A mum has shared the reality of her life as a young widow with four children after her husband tragically died in a car accident – including falling in love with his best friend while grieving.
Rochelle Pitts, now 32, from Florida, US, was widowed when her husband Jesse was killed three days before Christmas in 2020, with the mum heavily pregnant with their fourth child at the time.
The couple had been together for 13 years, meeting at 18 and 19 while working together at a local restaurant.
Rochelle works as a paralegal but is currently studying to become a lawyer, all while looking after their children, including Chloe, 12, Oraia, nine, Raiden, seven, and one-year-old Wren – the last of whom never got to meet her father but looks “identical” to him.
After the accident, Jesse’s organs were donated and he was able to save four people’s lives on Christmas Day.
Rochelle, who was six months pregnant at the time, described it as the “worst experience” of her life.
“Immediately after he passed, life was extremely chaotic – we all cried constantly,” she told Jam Press.
“It has been about a year and a half since he died. It still hurts every day but now it’s different.
“We are all so excited to be alive and be able to live and appreciate life – yet still grieve that Jesse did not get the same opportunity.
“It is the epitome of bittersweet; to be so thankful for what we do have, but at a very large cost.”
Wren’s birth was particularly difficult, with the baby arriving just weeks after Jesse’s death.
She said: “It was so confusing and bittersweet. My other children I was so happy to meet, I couldn’t wait to see their faces.
“With Wren, I struggled looking at her ultrasounds because I felt sad that I had the privilege to see her but Jesse did not.
“One of the main differences I noticed was this time I heard everything.
“Unlike the other three times, Jesse’s excitement helped to calm my fears about my C-section.
“He was always so happy on the days our children were born.
“I didn’t notice it then but his support helped me not hear the surgery.
“With Wren, I heard every noise. I heard the doctors say where to make the incision, I could hear them cutting things, I could hear the sounds of the suction.
“I didn’t really hear those things before because Jesse was next to me, making sure I was OK.
“I remember getting wheeled back to maternity and as I turned the corner to my room there was a dad holding his new baby, smiling down at him.
“It hurt so bad to see. It was so ridiculous and lonely, it seemed like a cruel joke.”
After her husband’s death, Rochelle had resigned herself to raising her children alone and didn’t think she’d find love again.
But fate had other plans, as she found herself taking comfort in a friendship with her husband’s best friend, Scott.
The platonic feelings soon developed into something more.
She said: “After my husband died, I never wanted to be with anyone ever again.
“It made me sick. It felt like cheating. I also had four children and was alone, so how could I even begin to date?
“I also realised my life was messy and my children were grieving, and I thought no one would want to take that on.
“But at about the half year mark of his passing, I began talking to Scott – he is Jesse’s best friend, and I have known him for years.
“My husband and I were opposites, whereas Scott and I are very similar, something Jesse used to point out.
“It started slow. We would watch movies together and he’d help me out in the yard or with random things in the house.
“Then he asked me on a date.
“I was apprehensive to date him, one main reason being that I knew ‘no one would understand us’.
“I was so wrong. In the midst of my grief I overlooked how perfect Scott was for us.
“He has seven siblings, he understands grief because of his own experiences with death in his family, and he cares about my children.
“Our grief doesn’t phase him.
“He also honours Jesse’s memory; when we first had a sit-down dinner together, he pulled up a separate chair and left Jesse’s usual seat empty.
“He still does this.
“Before I was a widow, I may have raised an eyebrow if I saw a widow date her husband’s best friend after his passing, but now that I am a widow, I understand that this is so normal.
“It happens all the time and it makes so much sense.”
Despite finding love, Rochelle is taking her time with her grief and not rushing any big steps – which she says Scott respects and understands.
She added: “I have slowly worked on putting things back, but yes there are a few things I am still struggling to put back – Jesse’s clothes by the hamper, his half-used body wash in the shower, a December 2020 calendar that’s on the fridge.
“He died during Christmas so for an entire year we had our Christmas lights up – I was recently able to take them down with help.
“But that one I find kind of funny-because people usually judge other people if they leave Christmas decor up and it’s the middle of summer, but yet here we were in July with the lights still up.
“No one knew how hard it was for us to take them down, because that was one of the last things he did.”
For Rochelle, it was important to “grieve publicly” with her starting a TikTok account (@itsrochellepitts) – which recently went viral – as well as website called Untitled Grief of a Young Widow, sharing her insights with others who might be struggling.
She said: “Life as a young widow and single mum is extremely stressful.
“I get up at 5.30am to get the kids ready and take them to school, before dropping off my toddler at her nana’s house.
“Then I drive an hour away to go to law school, before driving back to get the children.
“Then I clean the house and get the kids to do their chores and homework – I have had to make them extremely self-sufficient.
“We go to grief counselling together too.
“Sometimes I try to study after around 10pm but I am usually so tired that I have to go to sleep.
“If I had to summarise it, I never have a free minute. I constantly feel overwhelmed.
“Everyone has come rushing to help and I couldn’t do it without help from my family and Scott.
“I wish that kind of support was given to everyone because I truly think that is one key thing that made me heal, was that everyone wanted to help me.
“A year and half later, I still have support.