Nov. 14, 2013 at 9:09 AM ET
Madonna Badger, the Connecticut woman who lost her three daughters and parents in a Christmas Day fire in 2011, has taken another step in rebuilding her life.
In a piece Badger, 49, wrote for Vogue titled "The Long Road Back," she reveals she's engaged to longtime friend Bill Duke, who was by her bedside when she was hospitalized after the tragic blaze.
Badger first met Duke when she dated one of his brothers years ago.
“Bill and I had stayed friends, and when I started looking for an apartment in New York in March, I called him— he’s a real estate broker — and we looked at houses for several weeks,’’ she wrote in Vogue. “One day he asked me out and I said yes. Recently he asked me to marry him, and I said yes to that, too. We’re getting married next September; more immediately, we’re volunteering together this Christmas to help kids in need."
On Christmas Day in 2011, a fire in Badger’s home in Stamford, Conn., claimed the lives of daughters Lily, 9, twins Grace and Sarah, 7, and her parents, Lomer Johnson, 71, and Pauline Johnson, 69. Badger and then-boyfriend Michael Borcina, a contractor who was renovating the home, were the only survivors.
“It’s never going to be easy,’’ Badger wrote. “The pain is just so huge that sometimes it feels like a prison cell. But trying really hard to not feel sorry for myself makes me feel good."
Badger buried her daughters’ ashes at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn this fall.
After the fire, Badger had suicidal thoughts, and was committed to a Connecticut psychiatric hospital. She spent time in a facility in Nashville, too, before moving to Little Rock, Ark., to be near good friend Kate Askew and her husband.
The couple had one condition: She could stay with them as long as she didn't try to kill herself. Badger agreed.
“I was lying through my teeth. At that point I was far closer to killing myself than I was at any other point during the tragedy — I felt sure it was my only option.”
Badger lived in Little Rock for nearly a year, piecing her life back together with the help of Dr. Richard Smith at the Psychiatric Research Institute at the University of Arkansas.
On the first anniversary of the fire last Christmas, Badger traveled to an orphanage in Thailand to volunteer. She brought a bag of toys that had belonged to her children.
“I closed my eyes, and when I opened them we were all crying,’’ Badger wrote about distributing the presents. “When I looked into the girls’ faces, I saw my children. It broke me open in a way I still can’t fully explain. But if these little girls were living their lives with joy and happiness, I realized — and if they could give their love to me after all they had been through — how could I possibly feel sorry for myself?”
In June, she returned to work at the ad agency in Manhattan that she runs with partner Jim Winters. Her ex-husband, Matthew, the father of her three daughters, continues to work to honor their children.
Because the girls were dyslexic, she wrote in the piece, the LilySarahGraceFund helps bring the arts into public schools.
“Matthew’s passion for the foundation is his way of honoring them.”