July 25, 2014 at 8:13 AM ET
More than two years after the heartbreak of losing her three young daughters and her parents in a tragic fire, Madonna Badger celebrated a joyous moment when she got married earlier this week.
Badger, 50, tied the knot with longtime friend Bill Duke, 61, on Tuesday after having announced their engagement this past November. "We did it! Bill and I eloped today!" she wrote on Facebook, where she posted a pair of pictures of the happy couple on the steps of St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, New York.
In November, Badger wrote a piece in Vogue titled "The Long Road Back," in which she revealed her engagement to Duke, a real-estate broker, while detailing her struggles in the aftermath of the loss of her family.
On Christmas Day in 2011, a fire in Badger’s home in Stamford, Connecticut, 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."
After the fire, Badger had suicidal thoughts, and was committed to a Connecticut psychiatric hospital. She also spent time in a facility in Nashville, before moving to Little Rock, Arkansas, and spending nearly a year living with good friend Kate Askew and her husband.
On the first anniversary of the fire, Badger volunteered at an orphanage in Thailand during Christmas, bringing along 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 honor their children through his work with the LilySarahGraceFund, which helps bring the arts into public schools.
Recently, Badger penned a letter to Cassidy Stay, the brave 15-year-old who survived the massacre of her family in her Texas home on July 9.
"Try to let the love all around you in...and little by little you will feel a tiny bit better. And that's all there is. LOVE."