A Musselburgh woman has started a group for people who have been widowed after she was left devastated when her husband died suddenly from a heart attack.

Helen Kerrigan’s last words to her husband, Johnnie, 75 – her childhood sweetheart –came as he set off as usual to Eskmills Bowling Club for a Friday evening game of cards on July 15 last year.

She said: “He was fine. We had been away on holiday in Spain the week before. He had been in and out the pool and sea.”

Mrs Kerrigan, 73, recalled the events of that night, saying: “He would say, ‘That’s me away then, I’ll take a slow walk over, watch the bowling for a while and then I’ll go in a get a drink’.

“I said, ‘OK then, enjoy.’ He always used to say to me, ‘Do you want me to lock the front door?’ And I always joked back, ‘You know I like a wee lock-in on a Friday night’ and that was my last words to him.”

She said: “About 7.40pm, a lady from the bowling club came to the door and said, ‘You need to come over Helen, I think Johnnie has taken a turn’.

“By the time we got to the hospital, he had died. I couldn’t take it in. He had a triple heart bypass eight years before but was fine. I didn’t expect him to walk out the door and not come back.”

Mrs Kerrigan added: “I got through the year. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen when it came to the year whether I would be reinvigorated or be the life and soul of the party but that didn’t happen. I started to think to myself that I can’t be the only person sitting here on their own.

“The grief is overwhelming but, when you get into it, it’s the loneliness that’s the killer. We used to go out every Saturday night without fail.”

The couple – who were married two months short of 54 years – have a daughter, three grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Mrs Kerrigan explained: “I trawled the internet looking for things I could join and I wasn’t seeing anything that I wanted.

“There was a local bereavement group, run by a very nice and helpful lady, but that wasn’t for me. It was a bit diverse and wasn’t just for widowed people: one person was going through the break-up of a marriage which is like a bereavement.”

Helped by her granddaughter, she set up a closed Facebook group for people in the same position as her.

She called it ‘Rainbows After The Storms’ as a poem, read out at her husband’s funeral, was all about rainbows.

She also advertised the group on posters at The Brunton, the local library, community centres and Hollies Day Centre.

Since it launched in February, it has attracted several members from Musselburgh and Prestonpans who meet once a month for coffee, go on theatre outings, and are planning their first trip away together to Ullapool.

“It is just getting to know people and we would welcome people from all over East Lothian – including men,” she added. “If the opportunity is there for people, there is no need to be lonely because we are all the same.”

One woman, whose husband died after a quadruple heart bypass and contracting pneumonia, said: “I feel it is a different circle of friends who understand what I’m going through. The weekends are the worst, so it’s nice to have something to look forward to.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about the group should e-mail Mrs Kerrigan at rainbowsafter thestorms@gmail.com or join the group’s Facebook page.