Lauren Hughes, 23, Portland, Dorset, explains how how no-one can take away what her and Chris had...
If something’s right, it’s right. And what me and Chris had was exactly that.
Yes, there were 33 years between our ages, and Chris’ children were older than me. But we truly loved each other.
Chris and I met in 2013 through our mutual friend Hannah.
I offered to cook him a roast one Sunday. And, after that, we fell into a routine.
When I wasn’t at my care-home job, I’d cook for Chris.
He made me laugh, always saw the positive.
‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ he’d say.
He was a big kid, too. He loved The Twilight Saga films about American teenager Bella and her vampire boyfriend.
‘You’re 56, not 15!’ I’d tease.
We quickly fell in love – and, two months later, we moved in together.
Chris introduced me to his daughter and son from a previous relationship, Tanya , 29, and Jamie, 27.
‘You make Dad happy,’ Tanya told me. ‘That’s what’s most important.’
But, much as I loved him, Chris’ smoking drove me crazy.
I enjoyed a social cigarette myself occasionally, but Chris smoked around 60 a day, had done for 40 years. Plus he’d been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
His doctor had told him to quit cigarettes or he could face more problems… Like heart attacks.
‘I enjoy the cigs too much,’ he said. ‘And we’ve all got to go at some point.’
But, some days, Chris’ breathing was so bad, he couldn’t bend to tie his laces.
He wouldn’t go to the doctor, though, except when he needed another inhaler.
Then, in February last year, I fell pregnant. We hadn’t been planning it, but were thrilled.
We decided to wait for the birth to find out if we were having a boy or girl.
Chris already had an idea for a name if it was a girl.
‘How about Bella?’ he asked. ‘After Twilight.’
‘Beautiful,’ I agreed.
I hoped that, with a baby on the way, Chris might ditch the cigs. But no…
That August Bank Holiday, we both had to work. I was 31 weeks gone.
I’d set off for the care home, and Chris was at home with his friend Laura, waiting for a van to start his shift delivering newspapers. But, just as I got to the home, Laura called my mobile.
‘It’s Chris!’ she cried, distressed. ‘He’s collapsed!’
Racing back, I found paramedics already attending to Chris. He was conscious, managing to laugh – but sweating. He was taken straight to Accident and Emergency.
I called Tanya and Jamie, then followed the ambulance.
By the time Chris got to hospital, we were told he’d had a heart attack. They took him straight to theatre, where surgeons inserted two stents to keep his clogged arteries open.
I prayed that this was a wake-up call, kept thinking about our unborn baby. Chris had to fight, for the baby’s sake.
And he did. Taken to Coronary Care, the next morning, he came round.
‘I’m so thirsty,’ he croaked, so I gave him some orange squash.
The following afternoon, he was well enough for an ice lolly.
‘How’s our baby?’ he asked, smiling at me.
‘Everything’s going to be fine,’ I reassured him, squeezing his hand.
Then I stepped outside to call and update my boss.
I was only a few minutes, but when I returned, all hell had broken loose. Chris’d had another heart attack, fatal this time.
The love of my life – my baby’s daddy – died six hours later. He was gone forever.
In the days and weeks after, I struggled. Luckily, Tanya was there – she’d just had a baby girl of her own. She hugged me when I cried and held my hand as we buried Chris 16 days later.
I asked her to be my birth partner, along with my mum Alison. So, when my waters broke on 3 November, I speed-dialled Tanya.
And, when my daughter was born two days later, weighing 9lb 3oz, I called her Bella George – George being Chris’ middle name.
It was the happiest day of my life…and the saddest, because Chris wasn’t here.
I’m determined Bella’s life will be full of Chris. I’ll tell her what a kind man he was, how much fun he was. Most of all, I’ll tell her how much her daddy loved her.
Silly I know, but I WhatsApp Chris photos – Bella’s first smile, her first tooth. She’s 5 months now, and it makes me feel he’s not missing out.
Chris, I’ll always love you. I’ll always miss you. What we had was so right. And Bella is the proof of that.