Smiling couple in Treetops rose garden celebrating engagement

After the tragic death of his wife and son within a few weeks of each other, George Palmer sought the help of our bereavement group to deal with the loss.

86-year-old George, was married to Liz for 61 years. He says that our Tears to Laughter group was a ‘revelation’ and never expected that, as well as making life-long friends, he would find love again.

But recently widowed Ruth Vowles, from Sandiacre, has helped make George smile again and, after a whirlwind romance, the pair are set to wed later this year.

So lucky to have met such a lovely man

“I feel so lucky, though, to have met such a lovely, kind man who wants to make me happy.

After two very traumatic years, we’re looking forward to an exciting future together. We both fully understand how important Liz and Steve still are to us, and talk about them often. They are still very much alive in our thoughts.”

Ruth’s husband Steve was just 67-years-old when he died. The couple had been together for 46 years.

In his early twenties, Steve was diagnosed with a low immune system. He contracted bronchiectasis – a condition in which airways of the lungs remain persistently widened – and, later in life, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease; more commonly referred to as COPD. He had also suffered two strokes which had affected his eyesight and memory.

At Christmas 2019, Steve’s condition deteriorated. He was admitted into hospital for the first time on Ruth’s birthday in May 2020.

Being apart was tough

“Seeing him being taken away and not knowing when, or if, I would see him again was very, very difficult. Because of Covid, we had been shielding. We had stayed in the house right from the very beginning because of his immunity issues. So being apart was tough.”

Steve died suddenly in the Royal Derby Hospital with Ruth by his side and close friend Jane there to support her. The family held a ‘small but intimate’ funeral due to Covid restrictions. With Ruth’s children living miles away, she felt lonely in the weeks that followed his death, in spite of their wonderful support, and that of friends.

Ruth began to attend our Tears to Laughter bereavement group when it first started in September 2020. 

“The group is a warm and caring place to be. Although I found it hard in the beginning, everyone was so welcoming and supportive. It has been a lifeline for me.”

Devastating loss

There, Ruth met George, whose wife Liz, who suffered from dementia, was also diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2019. She died just six months after diagnosis.

George found his beloved wife’s death difficult. Then, only 12 weeks later, his son David died suddenly of an aortic dissection; a serious condition in which a tear occurs in the inner layer of the body’s main artery.

“In a short space of time, I had lost two of my close family members, and I was devastated,” said George.

“I was comforted by David’s wife, Ange, who attended the Treetops Hospice bereavement group to help her cope with his death. Around a year after Liz’s death, I went to my first Tears to Laughter support group. 

The group was a revelation. It was the best thing I did and helped me through a very difficult time. I found that I could talk to other members of the group without feeling embarrassed.”

Friendships were formed at the informal sessions each week. Both George and Ruth would look forward to meeting up every week.

Couple celebrate engagement in Treetops rose garden

“I made some great friends who I knew were only at the end of the telephone if I needed them,” said Ruth.

“We all started going out for lunch once or twice a week. But when I broke my leg in June 2021, I struggled to get to the group. George started to chauffer me around and our friendship blossomed.

“We would regularly share evening meals and in October 2021, we went on holiday together as friends. In February 2022, we decided that we wanted to spend our future together; we wanted to get married.”

“We held off making our engagement official until George proposed to me on my birthday,” said Ruth, “I wanted to bury my husband’s ashes first – this seemed only right.”

The proposal took place in the stunning gardens of the Palazzo Pfanner in Lucca, Italy. George picked a secluded spot where he asked Ruth to be his wife – although he didn’t get down on one knee to make the proposal!

A special proposal

“The grass was wet and, if he had gotten down on one knee, I would have had to have helped him to get back up again!” said Ruth.

“George was very nervous as he wanted the proposal to be special. He guided me to one of the most romantic spots in the gardens before asking me to be his wife.

Their wedding will take place outdoors, at the Botanical Gardens in Gibraltar this October. It will be a simple affair surrounded by friends and family.

We feel lucky to have attended such a wonderful group where we have time for sad reflections but have also created many wonderful memories. It has given us the chance to be honest about our feelings, which is often difficult with family as they just want you to be okay, particularly when they live so far away.

“Neither of us will forget Liz or Steve. We still have many tearful moments when we need to support each other.

"But we hope that people realise that it is possible to love more than one person in this life and us getting married again doesn’t detract from our previous, very happy marriages.

“We’re excited about the future together.”