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Downton Michelle's devastating loss of her beloved fiancé will be so hard to bear

Published 16/12/2015

Loving couple: actress Michelle Dockery with her fiance John Dineen
Loving couple: actress Michelle Dockery with her fiance John Dineen
Loving couple: actress Michelle Dockery with her fiance John Dineen
Loving couple: actress Michelle Dockery with her fiance John Dineen
Tragic loss: Kelly Anne McKinley and her husband Patrick
Happy family: Paul Watson with late wife Ali and sons
Family ties: Paul Watson with his children Mark and Euan
New happiness: Paul with wife Mandy and son Jacob

As Downton star Michelle Dockery comes to terms with the loss of her loved one, Stephanie Bell talks to two people from here who lost their other halves, both of whom died aged just 34.

Just months after celebrating her engagement Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery is preparing for the funeral of her fiancé who died on Sunday from a rare form of cancer aged just 34.

The actress, who plays widowed Lady Mary Crawley in the hit period drama, rushed to Ireland to be with John Dineen when he passed away in a hospice in his home city of Cork on Sunday morning.

The couple met in 2013 when they were introduced by Downton co-star Allen Leech and are believed to have gotten engaged last Christmas.

Mr Dineen, who worked in PR, had been living in London but had gone back to Ireland to spend time with his family after he was diagnosed with cancer.

He is understood to have travelled to Germany for treatment earlier this year, but died in Cork's Marymount Hospice on Sunday.

This time last year, the young couple were full of hope and plans for their future together.

Now a devastated Miss Dockery is with her fiancé's family in Ireland as she tries to come to terms with her loss.

Two local people who know exactly how she feels bravely talk today about how hard it is to cope when the life of your soul mate is tragically cut short.

Kelly Anne McKinley: facing first Christmas without her husband

Mum-of-three Kelly Anne McKinley (36) is dreading her first Christmas without her husband Patrick who died in July aged just 34.

Patrick had been given just 12 months to live when diagnosed with a grade 4 brain tumour in July 2013.

Such was his determination to fight the disease that he survived an extra year beyond what doctors had expected, tragically losing his brave battle in July of this year.

His loss has not just left Kelly Anne devastated but also their three children Dillan (19), Jordanne (16) and Jac (12).

As she tries to get on with life without the man she has loved since she was just 17, Kelly Anne also worries about how her children are coping.

"Paddy was such a bubbly guy, so full of life and he lived to work and for his family," she says.

"We were together 19 years and were married eight years - when you marry you think it is for life and forever.

"Every day is really hard and it still doesn't even feel real to me. The worst part is getting into bed at night on my own and that's when I know he is not going to come through the door again."

Patrick, who worked as a store manager, had been experiencing difficulty with his eyes a few months before his diagnosis. After a series of tests on July 9, 2013, he was told the shattering news that he had an inoperable grade 4 brain tumour and was given between 12 and 18 months to live.

Kelly Anne recalls: "We were probably in shock for a few days and we broke down. We didn't know how to tell the children and, after that, Paddy wouldn't talk about it. It was as if he just wanted it to go away and if he didn't talk about it then it wouldn't be real.

"He just kept saying to me 'it will be alright'.

"He was determined to fight it. He had chemotherapy and, even though the doctors said there was no point operating, he wanted them to and last August he had brain surgery.

"The surgeons did take a lot of it away but it grew back very quickly. After that he wasn't able to get any more chemo. The surgery also cost him the sight in one eye and badly affected his speech.

"It was around Christmas last year that the doctors told me to be prepared for the worst, but he got until July."

Knowing that Paddy's days were numbered, the family booked a couple of trips away together. Patrick was healthy enough to spend a week in Salou in May when his children got to enjoy a final holiday with him.

A community nurse from the Northern Ireland Hospice proved a great support to Paddy and the whole family in his final months when she was a regular visitor to their home. Since he passed away Kelly Anne has struggled to face up to life without her husband but, as well as her own devastating loss, she worries about the impact on her children. The youngest child, Jac, is receiving counselling to help him to cope with his grief.

She says: "The children are up and down, it has really hit them hard and it is awful to see them suffering.

"This time of year is hard too and none of us feel like celebrating Christmas. Even the children are not asking about presents or feeling any excitement."

While still early days for Kelly Anne, she had some advice for actress Michelle Dockery as she also now faces up to life without the man she loves.

"It is awful what has happened to her," she says. "My advice would be to take all the support you can get from family and friends. I like to be out of the house now, it takes my mind off it and I think keeping yourself occupied does help."

Paul Watson: the father coping with loss of his wife to cancer

Paul Watson (40) could never have imagined finding happiness again when he lost his wife Alison to cervical cancer in 2008 aged just 34.

Left with two young boys - Mark, then aged five and Euan (3) - Paul clung to his faith and looking back now says he only got through the tough, lonely days following Alison's death with the support of family and friends.

Alison's loss left a gaping hole in the lives of all who knew her and especially that of Paul and her two young sons to whom she was devoted.

Seven years on, and Paul has been able to rebuild his family's shattered life and has found new love, marrying a childhood friend Mandy in 2012.

His two boys with Alison, now aged 12 and 10, are also delighted to now have a younger brother, Jacob, aged one. Paul says: "I had never thought I would meet someone else and my boys and I - Team Watson as we were known - were delighted when this beautiful girl wanted to join our team and put up with three smelly boys.

"Mandy and I have set up home in a new house and God is blessing our family every day.

"Mandy works in the hospice where Alison got such amazing care, and she has a passion for palliative care. There is no better person to care for patients in such a wonderful place as NI Hospice."

Paul first met Alison during their fourth year at Aberdeen University in 1993.

They lived and worked in Edinburgh following graduation, and then took a year out in 2000 to travel the world, returning in 2001 to get married in Northern Ireland, settling in Greenisland.

When their two boys came along, their world seemed perfect but, tragically, they enjoyed only a few short years together before Alison's devastating diagnosis in 2007. She underwent intensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy and, much to the family's joy and relief, was given the all clear that summer.

Her cancer returned though and she spent most of her last year being cared for in the Northern Ireland Hospice before passing away at home on September 5, 2008.

Paul recalls: "She started treatment and after radiotherapy and chemotherapy we were told in June that the cancer was gone. It was great and we went to France on holiday to celebrate.

"Then in 2008, she developed more symptoms and after further checks we were told the cancer had come back.

"She had intensive treatment with radiotherapy and chemo but the cancer was too aggressive and, in April 2008, we were told it was terminal.

"It was an absolute rollercoaster - from the devastation of the initial diagnosis to the elation of the all clear, our great family holiday and then a lovely family Christmas before devastation again. We only coped with the strength of our Christian faith, our families and friends who were outstanding and we could not have done without them.

"We were just glad we had the memories of our year travelling to Australia and New Zealand, and our two beautiful boys.

"Alison kept a journal of her journey through the treatment and her emotions of what would happen to her boys after she died. I only read the journal after she died and, while it was extremely emotional, it showed how strong her faith was and how much I had to trust that God would look after us, too.

"Obviously my world had gone but we had talked and prayed about it. Again the support of our family, friends and church kicked in - I had enough lasagne in the freezer to feed Belfast. I returned to work and again Alison's family and mine were there to babysit and help me manage the house."

It was some time later before Paul met up with an old friend from his school days, Mandy, who was training to be a nurse.

He wasn't expecting to find love again and both his own family and Alison's were delighted that he had been given a new chance of happiness. He says: "After a number of months, our relationship grew and, although I was apprehensive, I realised God had given me this beautiful woman to spend the rest of my life with. We got married in March 2012 and some of Alison's family were at the wedding and it was great to have their support and love."

Looking back, he remembers a phrase which he and Alison had on the wall of their home which they both drew strength from - 'One day at a time'.

For anyone going through a similar loss, he still believes the best way to cope is to try and live in the present.

He adds: "I think people should not set expectations, there will be dark days of crying and sadness but smiley days when you laugh and smile about fun times and memories.

"Take the support if it is there, talk if you want to or, if you don't want to talk, don't let anyone force you. Good friends and family were there for us no matter what we needed.

"Mandy's family was also so supportive of us and welcomed our ready-made family with open arms and love."

Belfast Telegraph

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