Love & learn ... to love again

February 13, 2005|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Joanne Seilhamer knows that lightning can strike twice.

She said she felt that her life was over and that she never would love again after her husband of 21 years, Garry Statler, died of pancreatic cancer in February 1986. Then she met widower Will Seilhamer - and learned that her heart could grow to nurture love for a new mate while holding love for a deceased spouse.

"Because of a death, that love doesn't stop. Your heart's still full of it," said Seilhamer, 57, of Boonsboro. New partners "don't fill that hole in your heart - your heart grows."

She and other widows and widowers in the Tri-State area said there's hope for love again after the death of a spouse. Though rarely easy - especially with regards to familial acceptance - they said starting new romances has enabled them to once again enjoy life to its fullest.


Seilhamer and some others struck again with cupid's arrow feel their new relationships were fated to be, that a higher power intervened to bring two people together, even that their dead spouses had a hand in kindling the new love.

"I compare our relationship with God closing two windows at the same time and opening up a door," Seilhamer said. "Many times during our marriage, we've said that Angie (Seilhamer) and Garry are in heaven sitting on a cloud watching us and having a few laughs."

In many cases, couples with spousal loss in common said sharing their grief with each other helped them to come to terms with the deaths of their loved ones and move forward.

Here are their stories.

Second chance

Jennifer Smallwood wasn't looking for love after the sudden death of husband Kevin in September 2002.

The local couple married in 1995, moved to Florida, and had just celebrated their fourth anniversary when Kevin was paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident, said Jennifer Smallwood, 31. Her husband died about three years later.

"I felt really, really alone," Smallwood said. "I felt like all of our hopes and dreams were gone."

Planning to return home to Hagerstown, she asked a cousin to help her find a place to live. He introduced her to family friend James McBee, who needed a roommate for his home in Big Pool.

She wanted to run from the memories that plagued her in Florida. But she decided to stay and face her problems.

Finally, in August 2003, Smallwood called McBee to see if the room still was available. They began talking frequently over the phone.

"Our cell phone bills were outrageous. We just had a great connection," Smallwood said. "After we met again, we fell in love. ... I was not looking."

She moved in with McBee, 32, in November 2003. The couple welcomed a daughter, Emily, into their lives in August 2004. They plan to marry next year.

Happiness out of sadness

Ron and Carol Bachtell's romance started with a simple hug and grew into a deep love that the couple believes was meant to be.

"Every moment we have together is perfect," Carol Bachtell said.

Widower Ron Bachtell of Smithsburg met his future wife through daughter RuAnne Salvatore, who was attending a hospice bereavement class with Carol, whose mother passed away nine days before Ron's wife, Carolyn Bachtell, died of breast cancer in April 2000.

"She thought her dad and I might hit it off," said Carol Bachtell, 59.

Sparks flew when she and Ron, 67, hugged after a holiday hospice dinner; the couple's chemistry was even more apparent during a New Year's Eve gathering a few weeks later. But it was a year of slow dating - long evening phone calls, visits and dates to establish a foundation of friendship, respect and trust - that cemented Ron's desire to marry again and Carol's desire to wed for the first time.

"There was not a single doubt in my mind," she said. "I feel it was meant to be, that God brought us together. Out of sadness came happiness."

The Bachtells said they couldn't be happier together - "joined at the hip" is how they described themselves - though they're still working slowly to garner the acceptance of Ron Bachtell's adult daughters. Carol Bachtell emphasized that she's not trying to replace their mother, only to provide quality companionship to their father by being herself.

Friendship and marriage

Dale and Dorothy Binkley, both 76, got married in October 1999 - "and they still are on their honeymoon," said Dorothy Binkley's daughter, Betty Smith of Clear Spring. "They are like teenagers, still walking around holding hands and such. It's neat to see."

Longtime friends who lived near each other in the Clear Spring area, the Binkleys started dating about five months after the December 1997 death of Dale Binkley's first wife, Ruby. Dorothy Binkley's first husband, Milton Snyder, died in September 1987. Milton Snyder and Dale Binkley had been close friends for nearly 50 years - Snyder even named a son after Binkley and another close chum, Dorothy Binkley said.

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