WALKING down the aisle as the theme song to Love Actually played, Anna-Louise Bates felt a lump in her throat.
In front of a socially distanced crowd of family and friends in St Martin’s Church, Cardiff, she was about to get married again — five years after her life was torn apart by tragedy.
It was a second chance at happiness she never envisaged after her husband Stuart, 43, and seven-year-old son Fraser were killed when a car ploughed into them as the family walked home from a party together.
Anna-Louise was left a widowed mum to daughter Elizabeth, now eight.
Former lawyer Anna-Louise, 44, says: “Losing Stuart and Fraser in such a horrific way almost destroyed me. I honestly wondered if I would ever be happy again.
“I feel so lucky to have found someone again who truly loves and cares about me and has made me smile again.”
Anna-Louise and Stuart had been together for 11 years when the unimaginable happened.
“Our life was always exciting and fun-filled,” she says.
“We did everything together — always singing together, or piggy-back racing in the lounge. No day was ever boring.”
Then, on the evening of December 5, 2015, they were walking home with friends after a party where Stuart had been Father Christmas.
A car came out of nowhere and hit Stuart and Fraser.
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“I will never, ever forget the trauma of it,” says Anna-Louise.
“Stuey was declared dead at the scene but I couldn’t say goodbye to him as I was whisked away to be with Fraser in intensive care.”
Fraser died several hours later at Bristol Children’s Hospital.
Anna-Louise, from Cardiff, says: “After that, it was a struggle to keep breathing and get through the day.
“I tried to stay strong for Elizabeth as I gave interviews to the police and organised the funeral. But I kept thinking I must have done something horrific to deserve this happening to us.
“In the weeks and months afterwards, I was plunged into unimaginable grief. I could barely function.
“Each day I would wake up, and try to get through one moment, then the next. I was existing, not living.
“The hardest times were when Elizabeth and I would come home and shut the door, and be there all alone.”
Having donated Fraser’s kidneys, lungs, liver and heart and Stuart’s tissue following their deaths, Anna-Louise decided to throw herself into setting up a charity to raise awareness of organ donation.
She named it Believe — after the 2013 film about a kids’ seven-a-side football team that Manchester United fan Fraser loved.
Anna-Louise says: “I did not ever seek retribution from the driver but was glad to have some closure so I could focus again on the positives — the joy that Stuart and Fraser had given while they were alive.”
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Then, in November 2018, Anna-Louise met her now-husband Zach Stubbings, 42, after he bought a Fraser Bear teddy from Believe.
The ex-RAF instructor, who is now a crewman for the Search and Rescue service, was a divorced dad of two.
He suffers from myeloma, a form of blood cancer that has been inactive for the past five years.
Anna-Louise says: “Our friendship started with walks and coffee and then Zach asked me out for a meal.
“I loved the fact he listened to me, and as he had only moved to Cardiff in 2018, he knew me for me — not as the woman who had lost her husband and son in such a tragic incident.
“But I still felt conflicted. I worried it was too soon, and couldn’t face telling anyone in case they judged me, so I told Zach we could only be friends.
“Kind and patient, he agreed without hesitation. But we kept spending time together and in March 2019 he explained that he wanted more — and asked if I would date him properly.
“I realised I couldn’t live with ‘what ifs’ — I had to grab this chance at happiness. All my family and friends were so supportive, but I was still wobbly and felt terribly guilty for loving someone new.
“I realised then that I was struggling with survivor’s guilt — for the first time, part of me wasn’t wishing that I had died in the accident, too.
“But Zach is a wonderful man and he helped me realise that I deserved to be happy. I didn’t need to feel guilty or ashamed for smiling and holding his hand, for not being lonely any more.
“When I introduced Zach to Elizabeth, she took to him straight away.”
Zach has two sons, Owynn, 11, and Iestyn, 14, and Anna-Louise says they all “adore each other”.
Anna-Louise and Zach decided to move in together for lockdown as he had to shield.
“It was fantastic to have him here,” says Anna-Louise.
“We did have a Covid scare and I was frightened about losing him and I continue to be so with his condition.”
Having already asked Anna-Louise’s dad for her hand in marriage, Zach proposed on September 18, 2019, at Castell Coch, a 19th-century castle just outside Cardiff.
He knew the picturesque setting was special to Anna-Louise as it was the backdrop for the charity’s animation — featuring its mascot Fraser Bear — to spread awareness of organ donation.
The couple married on August 30 this year, with Elizabeth as bridesmaid, and Zach’s sons as ushers and ring-bearers.
Anna-Louise says: “We were surrounded by so much love and I felt I had Stuart and Fraser’s blessing too and they were watching over us. Everyone was thrilled for us both and that felt so good. We both felt very blessed.
“Zach appreciates that Stuart and Fraser are a part of our lives and that Elizabeth should never forget her dad and her brother.
“Elizabeth really respects Zach and I think she can categorise it easier than anyone — she has two dads and three brothers, but two are in heaven. She has a lot of love to go around.”
Five years on from the deaths of Stuart and Fraser, Anna-Louise is still working tirelessly with Believe.
She has now heard from some of the families that Fraser helped, and keeps in touch with the little boy who received his heart.
“It’s wonderful knowing that Fraser did not die in vain and he has given someone else life. I feel so incredibly proud of my boy,” she says.
“My mission is to help other families through the traumatic process.
Educating children about organ donation from a young age is key, in my opinion. I want to help other parents to have the conversation.”
Despite her newfound happiness, Anna-Louise’s scars will never fully heal.
She says: “Fraser would have been starting high school this month so it has been a difficult time. Milestones like that do get harder as Fraser, especially, seems further away.
“I daren’t think about what he would be as that would just spark anger and pain. But rather, I try to appreciate what he was — the magical boy who will be forever young, who showed me we should all live life to the full as you never ever know what’s around the corner.
“I will always keep his name alive with Believe.
“No one can prepare you for the unimaginable, but after such devastation, I now have a wonderful, blended family.
“We are all very lucky to have found each other. Life really is a gift. That’s why you have to make the most of it.”