Widow of Derry City star Mark Farren reveals their poignant last moments: 'He was the most positive person you could meet so he wouldn't want me to be miserable'
Their's was a love story which won over all our hearts as Derry City footballer, Mark Farren and his wife Terri-Louise took on the battle of their young lives against Mark's aggressive brain tumour. Here, just eight weeks after his death, his brave widow talks to Karen Ireland about their life together and the enormity of her loss.
She is just 30 years old but Terri-Louise Farren has seen more heartache and loss in her young life than many people see in a lifetime.
Last month her brave husband, footballer Mark Farren lost his lengthy battle with a brain tumour, two years after the couple lost their precious triplets who were born at just 23 weeks and lived a short but precious three weeks.
So how does Terri from Killea in Co Londonderry cope with all that life has thrown at her?
"I just get up each day and put one foot in front of the other and right now I am thankful that I can even do that," she explains.
She is talking to me from Birmingham where she has been spending the Easter break with her sister and her nieces and nephews which she says, "keeps me busy and gives me a focus".
"Mark was the most positive person you could meet, so I know he wouldn't want me to be down and feeling miserable and not coping. He would want me to keep going and to live a happy and fulfilled life just like we planned to do together," she urges.
The couple met when Terri was just 18.
"We were on a night out and he fell into our company. I noticed him right away, as I thought he was very good looking and mustn't have been from Derry as I had never noticed him before," she recalls.
The couple got chatting and hit it off straight away, so much so that three weeks later Mark had left Sligo where he was doing a football course to move to Derry to be closer to Terri.
"He started playing for Derry City and two months after we first met we moved in together. It just sort of happened," recalls Terri.
From that point the couple were almost inseparable and they were, as Terri describes them, "two peas in a pod". "We just enjoyed each other's company," she says.
"I fell for Mark very quickly with his gorgeous dark hair and his huge heart and the fact that he was a real family man sealed it for me. He instantly took to all my family and just became like one of us. He loved spending time with my brothers and sisters."
Terri - who slips from the past to present tense every now and then as she talks about her husband, which is testimony to the rawness of her ongoing emotions - recalls how from early on the couple talked about their desire to have children together.
"Mark adored kids and they adored him and it always seemed the most natural thing that we would have a family one day," explains an emotional Terri.
Life was busy for the young couple, Mark was playing football for Derry City and fast becoming their top goal scorer and Terri was running a successful business as a photographer.
During a football trip to Paris, on which Terri accompanied Mark, he surprised her by proposing at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
"I turned round and all these tourists were snapping away on their cameras and I looked down and Mark was on one knee with a ring. I couldn't believe it.
"There was a big neon sign lit up saying Will You Marry Me?" she tenderly recalls.
One year before they were due to get married a routine scan - part of the health checks Mark underwent as a footballer - revealed that he had a brain tumour. The couple were told the news on Christmas Eve.
"We were naturally devastated, but at the time the doctors didn't seem overly concerned. They said it was benign and just needed to be kept an eye on," she says.
The couple went ahead with their wedding plans, which Terri jokes had to work in around the football season, and eventually they married in Donegal at the end of the season in December 2009.
"We then had the honeymoon of a lifetime with a four-week cruise followed by four weeks in Barbados," she says. "We loved every second of it and looking back on it now, I will never forget that precious time we had together, just the two of us."
The couple settled into married life and started planning for their future together, but again fate had other plans.
"Mark had booked a surprise trip to Rome for our first wedding anniversary and at the same time the date came through for his tumour to be operated on. So Mark spent his first wedding anniversary in hospital," she recalls.
As it turned out this was to be the first of many times the couple would spend special occasions by a hospital bed.
"Mark had to go to Liverpool to have the operation, as at the time the treatment wasn't available here. The operation went well and the doctors believed they had removed most of the tumour. Mark had a recovery period and then he was allowed back to football, wearing a skull cap.
"He worked hard that season and became Derry's top scorer and was player of the year. He scored the winning goals that promoted the team up a division and things were going well."
The couple finally started to dare to think about starting the family they had only dreamed about until this point.
In August 2014, Terri was over the moon when she found out she was pregnant.
"Mark was so excited he could hardly contain himself. The first scan revealed one heartbeat but a week later when we went back there was two and then on the third week there were three heartbeats. It was like a comedy - these babies just kept coming," she recalls.
"No one could quite believe it, as it is very rare to conceive triplets naturally but we were all very excited and Mark was deliriously happy," recalls Terri.
However, the doctors warned Terri that with her slight frame it might be difficult to carry the babies to full term and they would just have to wait and see how things worked out.
The triplets Terri, Marley and Millie were born at a frightening 23 weeks when their weight became too much for Terri's body to carry and new dad Mark spent three terrifying weeks at their bedsides in the neonatal unit willing his precious daughters to survive.
"I was very ill after the birth and ended up in intensive care, so Mark got to spend more time with the girls than I did. He would bath them and hold each of them every day but they were too small for this world," a heartbroken Terri remembers.
"Three weeks later we said goodbye to our precious girls. The loss was unbearable. It was like we were given this precious gift and then three weeks later it was taken from us."
As the couple were coming to terms with this loss, they got the news they had been dreading - Mark's tumour was back and it was growing, and the doctors recommended an operation, which this time was conducted in Belfast.
"At the time Mark had a seizure and they decided not to do anything but to treat it with radiotherapy," Terri says. "Again he bounced back and was playing football for Glenavon by this time. It was a team he loved and they made him feel at home. He fitted in right away."
Exactly a year ago, last April, a scan revealed that the tumour wasn't getting smaller as they had hoped, but was growing and following a further operation, Mark's speech and movement down his right side were affected.
"I was starting to get worried by this point but Mark being Mark, had done all his research and he knew there was a facility in Mexico which offered treatment with a high success rate for his condition but it cost £60,000.
"I wanted to re-mortgage the house but my brother Shaun wouldn't hear of it. He said we would try to raise the money by fundraising ourselves."
What followed was a public outpouring of support which shocked and humbled the couple.
"Messages of support came from everyone, including Wayne Rooney and Roy Keane who had both heard of Mark's illness and funds started to pour in from football supporters, of Derry City, Glenavon and people from all walks of life.
"It really united the football world which is something we were touched by. Mark wasn't a showy person, he was very down to earth and kept a quiet and gentle profile but he was blown away by the support."
A few months later the couple were able to travel to Mexico for five weeks, where Mark underwent treatment, and when they returned scans revealed the tumour had shrunk by 40%.
"We were hopeful at this stage and felt we had done the right thing in going to Mexico. Mark was going to physio and the gym and trying to build himself back up again. But I noticed something wasn't right.
"His walking had deteriorated and when we took him to hospital they thought he was dehydrated and had got a virus. We were told in Mexico of the catastrophic dangers of Mark picking up a cold or flu virus while he was recovering.
"I asked the hospital to do another scan and it confirmed my worst fears. The tumour had grown again and a biopsy revealed a virus had attacked the tumour.
"This was the first time I kept news from Mark. I didn't want to tell him things were getting worse. I wanted him to stay positive and upbeat."
Terri brought her husband home last December and made the decision to make every second with him count.
"We moved home to my mum's house so they could be around to help look after him and I had given up work so I could be with him round the clock. I just wanted him to be content and comfortable at this stage.
"We even managed to take a trip over to London at this point to see the sights and went on the London Eye."
But Terri was slowly and painfully watching her husband and the man she loved fade away in front of her eyes as he got weaker day by day. And she watched on in heart-breaking silence feeling utterly useless as there was nothing she could do.
"In the last few weeks he couldn't really speak though I was able to understand everything he wanted and every morning and every night he made the effort to tell me he loved me.
"He was sleeping a lot and one day he came up to the living room and had something to eat and then went back to bed. I went to wake him at 9pm to give him his routine medication but he was sound asleep.
"I tried again at 11pm but he was still in a really deep sleep so I called the doctor. He said he was comfortable but in my heart I knew something was changing and I stayed up all night talking to him and telling him all the things I wanted him to know.
"At 1.50am I was talking to him and I took a photograph of the two of us," she says.
That was to be the last picture Terri had of her and her husband as at 4.52am Mark passed away peacefully with his loving wife at his side where she had been since they first met.
"I remember saying to him -go and be with the girls. They need you. Don't stay because of me, I have friends and family to look after me, they need you now, let go and he squeezed my hand and that was it."
Eight long weeks later, Terri says she is operating in a bubble and still can't comprehend a life without Mark.
But then she admits it's not without him, as she says she feels him around her every day.
"I went to see a medium after he passed away and she knew things, private things that no one other than Mark and I knew. She said he would send me signs of small coins and now I find them everywhere. I just got a new car and there was a 5p in it and the number plate had MF - so I knew Mark was smiling and giving me his approval.
"Mark made me promise two things - that I would always stay connected to his football world and go to matches and events and that I will always stay in touch with his friends.
"His legacy will live on through me doing those things. I have already been a guest at a Glenavon match and manager Gary Hamilton stays in touch with me all the time. Glenavon and everyone in the football world have all been such a support.
"I've also decided to go on holidays and to do the things we said we were going to do together. I am going to New York in a few weeks as that is a trip we had always planned to go on.
"It won't be the same - nothing will, but Mark would want me to carry on and live my life and to do the things we always talked about. I owe it to him and our girls to carry on."