Nadene Lomu vividly recalls the day she drove towards the Auckland Harbour Bridge, shaking uncontrollably with tears streaming down her face.
She wanted to put her foot down and drive off, to make the unbearable pain and torment stop. It'd been less than a year since her husband and All Black legend Jonah Lomu tragically died of a heart attack in their Epsom home, after his gruelling battle with kidney disease. In that moment, the mum-of-two saw no other way out of the darkness.
"Somehow I could hear Jonah's voice saying over and over, 'You can't give up'," recalls Nadene, 41, opening up to Woman's Day about the extent of her struggles after the rugby great's passing in November 2015.
"I managed to pull over and dial a few numbers before getting hold of my parents in Wellington, and they knew they needed to come up."
She admits if it wasn't for her devoted dad Mervyn and mum Lois Quirk, who now live nearby in Auckland, she probably wouldn't be here.
"I was in such a bad place and it felt like it would never end," Nadene weeps. Beside her are the lovely, well-mannered sons she had with Jonah – Brayley, 10, and nine-year-old Dhyreille – who play happily on a Nintendo Switch as she bravely explains reaching breaking point.
At the time, a news article came out criticising Nadene for buying a new Porsche, following earlier backlash over a Givealittle page set up for her sons soon after Jonah's death. She says the charity fundraiser was established at the suggestion of her cousin because of an influx of people – including the royal family and rugby club owners – who wanted to know how they could donate.
It was suggested it would be best if Nadene's name was on it for "transparency" – a decision she now regrets. It sparked vicious cyberbullying. On top of grappling with the loss of her soulmate, Nadene received hundreds of hate messages.
"I had people judging me for things like the car I was driving, even though I had a line-up of sports cars and owned a property well before I met Jonah," she says. "When you're grieving, it makes everything more difficult.
"I was hardly breathing, let alone coping, and had to be put on medication to help with all the pressure I was under."
It was the recent tragic passing of Shortland Street actor Pua Magasiva, who was a friend, that encouraged Nadene to open up about her suicidal thoughts.
She tells, "I completely get it when I hear that celebrities commit suicide. When you're a public figure, there's a lot of judgement and your life just isn't your own any more. Yes, it comes with the territory, but no-one deserves to be hated and bullied for making the same mistakes as the neighbour down the road."
With the support of professionals and her loved ones, Nadene no longer feels depressed and admits she was forced to grow a thicker skin.
"It got to the point where I just had to remind myself I'm not the person they say and Jonah loved me without a doubt," she shares.
"He would be ropeable if he saw how I was treated. But I'll always find it hard to break down my walls and trust others as the children grow up. People will always have opinions."
When Nadene heard the recent Three miniseries Jonah was being filmed about her hubby's fascinating life, she wasn't sure what to expect. But the film crew invited her and the boys on set and Brayley even joined in on a scene.
"It was the scene where a group of fans are calling out, 'Jonah! Jonah!' and both boys agreed to do it," says Nadene. "But it was a bit much for Dhyreille having to call out his dad's name, and he started crying, and then I was crying. Brayley continued on and so I had one child clinging on to me while I waved and gave the other child the thumbs up, with tears gushing."
When she saw towering South Auckland actor Mosese Veaila, 22, dressed in the coveted number 11 All Blacks jersey, it was emotional.
"He did a good job learning how Jonah was as a person and various mannerisms, but it was quite raw and a bit of a roller-coaster," admits Nadene, who was played by Kiwi actress Jacqui Nauman.
"My heart was breaking seeing a person who resembled Jonah with little boys who were meant to be my sons. I wished it was their dad and he was playing with them."
Watch: Mosese Veaila plays his idol in the new miniseries Jonah. Article continues below.
A highlight for Nadene was the re-enactment of the day she met the then-Hurricanes player in 1997 at her family's Wellington pasta shop.
"Jonah visited the shop for lunch a lot and became good friends with my parents, and I'd stop in at lunchtime to help out and have something to eat," she confides. "But I just said 'hi' and 'bye' because I never followed rugby!"
Her parents joked that Jonah wasn't just there to enjoy the pasta. "Right up until the end, he could tell me the day he met me and exactly what I was wearing. Even I didn't remember!"
Nadene laughs. "We were friends for 13 years before falling in love and had common interests including music. Jonah also liked driving and I liked cars."
When Nadene fainted at a friend's wedding reception in Wellington in 2008, a year after they became a couple, Jonah dived into protector mode.
"He panicked and carried me out to the car, then sped to the hospital," she tells. "Since he was going fast, he got stopped by police on the way and said he needed to get me there, so they escorted him all the way!"
It turned out Nadene was pregnant with the first of what Jonah called their "miracle boys". It was a happy shock since Nadene has one ovary and Jonah was given a 0.001% chance of ever conceiving because of the treatments he had for his kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome.
"Jonah went to every pregnancy scan and was very hands-on with both boys," she beams.
"He constantly complimented me as a mum and we were very in tune with each other. Of the many accolades Jonah achieved, his greatest happiness was his sons. He told me every day how lucky he was to have me as his wife, how much he loved me and how grateful he was for giving him his miracle sons.
"After the pains and tribulations he endured throughout his life, he finally found his happy place and that's all I ever wanted."
At their family home, Jonah's presence is still very much alive. A T-shirt emblazoned with his name and the number 11 hangs neatly over a chair in the dining room – his boys have exactly the same shirts and wear them with pride – and the family van with the number plate JONAH is parked out front. It still has the stereo sounds he fitted and blasted during school drop-offs.
Brayley fondly recalls driving around listening to music with his dad and grins when Nadene mentions hearing them coming in the van before you could see them.
A visit to Paddington Station in London during their last family holiday is another highlight for the boys, where Jonah spoiled them with teddies in all sizes. They've seen the Paddington movie countless times, a warm reminder of their loving dad.
They also cherish the video of Jonah performing his last haka in Covent Garden, London, just before the start of the 2015 World Cup, which he dedicated to his young boys. "He mucked up a couple of the moves!" Brayley giggles.
Jonah's sons aren't playing rugby at the moment, but are right into tennis.
"They're very focused on their tennis training and I want them to learn what it's like to try and never give up, because that's one thing Jonah wanted them to understand," says Nadene. "I'm working on keeping them grounded so they're good, kind people."
She sees traits of Jonah in their boys. "Brayley is very empathetic and caring about others. He's very methodical and thinks things through, whereas Dhyreille is a bit more raw and ruthless, and will let you know if he likes you or doesn't!
"We always talk about Jonah and the boys know how much he loved them, and how proud he'd be of them both today."
Brayley and Dhyreille also share their father's love for shoes and are excited to wear the All Black great's collection of size 15 footwear.
"Jonah's shoes are still around the house and it's like he's going to walk in and put them on," Nadene smiles. "The boys have still got a bit of growing to do before they can fill them!"
Along with working as the director of the World Wide Lomu brand, the busy solo mum launched Nadene Lomu Cosmetics in 2017, which she calls her "saving grace".
She tells, "When I was in that really tough place, I had to find something to put my mind and grief into that was positive, where nobody could say, 'Oh, but that's Jonah.' The thing with grief is it doesn't really get easier, but you do get stronger."
Nadene admits her favourite place to hang out with the boys is at home, where they're free to be themselves in the company of family and close friends who helped her up from rock bottom. Despite talk of a rift between Nadene and Jonah's family, she says her door will always be open to them because of her sons.
"Jonah's dad's side of the family regularly call to see how the boys and I are doing," she says.
"They always tell me I'm doing a good job and how grateful they are that I took Jonah back to reunite with them when we were together."
The devoted mum doesn't plan on finding love again soon, but admits she's had conversations with friends.
"They tell me Jonah would want me to be happy and I know he would, but it's not something I'm worried about at the moment," she shrugs. "My focus is the children and work."
Nadene has no regrets about walking into a very public life with one of New Zealand's most famous sportsmen, and cherishes the many memories they shared at home and overseas.
She enthuses, "The love we had was unconditional and so that meant living with his fame and glory. Now it's my duty to honour his memory and keep the promises I made as the mother of Jonah Lomu's sons."
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