her three children from her previous marriage with Jason, Jessica said: ‘He was great with my kids, despite having none of his own’
‘He was worth the chance,’ said Jessica. ‘Plus he asked his oncologist at the next appointment how likely it would be to get lymphoma again and he was told there was just a 5% chance.’
Jess and Tom spent six amazing months together and she recalled his ‘real zest for life.’ But in early January 2017, they got the news that his cancer had returned.
‘He had been suffering from some mild tummy discomfort so requested his scan was brought forward to before Christmas,’ explained the mum-of-three. ‘His lymphoma had returned and his treatment needed to begin as soon as possible.’
Tom had chemotherapy which completely eradicated all the tumours and he entered remission before a stem cell transplant in May 2017.
During this time he was in isolation in hospital for a month and despite being a difficult journey, it was successful. By August, 100 days after the transplant, it was confirmed he was still in remission.
‘We had more time to make amazing memories before December, when he started to deteriorate,’ she explained. ‘We assumed it was viral or an infection but on Boxing day he was re-admitted to hospital. He had hung on at home as long as possible so he could see the kids open their presents on Christmas day.’
Tom (left) told Jessica that he had been in remission with lymphoma for seven years, and there was only a 5% chance of the cancer returning
Despite the tragic journey Jessica and her children have been on, she is determined to help others through her writing
Tom remained in hospital over the festive period and into New Year, where he was treated for everything possible.
But on 6th January 2018, they got the news that Tom had something called GVHD (graft versus host disease) – a complication of the stem cell transplant. His body was shutting down and he had days to live.
‘We married that evening and he died 30 hours later,’ said Jessica. ‘I didn’t tell the children about Tom dying until after.’
‘I had been telling them that he would get better, because we all believed it. But he was in a bad way in hospital so Tom and I decided that we didn’t need the boys to see him like that. We wanted their final memories of him to be from Christmas day.’
After losing both husbands at such a young age, Jessica has praised members of the charity WAY – Widowed and Young – who have helped support her through difficult times.
She said: ‘They are a peer to peer support charity where you can meet and speak to other Widows and Widowers and find friendships in people who just “get it”. I have so many wonderful friends through this charity who I am so grateful for.’
Jessica recalled Tom’s ‘zest for life’ and said that they both made the most of the precious memories they shared together