MH17 widow's vow to her two boys
THEY chatted over Facebook, he boarded a flight, and then he was gone forever.
Now MH17 victim Robert Ayley's wife, Sharlene, has spoken for the first time about the tragedy, the "waiting game" for the father of her two children to be recovered and how she said goodbye.
Mr Ayley, 29, was on his way home to Wellington after a month in Europe when he boarded Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Amsterdam on July 17.
The aircraft was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
Before he boarded he had been chatting with his wife on Facebook. He was looking forward to coming home, to seeing her and their sons, Seth, 4, and Taylor, 2.
"He said, 'I've got to go, the bus is here'. Then I got another message saying, 'I missed the bus, bugger.
There'll be another one soon,'" Mrs Ayley told the Herald in her first interview.
"I first found out about the plane being shot down early in the morning. We didn't get confirmation that he was definitely on that flight until 12 hours later, about 7.30pm. Then it was a waiting game," she said.
"We waited to find out whether they would find and identify his body or not. And then, at midnight I heard a knock at the door and I knew.
"I went downstairs and saw my sister and her husband with the police and I knew. I cried out, I screamed, I broke down.
"And from there, another waiting game. I had to wait for him to come home ... and then for the funeral.
"It was traumatising to know that my husband was on the other side of the world, lying in a morgue. It was surreal."
Mr Ayley's parents, John and Wendie, travelled to Britain to bring his body home."Knowing that the funeral was coming up was just agonising," Mrs Ayley said.
"But as hard as it was, it was actually a good thing. We were finally able to say goodbye. He was home."
She was able to spend time with her husband before the funeral.
I was actually able to see him. He was all wrapped up so I asked for the lid of the coffin to be removed. I was able to say goodbye.
Mrs Ayley said telling her boys the daddy they adored was never coming home was devastating.
Robert Ayley's parents, John and Wendie, travelled to Britain to bring his body home.
"Initially it was so hard to keep from getting emotional. But I talk to Seth about it in a way that a 4-year-old can understand.
"He doesn't understand about terrorism, and I don't want him to be afraid so I haven't told him that part. I have told him that the plane crashed and that daddy died.
"The day before we had to fly to Wellington for the funeral Seth said, 'Dad was on a plane and he died,'" Mrs Ayley said.
"I said, 'Yes, he did die and he's in heaven, which is a lovely place. You will be safe on the plane, I promise.'"
Mrs Ayley said her husband would not be forgotten.
"I'm intending on giving them lots of photos and keeping Rob present in their memories. I am going to talk to them about how much their father loved them, how he loved to play with them, read to them," she explained.
"I will tell them how much their father looked forward to coming home and giving them a big cuddle at night, just so they know that he wasn't some sort of imaginary figure and that he did really love them."
She said the little boys were the only reason she hadn't given up on life.
"The children are really helping me. I can't just fall to pieces and wallow in grief when I have these two little boys that depend on me. They are my saving grace."
When Mr Ayley died his wife moved closer to her family.
"Having our own space and getting back into a routine has been the most helpful thing for us. The boys really like it and we are feeling really secure."
She said support from her family and Mr Ayley's had helped immensely.
"And the public support through donations and the beautiful cards and messages has been amazing and very touching. I still need to go back and read everything and send thank you cards. I really want to do that."
What happened to MH17?
The Boeing 777-200ER airliner was shot down as it flew over eastern Ukraine on 17 July. It was flying to Kuala Lumpur.
Who was on the flight?
298 passengers and 15 crew, including 20 family groups. Eighty passengers were children. Two New Zealanders died: British-born Robert Ayley and Mary Menke, who lived in Australia.
Who was responsible?
Investigators believe pro-Russian separatists shot a Buk surface-to-air missile at MH17 as it flew over territory they controlled. A report into the tragedy is due out in in mid-2015.