Locked in a tight embrace, Crystal and Jeremy Adkins look like the perfect couple as they stare lovingly into each other’s eyes. But their smiling faces hide the desperately sad stories of loss that led them to each other.
Because both Crystal and Jeremy were widowed after their partners had died very suddenly, leaving them with small children Crystal even had a baby on the way and it was their shared grief that bonded them together.
Crystal says, “I never thought I’d love again after I lost my husband, but my relationship with Jeremy is unique. We both know what it’s like to be in love while our hearts are also breaking with loss.”
Crystal and her first husband Jorge Herrera met in 2003 when Crystal was bowled over by the flirty practical joker’s sense of humour. Then as she got to know him, his serious side shone through and she knew she could rely on the kind and sensitive lawyer.
The pair were deeply in love and married in April 2007, then had their daughter Isabella in January 2010.
“Jorge was a brilliant husband and he was a great dad too, twirling Isabella around our kitchen and making her giggle. Then just nine months after our daughter was born, I found out I was pregnant again and was stunned. I wondered how we’d cope, but as usual, Jorge reassured me and I knew that with him at my side, everything would be fine,” explains Crystal, a nurse.
In February 2011, at the 20-week scan, the pair discovered they were having a little boy and Jorge, then 29, said he couldn’t wait to have a son, joking that he was already looking forward to signing up to be a football coach.
But just two weeks later their joy turned to devastation when, on 12 March, Jorge collapsed at home just as the couple were about to go out shopping.
“Jorge was calling to me from the bedroom. When I rushed in, I saw him lying on the bed, clutching Isabella in his arms as though he’d fallen. His eyes were shut and I was terrified. Panicking, I somehow called an ambulance and began doing CPR, but it didn’t work, and by the time the paramedics arrived, Jorge’s heart had stopped beating,” Crystal remembers.
A grief-stricken Crystal was hardly able to take in what had happened, sitting on their bed for hours, silently tracing with her fingers the space where Jorge had fallen.
A post-mortem a few days later revealed that Jorge had suffered a sudden cardiac death.
Worried that the stress would harm Crystal’s unborn baby, doctors monitored her closely with extra scans, and Crystal’s mum moved in to help her look after Isabella.
“I was barely able to make it through the days. Every time the baby kicked, all I could think was that Jorge wasn’t there to feel it. Unable to sleep one night, I went online and googled “widowed and pregnant”. I found a help group and discovered some solace in talking
to others who’d suffered a similar loss,” says Crystal.
Three months later, Crystal’s son Matthew was born, as her mum stood by her in the delivery room.
“It was such a bittersweet moment. When I heard my baby crying, I cried too, realising that this child was Jorge’s last gift to me,” Crystal reveals.
But as much as she loved her son, being a new mum couldn’t pull her out of the deep grief and depression she’d been plunged into, and the next weeks were a blur that Crystal says she can barely remember now.
Then, two months after Matthew was born something changed.
“I realised I couldn’t go on like this – throwing everything away when Jorge would’ve given anything to see his children grow up. So I went back to work and even started my own support group for young widows,” she says.
Two years after Jorge’s death, Crystal heard about local man Jeremy Adkins, who had lost his wife Kristina shortly after she’d given birth to their fifth child, and decided to get in touch to invite him to her group.
He wasn’t ready for that, but agreed to meet for coffee near where they both lived in Florida.
“We talked for hours. Jeremy’s grief was so raw as he told me about Kristina, who he’d been with since they were 16. I told him about Jorge and we stayed in touch, having long phone calls into the night,” says Crystal.
As the weeks went on, they discovered they had similar backgrounds and shared a silly sense of humour.
“I suddenly started to imagine a future with Jeremy. We got on so well and we understood how each other felt. I knew if I was sad about Jorge, I could cry in front of him and he could talk as much about Kristina as he wanted. But I wondered if it was all moving too quickly,” Crystal reveals.
The pair were right to be cautious.
Jeremy, a project manager, says, “When I lost Kristina, my world was shattered. But the hardest thing was telling our daughters that they were never going to see their mum again – I had to break their hearts too.
“My youngest daughter, Eaven, was just six months, but I was more worried about how the older girls Mackenzie, then 14, Alexis, 11, Savannah, nine, and Sophia, seven, would react to Crystal.”
So the pair decided to take things slowly and, a few months later, they introduced each other to their kids at a support group day where everyone lit a lantern in memory of a lost loved one.
And on that day, it was clear to Jeremy’s older daughters that Crystal made their dad happy and that there was something special between them.
After the families had got to know each other more, Crystal and Jeremy decided to get married in March 2015. All the girls were bridesmaids and Matthew was a ringbearer. They had framed pictures of Jorge and Kristina there too, so their lost loves would also be present.
“Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile how I feel. Life is not how I pictured it – it’s not Jorge dropping Isabella, now six, off at school and he’s not here to play catch with Matthew. I’m a different person too. I’ve had to learn a lot and be braver,” says Crystal.
But one thing’s for certain, finding each other has given Crystal and Jeremy the strength to carry on.
And Crystal says, “While part of me will always be missing, thanks to Jeremy, I’m not broken any more.”