Marie Alessi will never forget the phone call that changed her life in the blink of an eye.
“I will always remember what the coroner said to me,” Marie tells 7Life.
“‘I am sorry to inform you that your husband was found deceased in a hotel room in Perth this morning’.”
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With one sentence, her whole world came to a catastrophic halt.
She was a widow. And her two boys were without a father.
But just five months into navigating life as a sole parent, she was met with a confronting question from a well-meaning family member.
“Are you ready to date again?” her godfather asked her.
Dumbfounded by what she considered a premature query, Marie instantly said “no”.
However, 17 months after Rob’s sudden death, she fell for another man.
Her decision to date less than two years after her husband’s death has been met with mixed emotions by friends and family.
“When is the right time to start dating after loss?” she muses.
Marie believes the answer is simple – there is no time frame.
So, how soon is too soon?
Man of her dreams
Marie met her future husband Rob in 2005, falling head over heels for her perfect man.
“The first time I met him, I just knew,” she says.
“I finally realized what people meant by ‘When you meet him, you will know’.”
Ten months later, the pair married, and went on to welcome two sons.
As the years ticked by, the couple fell more in love, and the family spent their time chasing the school holidays.
Then in 2019, when Rob and Marie were 45 and their boys were 10 and eight, Rob flew from Sydney to Perth on a business trip.
The couple kept in touch via texts and phone calls every day.
But one day, Marie heard nothing from her husband.
The worried wife continuously phoned his mobile but was sent to voicemail every time.
Marie eventually rang the hotel Rob where was staying and begged staff to check on him.
“I didn’t want to seem like a crazy wife, but something just didn’t feel right,” Marie says.
“I had this horrible vision of him collapsing in the shower.
“I know it sounds crazy but I asked the staff to specifically check the shower.”
Four torturous hours later, Marie’s worst fear was confirmed – her husband of almost 13 years was found dead in the shower of his hotel room.
His cause of death – a spontaneous brain aneurysm.
There had been no warning signs, and Marie just couldn’t comprehend the fact her best friend was no longer alive.
Second stage of grief
Her whole world instantly spun into darkness.
She drove to Rob’s family home to let his parents know, and also sat her boys down.
“It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” she says.
“My eight-year-old just said, ‘I don’t have a daddy any more’.”
Her boys asked who would look after them, to which Marie replied “I will”.
And from that moment, she didn’t let them out of her sight.
Marie and the boys made a heartbreaking journey to Perth to identify Rob’s body.
She says she wouldn’t have been able to carry out the solemn duty without the support of her sons.
But she also knew how deeply her boys needed to be with her, and to know that she was there.
“The last time a parent left for the interstate, they never returned,” she says.
“I couldn’t go alone and put them through something like that.”
The next few weeks melded into one as the entire family tried to understand that life would be without Rob.
Marie then booked three round-the-world tickets and packed – for 60 days of escape.
From Austria to the Maldives, they spent much-needed time together as a new family of three.
“When we were in Paris, my son wanted to eat escargot, something I really didn’t want to do,” Marie says.
“But he just looked at me cheekily and said, ‘Dad would’. So, of course, I had to.
“It was horrible and I will never eat it again.”
Spending some time with extended family in the Canary Islands, Marie was hit with an unexpected question from her godfather.
“It was five months since Rob’s death and he said, ‘Are you ready to date again?’,” she says.
Shocked, she instantly said no, reiterating that it was “too soon”.
Dating after loss
And for Marie, it was too soon.
But 17 months later, she met a man through an online mentoring program.
At first, they were friends but as time progressed the two souls connected on a much deeper level.
“The chemistry was just right,” Marie says.
She wasn’t on a dating app, she wasn’t actively seeking a romantic relationship – it just happened.
“Rob and I spoke about what would happen if one of us weren’t around,” Marie says.
“We both wanted the other one to be happy.
“If this happened the other way around I would not want Rob to sit around crying.”
The pair started texting daily and Marie says he just made her laugh.
The relationship was “gentle”. Nothing was forced or hastened, she says.
And for 14 months the pair was in a deep romance – before it mutually came to an end.
After the relationship dissolved, Marie’s friends were divided.
Some shared her sadness the romance was over while others expressed their belief it was simply “too soon” to have dated after Rob’s passing.
However for Marie, it was the right time.
“When you know, you know,” she says.
With news of the breakup spreading, Marie realized there was a notion around when was the right time to start dating – but she couldn’t find it.
“Society makes you feel so guilty. There is so much judgement,” she says.
“It’s either, ‘it’s too soon, it’s too fast’ or the opposite – if you don’t move on fast enough, ‘you’ve spent too long grieving or it’s time to move on’.”
Marie wants others who have lost partners to know they are not alone when it comes to “getting back out there”.
She believes dating after loss is something that should be freely spoken about.
She hasn’t seen anyone since her last relationship ended but nor has she turned her back on another chance at love.
“It’s completely normal to discuss dating after loss,” she says.
“And we should do it more.”
You can read more about Marie’s journey here.