Northern Ireland people share how after losing the loves of their lives they finally felt able to date again
A year after the death of 40-year-old BBC journalist Rachael Bland from breast cancer, her husband Steve has spoken about the challenges of trying to find love again. Stephanie Bell asks two people about losing their soulmates and how soon they felt able to date again
Rachael Bland was just 40 when she died last September after a two-year battle with the disease. Her illness became public when she decided to document it through her BBC podcast You, Me and the Big C.
Speaking on the same podcast his wife co-hosted with friends Deborah James and Lauren Mahon, Steve, who is raising the couple's five-year-old son Freddie, says he would now consider a new relationship if the right person came along.
He says: "You only know about these things if you give them a crack. And if it's not right I'll soon know about it.
"I'll know very obviously if I'm jumping the gun, I'll know very soon if it's not the right person.
"I'm only 39. Hopefully I've got 35, 40 years left in me - and it would be pretty sad to have that on my own wouldn't it?"
There is no doubt that starting to date again after losing someone you love can be daunting.
Today a local widow and a widower who each lost their soulmates talk about taking that difficult first step towards finding someone else.
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Maureen Coyle (61), a nursing auxiliary from Donacloney, lost her husband John, a plasterer, to lung cancer in 2004.
The couple met when Maureen was just 19 and had been married 27 years when John passed away at the age of 50.
John and Maureen spent all their time together, so when she lost him Maureen was left feeling totally bereft.
They have one daughter, Joanne, who lives in Australia and a new grandson, Jack, who is 11 months old. Maureen also had a son Michael, who was just two when she met John, but tragically she also lost him when he was 22 years old.
The couple had just bought their dream home in the countryside and were in the middle of renovating it when John took ill.
Alone now for 15 years, Maureen has dated but has struggled to find anyone who matches up to the qualities she so loved in John.
She recalls how they met: "My son Michael was only a baby when I met John and he took to Michael straight away.
"We met in April on a night out in the local pub in Derriaghy and the following February decided to get married - we didn't see any reason to wait so we married that June.
"I lost Michael in 1998 and our daughter Joanne went to Australia to live and so John and I were on our own.
"We had always wanted to have a cottage in the country and we decided to go for it and we bought one in Moira.
"It needed a lot of work but we were both very hands on and we just thought we had the rest of our lives to potter about in it, doing bits and pieces."
The couple were so exhausted after two years of renovating their new home that Maureen booked them a holiday in Spain.
While there, John had two incidents in a restaurant when he choked on his food.
The couple thought nothing of it but when they returned home he started to have what Maureen describes as an "irritating cough".
Eventually he had an X-ray and in November 2003 was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour in his lung.
He started chemotherapy but his condition was deteriorating so fast it soon became apparent he wasn't well enough to travel to hospital for the treatment and he was admitted in February 2004.
Maureen says: "John was only in hospital a week and he dropped dead. He went to the bathroom and collapsed at the sink, where he was found. I was just in absolute shock.
"My daughter came home and was in an awful state, she had to go through that plane journey on her own from Australia."
Maureen's daughter stayed with her for a couple of months and then had to return to Australia. Maureen, who had not worked from the day of John's diagnosis, returned to her job in a local nursing home. But while she had to get back to a routine, life was far from normal for her.
She says: "John and I didn't go out much. We liked cooking meals at home and would have put music on and had a wee dance in the house. We were quite happy in our own wee world.
"I found even sitting at the table was horrendous because he wasn't there.
"It was really tough. When I went back to work coming back home to an empty house was so hard. It was our dream to do the house up and sell it in 10 years and retire. That was all gone.
"John had been so proud of what we had achieved in the house. He was my soulmate and the love of my life. He was a very gentle person and very loving and caring. He was also very open and fair and there were no back doors in him.
"I remember feeling some nights like my head was going to explode with all the emotion."
Around a year after John died a friend of the couple's persuaded Maureen to come along to a charity night to raise funds for cancer.
She was introduced to a man who, after the event, looked up her phone number and called to ask her out.
The couple had a friendship for some time but Maureen's heart wasn't in it.
She says: "The thought of going out to meet someone then was incomprehensible to me. John and I had been together so long we had grown together.
"This man called me and we had coffee and then a Chinese together but I didn't want to go out because I didn't want to be seen with anyone. I felt it was too soon and I did worry about what people would think.
"I was very nervous getting to know someone else but at the same time it was a wee bit exciting and a wee bit of lightness coming back into my life again.
"Looking back though I think I was vulnerable and although I continued to see this man it didn't lead to anything."
Just as she thought happiness with another partner was going to elude her, she has recently started a new relationship which for the first time since losing John has made her happy.
She adds: "It's early days but it's going well and he seems to be a good man. I was never trying to find another John but I suppose I was looking for someone with the same principles and values. Hopefully this time I've found it."
John Caulfield (62) and his late wife Eileen were inseparable from the moment they met. Even though there was an age gap of over 20 years between them, their relationship was so special that even strangers commented on how happy they were.
When John lost Eileen to dementia in 2013 after 27 years together he was inconsolable.
He couldn't bear to be alone in their home where he nursed her for the last eight years of her life and spent his days walking the streets of Belfast until he was exhausted.
He says: "From the first moment we met in a local pub we were inseparable. I don't think from that first night we spent more than a couple of hours apart.
"I worked as a TV repair man at the time and Eileen even came with me to my work.
"People used to comment that you never saw one of us without the other. We were soulmates.
"I was in my 20s when I met Eileen and she was in her 40s, but the age gap never mattered. We were so much in love that I remember once we were in Blackpool sitting on a wall and two ladies came over and handed us ice creams. They were complete strangers and said that we looked so happy together they wanted to share ice cream with us."
John faced a tough eight years as Eileen's sole carer after she was tragically diagnosed with dementia.
When she passed away on June 13, 2013, his heart was broken and for the next year he isolated himself as he tried to cope with his grief.
He says: "I didn't speak to anyone for a full year and I couldn't stand being in the house without Eileen so I walked the streets all day until I was too tired to walk anymore. I was afraid to be in my own home, I couldn't bear the silence and there was just this great void of emptiness."
It was while on one of his daily walks - almost a year to the day of Eileen's death - he passed the Ulster Hall and noticed an event was taking place by a friendship group from the bereavement charity Cruse.
Somehow he plucked up the courage to go inside and was invited to attend their monthly meetings. He was very reluctant but went along to the next meeting where he found himself opening up for the first time about his grief.
He says: "A lady came over to me with a cup of tea and started talking and it was the first time I had talked to anyone about Eileen. There were so many tears but I felt so much better for having talked about it."
John then faced a tough year when he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in late 2016. He went through surgery and chemotherapy in 2017 and made a full recovery.
He had missed meetings at the bereavement friendship group and when he returned he was immediately struck by a new member in the room.
He says: "I had never believed I could ever find love again after Eileen and at my age I wasn't even looking for it.
"When I returned to the group after my cancer treatment this lovely lady with dark hair had joined.
"When I saw Lorraine for the first time something just passed between us and I had a feeling that I hadn't felt in a very long time. She had just lost her mum to Alzheimer's and had also been her carer for many years."
It was some weeks before John plucked up the courage to ask Lorraine for their first date in October 2017.
The couple clicked immediately and in January 2018 John proposed and the couple married in June of this year.
He says: "I believed we had been brought together and that love had found us when neither of us were looking for it.
"I had one great relationship and I really didn't think I could get that again but it has happened.
"Everyone deserves happiness and, no matter what, we both carry our loss with us and always will.
"I can talk to Lorraine about Eileen and she talks to me about the loss of her mum and that loss is now shared, so the weight of it is lighter.
"To be given a second chance of happiness is just unbelievable and every day I can't believe how happy I am."
- For information about the Cruse friendship groups for over 60s visit www.cruse.org.uk