Still struggling 12 years after her husband's death, something convinced her to respond to a listing on an over-50 dating site: a vintage bright yellow VW bus.
- Posted on Sep 7, 2017
“Mom, just give it a try.”
My grown son Danny was on the phone from Colorado. “Fifty-five-year-olds don’t do online dating,” I said. “We meet people the old-fashioned way.”
“Hah!” replied Danny. “And how’s that working out for you so far?”
“I don’t want to date,” I said. “I have Walter.” Walter was my rescued dog.
Danny laughed again, then turned serious. “It’s been 12 years since Dad died. You’re all alone there in New Mexico. It would be good for you to meet people. Alexa’s mom met someone on the internet, and now they’re engaged.”
Alexa was Danny’s wife. Her father had died of cancer a few years earlier—the same disease that took my Rick when he was just 44. Some days, I felt like I was finally coming out of my grief. Other days, it felt as if I’d just lost him.
Danny pressed on. “There’s a good dating site for people over 50. The one Alexa’s mom used. Why don’t you give it a try? There’s nothing to lose.”
I changed the subject, but I couldn’t help thinking about Danny’s suggestion after we got off the phone. Life had been hard for a long time after Rick died. We’d been high school sweethearts, and he was the love of my life. He was a park ranger—strong, outdoorsy, fun. My kind of guy. Danny and his brother, Ben, were teens when Rick died. Ben especially had struggled, and only recently had he found his footing.
Uplifting Quotes to Cope with Grief
I’d kept things together while the boys were at home. As soon as they moved out, I drifted—physically, emotionally and spiritually. I was too angry to pray. I’m a schoolteacher, and I did an exchange year at a school in Australia, hoping a faraway place would put an end to my grief. It didn’t.
At last, I decided to leave Estes Park, the Colorado mountain town I’d called home ever since Rick was posted at Rocky Mountain National Park. Everybody there knew me as Rick’s wife. Everything reminded me of my loss.
I found a job at a charter school in Taos, New Mexico. I loved the landscape and thought I might meet other people like me. I rented a condo, made friends and joined a book group. I saw Danny and Alexa and their beautiful twin girls every few months.
Eventually my anger at God cooled. I was praying again, though not quite the same as before. I was warier now. Less naïve. Everything I’d counted on in life had been taken from me once. I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
Not long after my conversation with Danny, my landlord announced she’d decided to sell the condo I’d been renting for the past three years. She asked if I wanted to buy it. Just as I was investigating whether I could afford the asking price, my principal told me my position at the charter school had been cut.
Suddenly I was out of a job and had 45 days to vacate the condo.
Searching frantically online for a job and a place to live, I kept seeing the same ad pop up on my computer. For the dating website Danny had mentioned.
“Is this some kind of joke?” I asked God. “Or a sign?”
Maybe if I signed up, the ads would go away. I filled out a profile, took a cursory look at some of the men—not my type—and forgot about it.
But I began getting notices that men had looked at my profile and sent me a “flirt”—a message. The site also suggested profiles I might want to look at. Curiosity got the better of me until I checked out the profiles and remembered why I didn’t like online dating.
One day, a notice popped up telling me someone had checked my profile. I clicked on the link, and the profile for a man named Steve appeared. He was better-looking than the other guys I’d seen. He was also exactly my age.
And he was a widower.
Steve was selling his house near Denver and moving to a mountain home he owned an hour from Taos. I bet I know why you’re moving, I thought, remembering my own journey here.
But one of his photos really caught my eye. It was of a vintage 1977 Volkswagen Bus. The kind with a pop-up camper top. Among Steve’s hobbies were hiking, bicycling, camping and rock climbing. I caught myself feeling disappointed he hadn’t sent me a flirt.
“That looks fun!” I commented beneath the photo. A couple of days later, I got an email from Steve. He liked that I’d commented on his VW bus photo. He asked me more about myself. I wrote back, feeling embarrassingly excited. Steve replied right away. Soon we were corresponding. His emails became a welcome respite from job- and apartment-hunting.
I hadn’t realized how much I needed to talk to someone who understood what it was like to lose a spouse. Steve and I didn’t dwell on our past marriages. But we recognized each other’s feelings. Maybe Danny had been right. Maybe I needed to meet more people. Maybe this was a start.
Steve and I were both huge Denver Broncos fans. He too loved the outdoors. He’d been a paramedic but retired to take care of his wife when she was ailing from liver disease—possibly a legacy of the Agent Orange she’d been exposed to as a nurse in the Vietnam War. He’d bought the VW bus recently as a way of reclaiming his outdoors life.
Soon after Steve moved from Colorado, we decided to meet in person. We picked a Mexican restaurant in Taos for lunch. I laughed at myself as I agonized over what to wear. At last I settled on a white ankle-length skirt, a casual top and sandals. Very New Mexico. I brought Walter and left him in the car.
I arrived first and sat at an outside table. I wanted to keep an eye on Walter. A yellow VW bus pulled into the parking lot. Steve got out and I caught my breath. It wasn’t just that he was even more handsome than in his photos. A shock of recognition passed through me, as if I’d known Steve for a long time and could trust him implicitly.
Steve confessed he’d been as nervous as a teenager to meet me. “Me too!” I said. Conversation flowed easily. We lingered long after we’d finished eating. At last Steve said with a grin, “Want to take a ride in the bus?”
“Sure!” I said. “Can Walter come?”
The three of us took a long afternoon drive. The bus chugged along steadily. I felt like we’d barely started talking when Steve dropped me off.
After that, things moved fast. Maybe too fast. Steve and I talked every day. We went to movies, dinner. Mostly we spent time in Taos, where I’d found a small rental condo. Just a few weeks after our first lunch, my condo flooded from ruptured pipes. I had to move out.
“Why don’t you stay at my house?” Steve said. “I’m going to visit my family in Ohio for two weeks. You’ll have the place to yourself.”
I reassured myself there was nothing wrong with staying in Steve’s house while he was gone. But I could see where this was headed. Even Danny cautioned me to take things slowly. And this had all been his idea in the first place!
I put my things in storage, packed a bag and drove to Steve’s house, feeling suddenly afraid. In just a few weeks, I’d gone from not wanting to date to… what? The first steps toward marriage?
I didn’t want to get married! I’d done that already. Rick and I had loved our life together. Then it fell apart, and I’d felt pain I’d never known possible. Why would I risk that again? Steve’s house was a mountain cabin surrounded by woods and a rushing stream. His taste in furniture matched mine. I told myself not to feel too comfortable. I barely knew this man. I was not committing to anything. We’d met online. I could break this off whenever I wanted to.
My first morning there, I was drawn by the sound of the stream. The water splashed down a hill, then rounded a bend beside a small meadow surrounded by old-growth aspen trees.
I sat beside the stream, closing my eyes to say morning prayers. Part of me wanted not to like this place so much. Not to be so taken with Steve.
Where is this going, Lord? I asked. Why am I so confused?
In an instant, all the years since Rick died passed though my mind. I felt the crushing weight of grief. The seeming impossibility of keeping things going for the boys. The loneliness. The spiritual drifting.
And I heard a voice. I was with you then. I am with you now.
As if washed away by the stream, my fears seemed to vanish. Yes, Steve and I were moving fast, but that was okay. It was even okay that I was already letting myself think about marriage. It was natural.
In my grief, even when I was spiritually distant, God had remained at my side. He had guided me through those hard years, and he was guiding me now. I had no idea what the future held for Steve and me. But I did know God would be in that future. And that was enough.
I sat for a long time listening to the wind in the aspen leaves. Then I got up and walked back toward the house.
Next summer, Steve and I will get married. We continue sharing the life we’ve made together. I decided to semiretire instead of teaching full-time. We spend half the year in New Mexico and half in Florida, where Steve has family. We kayak, camp, hike and spend lots of time just talking.
It’s an idyllic life. Still, having loved and lost before, Steve and I know our love is a risk. We also know it’s a risk worth taking and that second chances are a rare blessing.
And the yellow VW bus? We drove it back and forth across the country several times until age caught up with it. I was sad to see it go. But by that point, it had done its job. It had brought Steve and me together. We’ll let God lead us on the rest of the journey.