As Jessica Crissman read the blog of the stranger whose wife had died from brain cancer, she felt a deep sense of empathy.
She knew this man’s pain – because her own husband Jason had lost his battle against the same deadly disease.
Writing a note to the stranger, Ryan Ronne, she had no idea it would change both their lives.
In an incredible act of fate, that letter led to a heartwarming love story.
Ryan and Jessica now live with their blended family of seven children – plus their daughter Annabelle, two – in Tennessee.
‘We met each other at a time when all we could offer was support, because we had both lived through the exact same situations,’ Jessica, a 40-year-old English teacher, tells New Idea.
‘Neither of us were expecting to find such a love again – we had both been married to our childhood sweethearts who we had thought we would grow old with, until they both passed away.’
Jessica’s husband Jason was diagnosed with a brain tumour in August 2007, after suffering a seizure at home. At the time, Jessica had just given birth to their daughter Mabel.
‘It was such a massive shock,’ recalls Jessica. ‘But his surgeons were confident that they could operate and get rid of it.
‘Jason had the surgery and chemotherapy to stop it coming back, and we were so confident he had beaten it. We were upbeat because he felt so well.’ But in 2009, the tumour came back. Jessica was six months pregnant with their son Joshua.
Jason had surgery again, as well as aggressive chemotherapy and radiation to try to beat it.
‘Looking back, I still don’t know how we coped,’ says Jessica. ‘I felt in a fog a lot of the time, trying to keep it together. I tried so hard to be positive, but the clock was ticking.’
In August 2010, Jason went to bed and never got up again. He passed away at the age of 33 and Jessica became a widow with four kids – Caleb, Lucas, Mabel and Joshua.
‘Losing Jason was the most heartbreaking experience of my life,’ recalls Jessica. ‘But at the same time, it was a relief that he wasn’t suffering anymore and he was at peace in a better place.’
During Jason’s illness, Jessica had kept a blog where she posted her feelings and updates on Jason, and then after he died she talked about her great loss.
She had a lot of support from readers – who gave her encouragement in her extreme loneliness – and a couple of months after Jason passed, a lady from Tennessee left her a note.
‘This lady had been reading my blog and asked if I could send a letter to a young father, who also had a blog.
This father was a widower with three children, having lost his wife to a brain tumour,’ says Jessica.
‘His wife had died just a couple of days after Jason, so I really wanted to help him. I could relate to so much of what he was saying, so I decided to send him a message.’
That evening, in November 2010, Ryan wrote back.
‘Ryan seemed to be in a dark place,’ recalls Jessica. ‘He told me he had lost the love of his life and he was really struggling.
‘We started to email each other to offer support and perspective. Then we started to speak on the phone frequently. It was such a help to be talking to someone who could truly relate.
‘I looked forward to our conversations, and before long, we realised that we were flirting with each other! This realisation was weird – we were grieving spouses on one hand, yet on the other hand this flirting was so natural. It actually felt right and neither of us fought against it.’
In December, they met alone in a neutral place to talk, be themselves and get to know each other a bit better.
The meeting went so well, they realised that they were in love – much to their surprise.
‘From the moment I met Ryan, I knew that this love was completely real,’ says Jessica. ‘And he felt the same. I didn’t feel that we were rushing into anything because being with him was natural. We had a lot of fun and we could speak freely to each other, and I did not feel guilty about being attracted to Ryan. When Jason was sick, deep down I had prepared myself for his passing.
‘With Ryan, we both knew that we had to live in the moment or we would never move on, and after our few days together, we knew we wanted to be together. I know it sounds quick, but it’s true.’
In February 2011, the pair got engaged, and while many friends were supportive, some were concerned they were moving too fast.
Undeterred, they married in April without telling anyone, and then had a big wedding in May with all the children.
A huge blended family was born.
‘Suddenly, having seven children was a big undertaking,’ recalls Jessica. ‘Of course there were issues at first, but nothing ever serious. My kids fell in love with Ryan as their daddy and his children took to me immediately.
‘We never tried to take the other spouse’s place and we encouraged everyone to talk about Jason and Kaci whenever they wanted to. I think this brought us closer as a family.’
In June 2015, Jess gave birth to their daughter Annabelle, bringing their total number of children to eight.
There will be no more children though – the Ronne brood is complete.
And Jess has written a book about their lives, called Sunlight Burning At Midnight: A Memoir.
‘I know some people might not be able to understand how we could have got together so quickly after losing our spouses,’ says Jessica. ‘To be honest it was a shock to us too that we could have been so lucky to have fallen so deeply in love with each other.
‘What I have learned is you can choose to stay miserable and lonely or you can pick yourself up, be positive and make a new, different kind of happiness.’
For the full story see this weeks issue of New Idea - out now!