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'Grief hits like someone stabbing you in the chest' - model Emily MacKeogh on losing her fiance Killian

Model Emily MacKeogh talks for the first time about the heartbreak of losing her fiance Killian. Niamh Horan reports


SOULMATES: Killian Roche and Emily MacKeogh were planning a life together when tragedy struck

SOULMATES: Killian Roche and Emily MacKeogh were planning a life together when tragedy struck

SOULMATES: Killian Roche and Emily MacKeogh were planning a life together when tragedy struck

'What's the catch?" It was the question Emily MacKeogh often asked the 6ft 4in former rugby player Killian Roche after he walked into her life on a night out in Dublin four years ago.

"He was gorgeous," smiles Emily, her eyes alight at the memory. "I thought, 'This can't be ... it's too good to be true'. He was kind, open and bubbly. He was the dream."

Today, Emily is incredulous. Last week the couple should have been celebrating their wedding in Italy. Instead, she is describing how Killian's life was cut short at the age of 32 - just five hours after the couple had arrived in Dubai to start a new chapter in their life together.

"We had just landed, he was just there … he was perfect," she says shaking her head. "What? Why? It's so insane you can't even process it.

"It was like if you had just climbed to the top of a beautiful mountain and then someone pushed you into the abyss."

She smiles again when she casts her mind back to the early days of their relationship. Within weeks, they had moved in together.

"He brought me flowers for no reason. He cooked the most amazing food - we called them the 'Big K' burgers, they were dangerous but delicious."

"Every single morning he would bring me coffee in bed, then kiss me goodbye before leaving for work. He was such a good person."

One night the couple were watching After Life, a TV series about a man who loses his wife, when Killian turned to Emily.

"He said, 'If anything ever happens you better let me go first. I wouldn't be able to cope without you'. He said, 'You are way stronger than me'. I laughed and said, 'No I'm not'. I told him I would give him a week's head start.

"We were inseparable. Both of us knew it was right. I know it sounds mad but we didn't even have one argument in our entire relationship."

Soon they were discussing marriage and children. They had adopted a French bulldog, Zeb, and had been dating for two-and-a-half years when Killian landed his dream job, the head of digital for media company Wavemaker for the Middle East and Africa. It would be based in Dubai.

The pair planned to leave in April 2019 but first Killian had a surprise. He took Emily on a romantic break to Switzerland that February for her birthday.

"We were staying in a boutique hotel and we got into a hot tub on the roof overlooking the Alps. It was night time." She recalls he got out a ring and "he said, 'I want to spend the rest of my life with you'. I still have the photo of us kissing beforehand".

The day they were due to leave for Dubai, Emily felt nervous. She shakes her head at how her main stress was the number of suitcases they had packed.

"We lay on the bed and he bear-hugged me for five minutes and calmed me down," she says.

At the airport, both of their families were there to say goodbye.

"His mum had even said to me, 'It just feels so final, I don't know what it is' and I said, 'Don't be silly, we will see you in a few weeks' because we were planning to come home for the registry office."

The flight over was calm, says Emily. "We were both quiet and watched two movies. It was all very normal. I remember we held hands the whole way."

She says Killian was the type of guy who did everything by the book. He thought he was going to have a medical as part of his visa so he wouldn't touch a drop of drink on the flight.

"When everything happened, and they did his bloods, I said 'I can tell you now there is nothing there. He wouldn't even take a paracetamol off me'.

"He didn't want to do anything to jeopardise his test. He wanted everything to go right."

At the airport, a car was waiting to take them to an apartment-hotel, where they would be staying for the first few weeks.

"We were laughing in the car on the way there, saying 'We are freeeee'. We were so excited. We had a viewing that day for a home on the Palm."

The couple arrived early and their room wasn't ready so they sat and had coffee while they waited for a key card so they could have a rest in a temporary room.

"We were sitting at the table and he was next to me and he texted me 'I love you' and I texted him back 'I love you more'."

Emily begins to get emotional and apologises.

"He decided to go to the gym while I went up to get some rest. Then he joined me shortly afterwards and we slept for about an hour.

"He woke and said he would go downstairs to see if our room was ready. After about 10 minutes he wasn't answering his phone. He was always so responsive so I went to check on him.

"I had just opened the door when the phone rang in the room. A voice said, 'There's been a terrible accident. You need to come down'."

Killian had gone to the reception for the key card and was in the bathroom in the lobby washing his hands when he collapsed.

An ambulance took him to hospital and Emily followed. Once there, she says: "I barged through the doors and shouted at them to keep trying. I was very conscious I was the only one there for him and I was responsible to make sure they did everything they could."

Doctors worked on him for over an hour but it was too late. In shock, Emily rang Killian's parents, who took the next flight out. She then went to be with her fiance and to hold his hand.

"I just lay on his chest and cried," she says.

It's been a little over a year but months of post-traumatic stress followed. She had "the same nightmare every night" and describes the moment the grief hit her in the mornings "like someone stabbing your chest, it was horrific".

A post-mortem found Killian had suffered sudden cardiac death syndrome, an illness that takes the life of two people under the age of 35 each week in Ireland.

Cardiac abnormalities can be spotted with an ECG test and Emily wants to encourage others to get checked. She also encourages those who have lost a loved one from the illness to seek help from the Irish charity CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young).

For her own part, she has met the reality of their stolen future together with a notable grace.

"I haven't found myself that angry. Maybe it will come. I feel very fortunate for having had him. I had an epiphany one day: yes, I'm angry at the universe for taking him but whatever took him away from me also gave him to me.

"Killian showed me what true love is and what goodness is and nothing can ever change that."

She recalls a conversation they had with her sister two weeks to the day before he died. "We were in my kitchen and I said I do think there is so much more to this world than we'll ever be able to understand. And he said, 'If you are right and anything ever happens, I'll be around'."

To find out more about CRY, visit www.cry.ie or telephone 01 414 2235

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