TODAY'S WOMAN - 'Grab your happiness with both hands'

'Tis better to have loved and lost, they say.

Every day for the past 12 months, Jean Perrotti has been reminding herself of that.

And today, she's smiling.

"I'm happy because I'm in Trevor's city, which is my second home now.

It's where I feel closest to him," she says.

But no sooner are the words out of her mouth than her eyes are brimming with tears. We are but two minutes into our interview.

"I knew I'd do this," she apologises, in her soft New Jersey accent.

There is no apology to make.

Jean's grief is still so raw.

It is just a year since she lost the love of her life. The man who sheer chance, and the internet, had brought into her world, from 3,000 miles away.

Although the Atlantic Ocean separated them, Jean and her Trevor had been inseparable in mind and spirit for six years. From the moment they met online back in October 2003, not a day went by without them exchanging the minutiae of everyday life - and the enormity of their feelings for each other.

"We were in touch with each other every single day until the day he died, whether it was by email, text or telephone, " she says. "He was the perfect man for me."

Trevor Herrington, Sheffield born and bred, a chef at Sheffield Children's Hospital, self-proclaimed football fanatic, utterly devoted supporter of Sheffield Football Club and, by accounts, all-round nice guy, may not have set the world alight or been every woman's idea of a heart-throb. But he was Jean's. And she misses him desperately.

Right this moment, theirs is an achingly sad love story, one of finding something incredibly special against all odds, then having it all taken away from you by something even more powerful than love. Trevor died on January 13 2009, only months after being diagnosed with cancer of the spine.

But ultimately, theirs is a positive, uplifting tale of keeping your heart open to possibilities, of taking a risk when you think you might have found that all too rare emotion all over again, just when you are least expecting it - and friends are telling you it's crazy to embark on a Transatlantic love affair at your age.

Jean had been enjoying chatting to people from all over the world when a message came through from "this guy in the UK called Trevor."

They messaged about anything and everything and despite the huge differences in their lives, something deeper started to develop for long-divorced 49-year-old Trevor in Firth Park and the never-been-married 48-year-old schools administrative secretary in Vineland, New Jersey.

They first spoke on the phone four months in - after Trevor had told her to watch a DVD of The Full Monty so she would understand his Northern accent.

Two months later, Jean was making the trip many friends thought she was mad to take.

She recalls: "I flew into Manchester and he met me at the airport. I remember seeing him and thinking: Oh my God he's so handsome - and he's here for ME!"

Jean had been almost paralysed with fear before her arrival, even though they had traded scores of pictures via email.

"I'm what I call heavy-set and self-conscious about it: I was so worried that would put him off that I'd phoned him the day before my flight to warn him: "There's one last thing I haven't told you.; I've got fat arms.

But she needn't have worried. Just as she was exactly as he knew she would be, so he turned out to be everything she had thought... a lovely, sensitive and gentle man.

On the last day of Trevor's reciprocal first visit to The States, he told her he loved her.

"And I told him. I never expected to feel that way at almost 50. I'd been in some lousy relationships in my time and honestly had thought that was it for me. But they tell you that's when it happens, don't they? That love strikes when you're least expecting it."

The plan was for them to continue their relationship the way it had begun, until such a time as Jean, who looked after her mother, could come to live in the UK, when they would marry.

They did so happily, criss-crossing the ocean on a regular basis, making new friends and surrogate families. During the years of her courtship, Jean came to Sheffield on eight occasions and loved it. She even learned to understand football at Sheffield FC where Trevor was famed for writing a column in the programme.

But then, the plans, the dreams, were taken away.

"Just after I'd visited in November 2008, Trevor got sick. The back pain he'd been suffering from suddenly paralysed him from the waist down and he was diagnosed with cancer on December 27," she says quietly.

"Everything happened so quickly. His ex-wife Joy, who had remained a very good friend to him, rang to tell me. I couldn't believe it. The last time I'd seen him, we'd been blowing kisses to each other across the barriers at the airport."

He begged Jean not to come to his bedside. She felt he was trying to protect her from seeing him in such distress, and against her better instincts, she obeyed.

"He died on January 13. I came a few days after, for his funeral. I was there with his friends and family, and I was there for the minute's applause for Trevor at his beloved Sheffield FC's next game," she says, as tears fall again.

She and Joy, united by their love for the same man, now share a deep friendship and Trevor's ashes.

"I have mine in a little box Trevor once gave me. It's on my bedside, so he's close by," she says. Jean staged a celebration of her Sheffield man in his adopted New Jersey homeland for all the friends he had made.

And she is determined to keep her link with Sheffield.

This time, she is back to commemorate the anniversary of his death.

"I got off the plane and couldn't help scanning the crowd at arrivals for his face," she says as we sit in the Winter Gardens, a place that brings her peace, happy memories and a deep sadness, all at the same time.

The day before, she had walked through Firth Park, which lies close to Trevor's home on Hamilton Road, remembering.

She laid bunches of pink carnations, just like the ones Trevor used to buy for her, on the park benches where they used to sit, another at the bus stop where they used to wait for a journey into town.

Despite being so far from home, she is totally at ease here. "Trevor taught me well," she explains. "He showed me which buses and trams to take, what was a good price and what wasn't, where the good places to eat were and who made the best coffee in town," she says.

"He was so proud of his city and he instilled his love of it in me," she says.

"The fact that we met was like some kind of miracle. Now he has gone I have good days and bad days, but I remind myself of how lucky I was to have had him in my life.

"To anyone who is single, I would say take a chance - step out of the box.

She urges: "Stay safe, but take a risk if someone you think could be very special suddenly pops into your life the way Trevor did in mine.

"Grab the happiness offered to you and enjoy it while you can.

"I had Trevor's love for just six years, but I am so glad of them."

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