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'After 15 years together, my husband died. Then our entire marriage unravelled.'

As told to Ann DeGrey

When my partner Jon passed away after a battle with lung cancer, I was left with very mixed feelings. Yes, I loved him and I still grieve for him five years later. But our relationship was far from perfect and I often wonder if he'd been honest with me about something he kept secret from his past, then we would have been much happier. 

For years, I was very suspicious about Jon's frequent, unexplained absences. Clearly, he was lying about why he was going away. His regular disappearances left me with imaginary scenarios playing out in my head, often picturing him with other women. Or maybe he was spending weekends away with a girlfriend who was, no doubt, better looking and more interesting than me. 

When I asked him if he was cheating on me, he'd always get very dramatic in his denials, saying how devastated he was that I would even think he was capable of cheating. But I didn't believe him. 

His death, which came just four months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer was a painful time for me but it was also a relief in some ways. Why? Because in dying, he managed to peel away the layers of mystery he'd covered himself in. 

But nothing could have prepared me for the truth that came from the secret Jon had been keeping for 15 years. 

In the weeks following his death, I was going through his belongings and thankfully his accountant had all his login details, so I was able to find information I needed for financial issues in his computer. 

While I was going through his emails, I found hundreds from a woman named Ella. At first, I thought this must be the woman he'd been having an affair with but after following the trail to Facebook (where he never befriended me) I saw pictures of a teenage girl, Ella. Her messages were friendly and filled with love — his messages to her were equally as loving. I did recall seeing a teenage girl at Jon's funeral and wondered whose child she was — perhaps that was her? And in many of the messages she addressed him as "Dad." It was very confusing. Did Jon father a daughter?

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And then I found emails from Lucy, who was clearly the girl’s mother — mostly arranging their catchups. So I knew I had to reach out to her and find out exactly what had happened. 

I'd always wanted to be a mother but I was never able to conceive. Jon had always been very supportive and told me he didn't need a child. But, maybe it's because he had always had Ella.

I contacted Ella's mother Lucy and she told me that Jon was Ella's father. They’d had a casual fling 15 years ago, at the time I was engaged to him. When she realised she was pregnant and wanted to keep the baby, she and Jon agreed that they'd keep Ella a secret, which caused Lucy a lot of pain. But she accepted the fact that he was in love with me and wanted to marry me. 

My initial feelings were a jumbled mess of anger, sadness, and betrayal. Why hadn't he trusted me enough to share this significant part of his life?

Lucy also told me that Jon was a loving and attentive father who'd supported Ella financially. Well, that explained why we were never quite as financially comfortable as I thought we should be — but I was not angry. In some ways, knowing that Jon had a daughter was a special gift.

Eventually I met both Lucy and Ella, who resembles Jon in many ways. She’s a bright, kind-hearted girl who seems wise beyond her years; maybe as a result of circumstances she'd been born into. They told me Jon had been a constant presence, attending school events, birthdays, and every milestone in between. So that explained his frequent absences; the ones I had feared were about infidelity, were in fact, visits to see Ella. 

Lucy also made it very clear to me that there was absolutely nothing between herself and Jon, aside from co-parenting, so that was a relief to me. She also told me that Jon had always spoken highly of me and that he loved me very much. He'd struggled with the guilt of keeping Ella a secret, fearing it would destroy our marriage. It was a weak justification, but it was the only one I had.

If I could talk to Jon, I'd tell him that I forgive him for cheating on me when we were engaged but I'm still very upset that he didn't feel he could be open with me. If he'd told me he had a daughter, I could have been a big part of Ella's life too. I think I would have been a good step-parent to her. But I feel blessed to have her in my life, as she is a part of Jon I'd never known about. It's as if, in some serendipitous way, I've been granted a family that I longed for. 

Feature Image: Canva.

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