Heartbroken Kate Carroll has told how her late son Shane never got over the loss of his stepfather Stephen, the first PSNI officer to be murdered by terrorists.
Shane Carroll died suddenly, aged 48, the same age Constable Carroll was when he was cruelly taken from them by the Continuity IRA (CIRA) in March 2009.
Father-of-10 Shane's lifeless body was found by his wife Elaine at their Co Down home.
And devastated Kate told the Belfast Telegraph that her son Shane, from a previous relationship, had failed to recover from the trauma caused by the brutal slaying of the man he always called Dad.
"Shane has gone; I'm in bits," she said through tears.
"He has never been the same since we lost Steve. He just couldn't get over his death."
She added: "First Steve, now Shane. It's heartbreaking. I've lost the two most precious people to me in the world over what's been happening in this country."
Kate (69) said Shane, her only son, bonded instantly with Mr Carroll, her soul mate and husband of 24 years. But he struggled with depression in the aftermath of his stepfather's brutal murder.
When Constable Carroll was shot dead by the CIRA after answering a bogus emergency call over 11 years ago, he became the first PSNI officer to die at the hands of paramilitaries.
Kate told how Shane "used to spend hours" visiting his grave, which is in a cemetery that can be seen from her Banbridge home.
"That's where he went when anything was bothering him," said Kate. "I used to look out the window, see his car and I knew he was by the graveside."
According to Kate, who said she's struggling to process events around Shane's death, his wife Elaine initially thought her husband was sleeping and only realised the terrible truth when she couldn't rouse him.
"Elaine and the kids weren't in the house when he passed," she said. "Just like Steve, it was so sudden, so devastating. Shane was always trying to be brave for me since Steve's murder but I don't think he could hide it any more."
Kate, a grandmother to Jake (21), Dean (20), Katelyn (13), Jordan (11), Skye (7), Carly-Rose (6), Riley (5), Arianna (4), Harley (3) and two-year-old Ella-Rose, recalled the last conversation she had with her troubled son.
"The last time I spoke to him was on Saturday evening," she said.
"He said, 'I love you, Mum. You maybe don't realise it but I do; I really, really love you.' I didn't think anything of it at the time but looking back..."
The former dental nurse, who will turn 70 in August, said that for a while she believed her son had managed to overcome his demons.
"I'd actually thought he'd turned a corner and was getting over the depression," she said.
"I believed he was getting better. Over the years I'd brought him to see several specialists.
"Shane used to talk about the police coming to the door that night to tell me what had happened to Steve. One of the specialists told me that Shane was stuck in a time warp."
Kate said she had been out, and first learned of Shane's tragic passing from one of his friends who had seen something on social media.
"I took a call from someone who said he was sorry to hear about Shane," she said.
"I didn't know what he was talking about. When he told me Shane was dead I said it wasn't true, that it must be some sort of vicious rumour."
Later she heard the police had called at her door while she was out, and realised the 'rumour' was all too real.
Kate has been with new partner Derek Egerton (57), a bus driver, for four years and revealed that he, too, had suffered a tragedy in the last couple of days, having lost his brother Donald who was approaching his 60th birthday.
In a devastating twist of fate, Kate also said that autopsies were being carried out at the Royal Victoria Hospital on both the late Mr Egerton and her beloved son on Wednesday. "An autopsy on Shane is taking place because the initial one was inconclusive; it determined nothing," she said.
"We don't expect to get the results of this one for a while. Until then we'll not know exactly what happened."
Having had her life thrown into turmoil once again in the last few days, Kate is grappling for some sort of understanding in the midst of her grief.
"I always worried about Shane," she said, her voice laden with emotion. "He was a lovely young fellow, who just doted on his wife and children.
"It used to scare me sometimes, however, just how much he grieved over Steve. And I remember how he always used to say that he wished he could cry like me."
Over the last decade, Kate has used her position to regularly speak out against bigotry and political violence.
Kate became a well-known face on our television screens, and a recognisable voice on radio. She has regularly spoken out against political violence and repeatedly urged our politicians to stamp out sectarianism and push for lasting peace here.
But while she has endured her pain with great fortitude, it would be remiss to underestimate the depth of her despair at how her future has panned out.
"My heart is really aching," she admitted. "I thank God that I'm strong. I suppose, in some way, Steve is out of danger and at least, now, Shane is, too. Nobody can hurt them any more."
She shared a private musing she had had earlier, as she was trying to come to terms with Shane's death.
"This morning when I was in the shower I just thought 'at least they're together'," she said.
"I said, 'Steve, at least you're there to welcome Shane wherever he is and wherever you are.'
"The two most precious things in my life have been taken away and all because of this damned country.
"They took Steve; now they've taken Shane, too. He just couldn't cope with this world, couldn't get over Steve's death. I'm not over it either; I've just forced myself to go on. You just have to try to get up and go on, do what you can."
She added: "I loved Shane dearly. I really did. His wife told me that I didn't realise how much he loved me."
Reflecting on how his wife is dealing with Shane's death, Kate said: "Elaine seems to be holding up as best she can at the moment."
It's too soon to know the details of the funeral arrangements, especially amid the restrictions in force as a result of coronavirus.
But it's another untimely goodbye that Kate and her family will have to steel themselves for in the coming days.