Four months later they were engaged and planning a wedding in August 2008.
Of course, their friends in Friends Through Loss are invited. They are like extended family.
Other couples who met through the group have formed. At least one pair has married -- Alex Lipske and Linda Moreland got married April 2 -- and at least one other couple is engaged.
Carolyn Stetak and Betty Haberbeck, organize the monthly get-togethers of Friends Through Loss. The group is nicknamed Healing Hearts, the name of the bereavement support group of Hospice of Washington County through which the original members met, said Stetak and Haberbeck.
Nobody likes to eat alone, Stetak said. The group has gone out to dinner, to the Washington County Playhouse, to the rodeo show at Antietam Recreation or to a member's home for a covered dish picnic.
It was a chance to see one another under different circumstances, in different scenery and atmosphere where everyone could start to laugh and have a good time, Haberbeck said. Originally, the group consisted of about 27 women and one man, Stetak said. They began inviting other widowers, including Rodney Stevenson, so the one man wouldn't feel intimidated.
Some members started dating each other.
"We're kind of the first couple to couple up but everyone else is beating us to the alter," said Carolyn Bowman, who lives near Boonsboro and became engaged to Phil Rader of Mercersburg, Pa., on Valentine's Day.
Setting a summer wedding
Tritle and Stevenson will marry in August. Like them, Bowman and Rader eliminated a lot of dates in planning their wedding date. Neither couple wanted to schedule the date at a time that was significant with their late spouse, such as a birthday or wedding anniversary.
The other benefit of an August wedding, said Tritle and Stevenson, is that it gives their families a little more time to get comfortable with their impending nuptials. They became engaged after dating only four months.
Before he proposed on Christmas Day, Stevenson asked for the permission of Tritle's daughter, Emily Lynch, and Tritle's youngest son, Logan, the only child still living at home.
"I didn't want him thinking I was trying to steal his dad's glory," said Stevenson, 59, who lives near Downsville. He told Tritle's children that each of them had a unique relationship with their dad and should always remember that.
"At the time, I wasn't sure, but I told him that he had my permission. I'm a lot more comfortable with it now," said Logan, 14.
Logan and Stevenson also have developed a friendly rivalry, as Logan attends North Hagerstown High School and Stevenson is a South Hagerstown High alum.
A comfortable feeling
Before she and Stevenson started dating, there were lots of long conversations, Rae Tritle said. They had a lot in common -- both grew up in the area, both married their high school sweethearts, both have children and both lost their spouse to pancreatic cancer.
They were so comfortable talking about their lives, families and late spouses, they often found themselves continuing to talk after the group had broken up to go home.
"It was just the most comfortable feeling. I never felt out of place," Tritle said.
And if she has a bad day, if something triggers a memory of how her husband suffered during his illness, Rae Tritle knows she can talk to Stevenson without guilt. He'll understand.
"We could talk openly about each other's spouses without each other being upset about it," she said. Or Stevenson can get her mind off a sad memory and back to a good one.
· For information about starting a new social group, local widows and widowers can call Carolyn Stetak at 301-582-2513.