A heartbroken widower has opened a miniature lending library in memory of his late wife who passed away from a malignant brain tumor just 15 minutes after their wedding.
When Shaff Prabatani, realized his beloved partner Lou Thulin Simonsen was going to lose her life to cancer, he was determined to grant her one last wish, getting married.
So, on August 12, 2019, surrounded by loved ones and their daughters, Alia and Hannah, Shaff and Lou were pronounced husband and wife in her hometown of Aalborg, Denmark.
Squeezing the reverend's palm in place of saying "I do," just minutes later Lou took her last breath.
Now Shaff, has again paid tribute to the woman he loved by starting a little library in her name.
“Lou always said that reading transported her to another world – even when she was at her sickest," he said.
“She wanted everyone to read more. Our daughters love reading, too, and our house is stuffed full of books!"
Shaff and Lou (PA Real Life/Collect)
“A little library is the perfect way to celebrate Lou and her life," she said.
Shaff sincerely believes his wife, who moved to England in 2006 for a “change of scenery," refused to let go of life until they tied the knot.
“I don't normally believe in things like this, but I honestly think she was holding out to get married before she passed away," he said.
Lou and Shaff (PA Real Life/Collect)
“It was a promise I'd made to her and she made me keep it," he continued.
“Now, although she may no longer be with us, I've started the library as I'm determined that her memory will live on."
Celebrating their 10th anniversary together in 2018, after meeting online, Shaff and Lou could not have been happier.
But, that summer, Lou developed the first symptoms of the brain tumor that claimed her life.
“She started getting nasty headaches throughout the day," Shaff explained.
“After a few weeks she noticed her eyesight was deteriorating and saw the optician and the doctor – neither of whom was concerned at first."
Lou and Alia (PA Real Life/Collect)
“But by October she was constantly nauseous and her eyesight became so bad she couldn't even recognize a birthday candle with a huge number on it," he said.
After visiting her GP again later that month, she was put on the waiting list for a referral to see a neurologist.
Ironically, she had lost a friend to a brain tumor the year before, so did not want to wait and, instead, went to London's Guy's and St Thomas Hospital A&E department in Waterloo, south east London, where she demanded a scan.
Alia, Lou and Hannah (PA Real Life/Collect)
“She kept saying, 'I think I've got a brain tumor,'" Shaff said.
“The GP thought it was stress related, while I was convinced she was having migraines."
Given a CAT scan to “put her mind at rest," sadly Lou was right.
Alia, Hannah and Lou (PA Real Life/Collect)
“She rang me and told me, so I went straight to her," said Shaff.
The scan revealed a shadow on her brain and she was referred to south east London's King's College Hospital, where she had an MRI scan four days later.
The MRI scan confirmed that Lou had a brain tumor and she was scheduled in for a biopsy two days later.
After an agonizing two-week wait, Shaff was with her when she was told she had a grade three to four malignant brain tumor and was given between one and two years to live.
“They told us it was inoperable and incurable. We were in utter shock and disbelief," he said.
“Lou looked the picture of health – she ate well and did yoga. It simply didn't compute. She just said, 'I'm not accepting that. I will beat this.'"
“That was Lou all over. She had a fighting spirit and had spent years championing other people's causes. For four years she played a huge part in mobilising hundreds of people to donate winter clothes to refugees."
Shaff and Lou (PA Real Life/Collect)
Beginning 30 sessions of grueling radiotherapy straight away, along with a monthly dose of orally administered chemotherapy, over the festive season she made five trips to Guy's and St Thomas' a week.
“It was tough," said Shaff. “We explained to the kids that mummy was poorly, but Lou insisted that the doctors would make her better and they believed her."
Despite being madly in love, the couple had different views on marriage, with Shaff “not seeing the point," while Lou was keen to tie the knot.
Lou (PA Real Life/Collect)
Then her diagnosis changed everything.
“Lou had always wanted to get married, but I'd seen it as nothing more than a piece of paper and a ring," he said.
“But in January 2019 I took her down to Brighton, in East Sussex, for a night – we always loved it there – and told her to pick out a diamond ring, whichever one she wanted."
Lou after Shaff proposed in Brighton (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Typical Lou didn't want a showy one, she asked if there were any 'less shiny ones,'" he continued.
“In the end we found a rose diamond from a vintage shop, which was understated like her. That night I ordered beautiful room service and got down on one knee and told her I loved her and wanted her to be my wife."
“We hugged each other and cried. She insisted we would get married after she'd beaten the cancer, that's how convinced she was she was going to survive."
Finishing radiotherapy at the end of January, in March 2019, the couple were given a glimmer of hope when an MRI scan showed the tumor had not grown in size.
But the cancer and the treatment had given her a terrible battering.
“Lou had always been so sharp minded," he said.
“Sadly, that cognitive ability started to fade. It also impacted the left side of her body, because of where the tumour was in her brain."
Bridesmaids Alia and Hannah with groom Shaff (PA Real Life/Collect)
“She struggled to move like she used to and her speech was slurred," he said.
Not wanting to cancel a planned family trip to the Spanish island of Menorca in May, despite them being quoted over $4,000 for Lou's travel insurance, which they could not afford, she insisted they went without it.
“She just said, 'Screw it,'" recalled Shaff. “We didn't have travel insurance for the trip and she didn't care."
Groom Shaff with bridesmaids Alia and Hannah (PA Real Life/Collect)
“She refused to stop living," he said.
Continuing to have monthly chemotherapy, it stemmed the growth of the tumor, but Lou's health deteriorated rapidly.
In August 2019, with Lou by then using a wheelchair full-time, the couple and their children flew to Aalborg to visit friends and family.
Shaff and Lou on their wedding day (PA Real Life/Collect)
“She still couldn't accept the fact she was dying," Shaff said.
Sensing that his wife had little time left, he then convinced her to get married while they were still in Denmark.
“She really didn't want to get married when she looked so poorly, but we all insisted it was a brilliant idea and she finally agreed," he said.
“Despite only having a week to plan it, we had a beautiful day planned beside a nearby fjord."
Planning to get married on August 12, 2019, on the morning of her wedding Lou had a seizure, which left her unconscious.
“We had to cancel the wedding," Shaff explained. “The officiator said we wouldn't be able to go ahead as she couldn't say 'I do.'"
“It was clear that we didn't have long left with Lou, so we called the local reverend and she agreed to come immediately and married us.She arrived on her motorbike with bleached blonde hair and said that if Lou squeezed her hand she would know it was her way of saying 'I do.'"
There, in her homeland, surrounded by her nearest and dearest, Lou became Shaff's wife – finally letting go and passing away peacefully just 15 minutes later.
Leave for Lou's memorial tree (PA Real Life/Collect)
Two weeks later the reverend who married the couple took the service as they laid Lou to rest at her family plot.
“Four days before we lost Lou, I told the girls the doctors couldn't make Mummy better, but they couldn't understand what I meant," Describing how he broke the news to his girls, Shaff said.
“For months they'd heard Lou insisting she would get better."
Lou's Little Library (PA Real Life/Collect)
“After she passed, the children were stunned and confused," he continued.
“I explained that Mummy wasn't with us on Earth anymore, but was with us in a different way. I felt so bad for them, knowing they'd lost their mum. It was like they lost part of themselves too."
“They both speak Danish and all I could think was that they won't hear their Danish lullabies before bed anymore," he said.
With friends and family rallying around, after Lou's passing, the children gradually adjusted to their new normal.
And, when her 43rd birthday arrived on April 13 2020, the family marked the occasion in a very special way.
Lou's Little Library (PA Real Life/Collect)
“We've all had bereavement counselling and something that struck me is how the girls always saw their mum as a beautiful tree which sheltered and protected them," Shaff explained.
“So, I decided to ask all our friends and family to post a memory of Lou and write it on a leaf-shaped piece of paper."
“We received 120 leaves in total and on her birthday we read them all, before building a memory tree in the kitchen."
Now determined to preserve her memory for the sake of his children, Shaff has given back to the community by opening a lending library in her name.
“The library is a beautiful, understated Scandinavian style cabinet nestled in a hedge, where people can lend and borrow books," he said.
“I took the girls to the workshop so they could see the library take shape and feel part of its creation."
Alia, Shaff and Hannah in front of their memories tree (PA Real Life/Collect)
“We hope Lou's Little Library will be a living memorial to her and, most importantly, that it will inspire more people to pick up a book and experience the magic of reading," he continued.
“We're also looking to the amazing community here in Streatham to help fill its shelves. We'd love to share the books that people treasure – the ones you just can't wait for someone else to read and enjoy as well."
Alia, Shaff, Lou and Hannah (PA Real Life/Collect)
“So, please leave a message inside for whoever is lucky enough to get your book next," he said.
Find out more about Lou's Little Library at Facebook.com/LouLittleLibrary